KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Ontario Blue Jays outfielder Phil Diedrick had seen the style of baseball played in the Dominican Republic up-close-and-personal before Thursday’s encounter with a Dominican Prospect League elite all-star team at the Houston Astros training facility.
“Last May I went down to the Dominican with Team Canada and the type of baseball played down there is different,” Diedrick said. “They’re loud, they like to get their stuff going and everyone’s talking.”
The Blue Jays faced the Dominicans on “neutral “ soil in the United States this week and emerged with a 6-2 victory. After the game, which was organized and sponsored by Perfect Game, there were fist-bumps and good vibes all around. Everyone agreed a grand time was had by all.
“Anytime there’s an international flair, it creates that excitement and I think that’s what we’ll see today,” Blue Jays head coach Dan Bleiwas said a couple of hours before his team took the field against the DPL elite team. “There’s always a little bit of a different brand of style the Latin players are going to play with, and we have are own brand – a lot small-ball and things of that nature.”
Style aside, it was easy to identify what the Canadian players enjoyed most about being in sunny Florida for this event, and that was being in sunny Florida. The Ontario club is in the Sunshine State for 10 days and will play 18 split-squad games, including the PG event here.
“The weather’s been great, we’ve been able to be outside all day and practice,” 18-year-old third baseman Eric Wood said. “We’ve been indoors all (winter) and there are just certain things we can’t work on, and now we get to work on that stuff and get a little bit of a head start on the all kids that are up north.”
And then Wood took it one step further when asked about the experience of playing in front of at least 40 professional scouts and crosscheckers, and even a handful of MLB general managers.
“That’s always fun; just being able to have the opportunity,” he said. “Just being down here in Florida and just playing everyday, and just having kind of like that ‘Major League lifestyle’ is very, very, very cool. We really, really enjoy it.”
Both the Blue Jays and the DPL club played well in front of the scouts and a gathering of energenic fans. It was obvious why many of these players have been identified by Perfect Game as top college and professional prospects.
“It’s good to see our work over the winter is kind of paying off because we get to come down here and have a good experience and play,” Diedrick said. “We try to get our reps in and we try to get ‘Ws’ as usual, because you don’t want to come down here and lose; you want to come down here and win.
“We try to come down here and have a good time but get our work in, because we’re indoors all winter,” he continued. “I think it’s very beneficial, not just for Canadians or just people from up north. You play in front of scouts, you play in front of fans who just come out, and it’s fun to get your reps in in front of people.”
Jays’ right-hander C.J. Machete was equally impressed.
“It was a great experience,” he said after pitching five sparkling innings and picking up the win against the DPL team. “All the people who came out … and you get to come down here and play in this weather and play in front of great scouts, and everything. It was a great experience.”
There seems to be an early consensus among Perfect Game officials that an event like this should not only be repeated, but perhaps expanded upon. Count the Jays’ Bleiwas among those who hopes that happens.
“It was more than what we expected,” he said. “This is the first time that we had done this and hopefully this will become a bit of an annual event. I think all of us – myself, the DPL team, Perfect Game – we didn’t know what this game would be. First of all, it was a well-played game on both sides, a very quick, efficient game. A little bit of offense, a lot of defense, a lot of pitching, and obviously a great day from a scouting perspective, as well.
“So yeah, we’re pleased. It was more than we had hoped for and we’re excited for our young men who competed, as I’m sure Brian (Mejias) and his staff are from the DPL all-star team.”