KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The players from Ontario, Canada and the Dominican Republic met on a sun-soaked, professionally groomed field at the Houston Astros’ spring training facility here Thursday afternoon, to be observed by a large contingent of professional scouts.
The Ontario Blue Jays elite 18U team must have figured the best way to impress the scouts was to win the game.
The Blue Jays jumped-out to a 4-0 lead and received strong pitching from three right-handers, and zipped past an elite team from the Dominican Prospects League, 6-2, in front of nearly 40 scouts and crosscheckers on a picture-perfect day in north-central Florida.
The game, organized by Perfect Game USA, showcased the pitching skills of Ontario right-handers C.J. Machete, Jordan Romano and Justin Atkinson, who combined on a six-hitter.
“Our guys came out and threw strikes, all three of them,” Blue Jays Coach Dan Bleiwas said. “They threw two pitches for strikes in most cases and I think we kept our opponents off balance and we had some timely offense early on.”
Machete started for the Blue Jays and allowed only two hits and no earned runs with seven strikeouts and one walk in five innings.
“I felt great out there,” Machete said. “All my pitches were working and I was hitting my spots, and I got great defense behind me and great run support.”
The Ontario Blue Jays are regulars at Perfect Game events, so performing in front of a large number of scouts doesn’t really affect the players that much anymore.
“There are always nerves. I always get nervous before a game,” Machete said. “But it’s a good nervous – I’m not scared to go out there – but there are always going to be butterflies in your stomach when people are watching.”
Romano was also impressive, allowing only one run on two hits with four strikeouts in two innings of work. Atkinson pitched the final two scoreless innings. All three pitchers had their fastballs consistently sitting in the 85-88 mph range.
Phil Diedrick was the Blue Jays’ offensive star, going 1-3 with two walks, one RBI, one run scored and one stolen bases. He also made the defensive play of the game with a diving, full-body catch of a drive in left-center.
Matthew Paculan was 1-3 with a walk, a hit-by-pitch and two RBI and Justin Marra 1-2 with three walks a run and an RBI.
Bleiwas said getting out to an early lead was key.
“It was a situation where we didn’t know necessarily what to expect, and with a lot of people here – GM’s, scouting directors, crosscheckers, area scouts – there is a certain element of nerves that comes in and anytime you can get to an early lead, it allows everyone to relax,” he said.
Before Thursday’s game was played, Bleiwas said he remembered jumping at the opportunity to put his team on the same field with the Dominicans.
“It started with Brad Clement from Perfect Game getting in touch with us … and (Brad Clement from Perfect Game) mentioned the Dominican Prospect League all-star team was going to be here, and asked if we’d be interested? That was an easy answer for us,” Bleiwas said. “Anything that’s new and refreshing is always exciting, and obviously it will be a well-attended event from a scouting perspective, so there is a clear benefit for our players.”
After the game, the teams exchanged high-fives and fist-bumps, and basked in an experience with an international feel played at professional complex.