JUPITER, Fla. – It’s safe to say the Ontario Blue Jays took the scenic route on their way to Perfect Game’s WWBA World Championship this weekend at the Roger Dean Complex.
The lengthy road-trip consumed more than five weeks with stops in states ranging all the way from Michigan to Florida. It included only occasional forays back across the border to the players’ homes and schools in Ontario, Canada. By the time the team returns home for the winter later this week, it will have played more than 30 games, most of them against U.S. college teams.
The Blue Jays took three trips this fall, with each trip lasting 10 to 12 days. It can be a grind and it requires a tremendous amount of dedication and self-discipline on the part of the players.
“We generally take the kids out of school for a week at a time and they’re doing their homework while we’re traveling and they’re doing study hall,” Blue Jays team manager Dan Bleiwas said Sunday morning as the Blue Jays got ready to play their final pool-play game at the WWBA World Championship. “We’re supervising their grades – grade checks – and we’re trying to get them ready for that college environment.”
That lesson starts with the team going head-to-head with college teams in the United States that are conducting their fall practice sessions.
The first trip involved a far-flung swing that started on Sept. 14. The Blues Jays played games against Central Michigan, the University of Evansville, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Kent State and Virginia. The second trip started with games at Notre Dame, Missouri, Saint Louis, Missouri State, Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, Michigan and included stops at several junior colleges along the way.
The third trip that the Blue Jays are now winding down began at a junior college in Chattanooga, Tenn., and included stops at Troy State, Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast. They will play Florida Atlantic on Monday after their participation at the WWBA World Championship concludes.
“There have been a lot of great experiences for the kids and it made them battle-tested (coming into the WWBA World Championship), and I think that showed on Thursday night against Fulmer,” Bleiwas said of his team’s tournament-opening 8-7 win over the Orlando Scorpions and PG All-American right-hander Carson Fulmer. “He was throwing 94 (mph) and he’s a phenomenal pitcher but it was stuff (the Blue Jays) had seen against more mature pitchers at the college level.
“We faced the Florida State Seminoles on Monday and then you come here and face 17 and 18 year olds and for our kids who are the same age, it’s not going to faze them.”
The players’ families coordinate with their schools to make sure the players can get the time away from their classes and get their assignments and class work. It is the responsibility of Bleiwas and his staff to make sure the work gets done while the team is on the road.
“It’s so much easier now than it was three, four or five years ago because most of them are corresponding directly with their teachers via email while they’re traveling, whether it’s submitting assignments or getting notes from their teachers. It makes a big difference,” Bleiwas said.
The Ontario Blue Jays list a 33-man roster for the WWBA World Championship. All 33 are from the province of Ontario and all but six are high school seniors (class of 2012). There is a second team here put together by the Blue Jays organization called Canada PG Gold with a 25-man, all-Ontario roster that includes 14 players in the 2012 class and 11 in the 2013 class.
“We’re fortunate to have the two squads with Canada PG Gold for some of our younger players, so it works out extremely well as far as getting everyone the opportunity for playing time,” Bleiwas said.
Neither Canadian team advanced out of pool-play at the WWBA World Championship, but this was still the place where the Blue Jays wanted the long road-trip to end.
“This is where it traditionally ends and this is what we build up for in the fall, “Bleiwas said. “We want our kids to come down here and compete and show in front of coaches.”