JUPITER, Fla. -- Just when you
thought the old barnstorming days in baseball were over, along come the Ontario
These guys know their bus as
well as their homes back in Canada. Maybe better.
The Blue Jays will spend more
than 90 days on the road this year, play about 120 games and travel
approximately 100,000 miles. They've been in Jupiter, Fla., this week
competing in the WWBA World Championship, but it's about time to hop on the bus
for the long trip home.
"It's tough, but it's the life
of a baseball player," said Justin Marra, a high school senior from
Toronto. "It's a grind, but you've got to love it to do it."
The Canadians come to the United
States for the competition, exposure and opportunity.
"Pro ball, scholarships, get
looked at by the schools," Marra explained. "Some of the schools you
see are big-name schools. Trying to get looked at is the ultimate goal."
In that respect, Jupiter was the
place to be this week, with several hundred pro scouts and college coaches in
attendance at the Roger Dean Complex.
The Canadians miss a considerable
amount of school, but they've got permission from their principals and
do homework on the road. They have study halls, sometimes on the bus, and
Blue Jays coaches monitor their schoolwork and grades.
Dan Bleiwas, the Blue Jays coach,
said they have an agreement with the Ontario school boards that the players can
miss 17 days of school, but no more. "That's what we're capped at,"
The players consult with their
teachers before leaving, to get assignments and materials.
"Most teachers are
cooperative," Marra said. "The odd one might be a little
disappointing, but that's all right."
The Blue Jays have made three trips
this fall, and you need Rand McNally to keep track.
The first trip began in
mid-September and lasted 10 or 11 days. "We started off in Michigan,
went up to Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia," Marra said, recalling the
They went home for three days, then
took off for a 12-day tour.
"The second trip we went to
Oklahoma and Texas. Quite the journey," said Marra, an outstanding
"All by bus. Every day,"
he said. "You get on the bus, travel, get to the hotel at night, get back
on the bus, play the game, and then we drive."
Marra went home for two days after
the second trip, then left to play for a Canadian National Team before
rejoining the Blue Jays in Jupiter for the WWBA World Championship. He's not
sure where his teammates went while he was gone, so Bleiwas filled in the
Bleiwas said they left Canada on
Oct. 15 and began playing games on Oct. 16, starting with a date against
Georgia State University in Atlanta. They traveled into Alabama and
Florida, playing games aganst Florida International, Florida Gulf Coast,
Rollins College and Troy State along the way.
As an international team, the
Ontario Blue Jays are allowed to play American colleges without jeopardizing
anyone's eligibility, according to Bleiwas.
All of this is not cheap, of course.
The Blue Jays have their own facility in Canada and receive
sponsorship money, but the families have to dig deep.
"On an annual basis, it's
upwards of $9,000 for their travel, meals and all that stuff, when you factor
everything," Bleiwas said. "It's a big pill to swallow, but I think
the families think it's worthwhile. You get to do some unique things."
The organization brought 40
players to the WWBA World Championship, split onto two
teams. Approximately half of the guys played for the Ontario Blue
Jays, and the other half played for Perfect Game Canada Gold.
The Blue Jays upset Marucci Elite,
7-5, in Pool Play, but they lost a tough game to Palm Beach Select,
6-5, and had a 1-2 record in Pool Play heading into Sunday. The PG Canada Gold
team was 0-3 heading into Sunday.
Marra played for the Blue
Jays last year and is weighing several college offers. He thinks
the time, effort and travel have been worth it.
"For sure," he said.
"It's much better than being in school, to be honest."