KISSIMMEE, Fla. – With their base of operations in Ontario, Canada, the Ontario Blues Jays international travel-team organization faces an opponent the programs from the southern United States won’t: a cold-weather climate.
That is why “spring training” trips to sunny and warm Florida during spring break in mid-March are not only beneficial to the Blue Jays, but almost essential.
The Blue Jays’ 18U team was here Thursday to play a nine-inning game against an all-star team from the Dominican Prospect League, and left the Perfect Game-sponsored event at the Houston Astros spring training facility with a 6-2 victory.
The Ontario Blue Jays program is in its 16th year after being organized by MLB’s Toronto Blues Jays in 1996. It now operates indepently with multiple teams in different age groups.
The Jays brought close to 50 players to Florida – their base was in Vero Beach – and using split-squads are going to be able to play 18 games in 10 days against heady competition from a variety of levels.
“We’re all down here in Vero Beach for our spring training, then we’ll go back home and have our domestic schedule,” Blue Jays head coach Dan Bleiwas said. “Then we’ll start traveling to various events – including Perfect Game events – and we always end up our schedule in Jupiter (at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship) with our 18-and-under team.”
As an international team, the Blue Jays play NCAA teams, minor league rookie teams and junior college clubs even though they are high school-aged players.
“Just like this, we’re always looking to do interesting and exciting things,” Bleiwas said.
The 18U team that is still in Florida was first brought together in the fall, and quite a few of the players on the roster played in Jupiter in late October. Bleiwas wants to get his young prospects in front of the professional scouts, but there’s more to it from the climate perspective.
“The main purpose really is to get them on the field and out of the cold,” Bleiwas said. “It’s a good chunk of our schedule that we get down here and it just expedites things. We’ll go into a bit of a holding pattern due to our climate when we get back, but hopefully we’ll be out on the field in mid-April, so it shouldn’t be too long and we’ll go from there.”
Bleiwas and his staff has elevated the Ontario Blue Jays organization to elite status. By his own account, Bleiwas said it couldn’t have been done without the program’s association with Perfect Game.
“Our players participate in both team events and the individual showcases,” Bleiwas said. “Perfect Game has been good to us and we think we’ve been good to them as a loyal Perfect Game team. We’re excited about that relationship and we’re excited about where Perfect Game is headed with their new facility and all the things that may bring over the next few years.”