By IAN WILSON
Box scores are full of information, and while they never lie, they never tell the whole story either.
Take the recent box score from the Toronto Blue Jays spring training game against the Canadian Junior National Team (JNT), for example.
It will tell you that JNT shortstop Cesar Valero stepped to the plate in the top of the first inning against starting pitcher Marcus Stroman and struck out to end the inning.
What it won’t tell you is how smooth and clean Valero’s swing is or how nasty Stroman’s breaking ball can be. It also won’t tell you that Valero, an Okotoks Dawgs Academy product, is just 16 years old, while Stroman is a 26-year-old veteran of four MLB seasons.
— Jonathan Hodgson (@HodgySpeaks) March 17, 2018
The same box score will also tell you that Damiano Palmegiani entered the game and took the place of Canadian national team first baseman Edouard Savoie.
But it doesn’t tell you that Palmegiani, a Vauxhall Baseball Academy student, took part in last year’s Blue Jays-JNT matchup, a game he entered “wide-eyed and timid.”
His mindset this time around was different.
“This year, I went in with excitement. I wanted to savour every moment,” the Venezuelan-born infielder/outfielder told Alberta Dugout Stories.
Palmegiani spoke with Toronto broadcaster Buck Martinez during batting practice and he also chatted up Jays players that ended up at first base during the game, including highly-touted prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“I gave props to him in Spanish for his play at third earlier in the game,” said the 18-year-old, who moved from Caracas to Surrey, B.C. with his family when he was just five years old.
“He was surprised that I could talk to him in his native language, but he chuckled and asked me where I’m from.”
The box score shows that Palmegiani hit a single in the sixth inning. It also shows that LaRon Smith – pinch hitting for second baseman Daniel Carinci – followed that up with a double that drove in Palmegiani. It was Canada’s first run of the game and Smith would follow that up by scoring the second run of the contest.
Midway through the sixth inning, the score was 7-2 for the Blue Jays.
But that doesn’t tell you anything about the 17-year-old Smith, another Dawgs Academy student who grew up in Spruce Grove, Alberta.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound infielder and younger brother of former JNT player Kobe Hyland describes himself as someone who smiles a lot and jokes around in the dugout, but that masks an intensity that kicks in when his cleats hit the field.
“I want to be the best out there,” Smith told Alberta Dugout Stories. “I want everybody to know who I am when I walk out on the field.”
The Indian Hills Community College commit made his presence known in the box score and on the field versus Toronto.
Dawgs coach Allen Cox has noticed the contributions made by both Smith and Valero, who hit the national team’s first home run of spring training against Philadelphia Phillies prospects the day after the Jays game.
“Both have become great leaders in the clubhouse and on the field. They have really fine-tuned their skills and now are showcasing that at the highest level a Canadian gets to,” said Cox.
“We are very proud of them and are glued to the TV watching them and listening to the games. The future looks bright.”
WHY EXHIBITION GAMES MATTER
The eighth inning of that same box score shows an impressive outing from Braden Halladay. No hits, no walks, no runs during a 1-2-3 inning.
As tidy and clean as that pitching line is, it tells nothing of the story that unfolded that day.
Most of the 2,936 fans in attendance at Florida’s Dunedin Stadium that St. Patrick’s Day – many trying to match green with red or blue – knew that Halladay would toe the rubber at some point during that game.
It was announced in advance that the son of pitching great Roy Halladay – who passed away unexpectedly in 2017 – would take the mound. The story was well-publicized. The 17-year-old had done several interviews prior to the game and photos of Roy and a young Braden could be seen on sports channels and in newspapers across Canada.
It was a situation where hype would ultimately give way to reality and, during this rare scene, the moment’s central figure rose to the occasion.
Halladay was greeted with a standing ovation when he entered the eighth – his mother Brandy among those in the crowd – and a lengthier, cheek-dampening ovation when he left the inning.
The box score doesn’t reflect the impact the outing had on Halladay and his teammates – it was a moment that will long be remembered by those who witnessed it.
“I was in right field during Braden’s inning,” said Palmegiani, who recorded the second out of the frame on a routine fly ball.
“He came out to a standing ovation, which gave me goosebumps. Everyone in the park knew the significance of what was going on. The videos surfacing on the internet don’t do the moment justice.”
Jaden Griffin, a 17-year-old pitcher from Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, was watching from the bullpen.
“It was an incredible moment to witness the unbelievable support everyone in Dunedin had,” said Griffin, a Vauxhall Academy student and Virginia Commonwealth University commit.
“The atmosphere and energy of the stadium went from a regular game to something absolutely incredible and it was amazing to see him have such a great inning.”
MORE THAN A FOOTNOTE
A mere footnote in the box score is the name of Martin Vincelli-Simard. The catcher entered the game late, had one at bat and struck out, stranding a runner.
The 17-year-old’s stat line does not jump off the page, but it’s enough to impress Les McTavish, Vauxhall’s head coach and director of operations.
McTavish said the 6-foot-1, 215-pound backstop has surpassed expectations during his first year as a Vauxhall Jet.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see him grow,” said McTavish. “Marty is really big and really strong and he works hard … he’s been a pleasant surprise on our end.”
Vincelli-Simard was at least fortunate enough to earn a place in the box score. Many JNT players on the roster did not play in the nationally broadcast Jays game.
Griffin was one of those. The left-hander didn’t play because he pitched against Detroit Tigers prospects the previous day. Over two innings in that game, he allowed one hit, no runs and struck out four straight batters.
“I’ve gotten used to relieving with this team, so I went about my routine for a relief appearance to start the day,” said Griffin, who works as a starting pitcher in Vauxhall.
“My bullpen before I went into the game went well and I felt pretty good. From that bullpen, I knew my pitch that day was going to be my curveball. I felt I had really good control of my off-speed and I think that mixed with the quick pace I was working at was the difference maker.”
— Canadian Baseball (@CDNbaseball) March 16, 2018
PLAYING FOR CANADA
Also absent from the box score is the amount of pride the players take in playing for their country.
“To have the honour to put ‘Canada’ across your chest is really important to our program, but it’s more important to the kids,” McTavish told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“They do all the work. We’re just behind the scenes trying to give them opportunities and they’ve all earned those opportunities.”
Griffin can’t say enough about the opportunity.
“There’s no better feeling than putting on that jersey and knowing how fortunate I am to represent this country playing the game I love,” he said. “Getting this opportunity means the world to me.”
His Vauxhall teammate agrees.
“Every day I put on the red and white I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment,” said Palmegiani, a California State University, Northridge commit.
“This is an honour few get to experience and I know that I have done what it takes to be able to experience this, but I do not want to take any second of it for granted. I want to help this team succeed every time I take the field. Canadian baseball is on the rise yearly and I see this program becoming a powerhouse very soon.”
You won’t find that quote in the box score, but it might just tell the whole story.