Eric Gagne is a former Cy Young Award winner. Justin Morneau won the American League MVP in 2006.
They’ve got something else in common besides being great ballplayers. They’re both Canadian and both got their careers kick-started at the World Junior Baseball Championship.
The 10-day tournament arrives in Thunder Bay on July 23, and tagging along for the ride will be the next generation of baseball superstars, names most fans might not know today, but who, within a few years, will be household words around the baseball world.
It’s a big deal, says former Blue Jays scout and well-known Canadian actor Sean McCann, now the amateur baseball ambassador for the MLB team, which on Tuesday made a $10,000 donation to the WJBC.
McCann, who scouted the 1993 tournament in his hometown Windsor, Ont. for the San Diego Padres, said stars will be born in Thunder Bay this summer.
"No question about it," said McCann, best known in acting circles for his role as Lt. Jim Hogan in the ‘80s TV cop drama Night Heat and as Walter Bush in the 2004 movie Miracle, about the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s improbable 1980 gold medal win.
"At that time we couldn’t have told you that Eric Gagne was going to win the Cy Young Award. They also had Ryan Dempster and Jordan Zimmerman, whose brother (Jeff) ended up playing in the Big Leagues."
Though less known than its hockey cousin, a Christmastime tradition across Canada, the WJBC takes on a life of its own, McCann added, recalling the 1993 event.
"These kids are the cream of the crop. So if Canadian fans got excited watching the world junior hockey tournament, baseball fans will get excited watching these youngsters from all over the world.
"And scouting departments, and probably in some cases executives, will be dropping into Thunder Bay, especially if there’s someone who might be a free agent whose not involved in the draft," McCann said.
In addition to Canada and the United States, the 12-team lineup is expected to include countries like Cuba, Italy, the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Venezuela, Panama and Australia.
Canada usually finishes in the middle of the pack, said national junior team coach Greg Hamilton, but anything is possible in a 10-day event, and the country is quickly proving its mettle at the international level.
"When you come in you obviously always look at the Americans and the Cubans and the Koreans at this level as being the front-running teams. But we like to think we’re always in the top 5 in terms of knocking on the door," Hamilton said.
"I think we’re capable of competing with all those countries. It’s always a one-game shot when you get into crossover games and medal-round games. So obviously you’ve got to get the pitching when you need it and the breaks. But I think we’ll definitely be in the mix."
The world juniors are held every two years with rosters comprised of players 18 and younger. The 2008 event, held in Edmonton, was won by Korea.
A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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