Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ontario Blue Jays Are Road Warriors

Jim Ecker        

JUPITER, Fla. -- Just when you thought the old barnstorming days in baseball were over, along come the Ontario Blue Jays.


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," he said.


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 route.


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 catcher.


"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 details.


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."

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