BRADENTON, Fla. – The emotions were starting to hit home for Jack Pineau on Wednesday, a night after learning he’d made Canada’s national junior baseball team.
His mom and dad were on the road, making a beeline for Bradenton, Fla., where Pineau and Team Canada are set to open the WSBC U18 Baseball World Cup on Friday against Korea, the first of four games in four days in their quest for a gold medal.
“My parents, they don’t get to see me play very often. They’ve gotten used to me doing Facetime calls after games telling them how it went and now that they’ll actually get to see it in person, it makes me pretty emotional, to be honest.”
The right-handed hurler, who pitches for the Toronto Mets and plans to play for Pro 5 Academy in Raleigh, N.C. next season, said it still hasn’t sunk in that he made the team, just one of 20 players in the country in his age group chosen to take on the world.
What makes it more remarkable is he almost didn’t choose baseball.
Drafted by the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League in 2020 – his brother Alex was taken a year earlier by the Sudbury Wolves – Pineau said it was a lost hockey year to COVID-19 that convinced him to try his luck on the diamond.
It looks like he made the right decision.
“My focus was really on baseball that year and I thought this might be the way to go. Talking with a couple of baseball teammates from my Toronto team, they just made me realize they thought I could go a lot farther in baseball that I could in hockey,” Pineau said.
“I think it’s true too.”
It was tough, practising at home in Thunder Bay while his teammates were training together, but he got used to it in a hurry.
The 17-year-old, who led the Port Arthur Nationals to the 2016 Canadian Little League Championship, is no stranger to the world junior tournament, which was held in Thunder Bay in both 2010 and 2017. Pineau was at Port Arthur Stadium for much of the most recent event, and said it still gives him chills thinking about the reaction of the crowd.
“Seeing how many people in Thunder Bay came out to those games, just how we packed the Canada/U.S. game – pretty much all the games at the Stadium – just how electric that building was, whenever we got a run or whatnot. It was pretty crazy for me when I was 12 years old,” Pineau said.
“From that point on, I wanted to be part of it. Finally achieving that really means something.”
Patterning his game after flamethrowing New York Mets superstar Jacob DeGrom, perhaps with a little less velocity, Pineau said he’ll do whatever manager Greg Hamilton and pitching coach Chris Reitsma, himself a former big-leaguer, ask of him at the U18s.
“Whatever (Chris) needs me to do,” he said. “I can start a game. I can come in in long relief. I can close a game. I’m plenty OK with that. I just want to help the team and do what’s best to win.”