By JOE McFARLAND
It’s hard not getting butterflies in the stomach as you step onto the turf at Rogers Centre.
Whether you are a Toronto Blue Jays fan or not, you can’t help but smile as you look around at the same field where Joe Carter touched ’em all in 1993 or where Jose Bautista flipped the script on the Texas Rangers 25 years later.
Playing baseball on that field is a dream for many Canadian baseball players and each year, dozens of high school players realize that dream in the Tournament 12 (T12). Into its sixth season, the event is used as a way to showcase the best talent with college eligibility from across the country.
For the players, it’s not just an opportunity to showcase their skills to professional and college scouts. It’s also an opportunity to learn from the best, as the T12 commissioner is Baseball Hall of Famer and former Blue Jay Roberto Alomar, who brings in other alumni to teach as well.
While the players might be in awe, those who have the best seats in the house are the coaches.
“I get to be around the best baseball people from Roberto to ex-Major League Baseball players!” Dawgs Academy coach Allen Cox exclaimed, as he enters his fourth T12. “I get to watch some future big leaguers, wave some guys around third, throw some batting practice and watch Lloyd Moseby have more energy than a kid on fun dip.”
Cox joins former pro pitcher Mike Johnson (Prospects Academy) as well as Jeff Amos (Badlands Academy) and Les McTavish (Vauxhall Academy) as the coaches for Alberta’s contingent in the tournament. Hearing and seeing the excitement in the air, it’s hard not to see why the coaches might be just as giddy as the players.
Alberta’s academies are sending a solid roster of players to T12 in 2018. Dawgs Academy leads the charge with 17 players representing their regions, including eight for Alberta. A total of 53 players have represented Dawgs Academy since its inception.
“It means we’re doing the right things,” Cox told Alberta Dugout Stories. “The tournament is a non-biased scouting tryout where the coaches don’t have a say in who makes the team.”
Cox is extremely proud of the group making the trek this year. Tops on the list is Cesar Valero. It’s not the Oregon State recruit’s first rodeo, having been to the T12 three times before. Cox said all eyes will be on the power-hitter who can play a number of positions and has some speed. Valero is considered one of Canada’s best young players.
Cesar Valero crushed some out of the yard today at #T12 Scout Day.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 14, 2018
Cox isn’t the only one excited to watch what Valero brings to the tournament.
“I always enjoy being around Cesar,” McTavish admitted. “He’s one of the best in the country.”
The Vauxhall Academy head coach also has his sights on one of his own products: Adam Macko. The hard-throwing left-hander is widely considered the second-best high school player in Alberta and perhaps Canada. Of the fifteen Jets to make the T12 this year, five will wear Alberta jersey in the tournament including pitchers Levi Abbott and Chase Florendine.
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“I’m excited to see some of our young guys,” McTavish said. “They’re new in the program and I’m just getting to know them. A lot of them might fall on their face a bit early and that’s okay.”
Cox is also high on some of his lesser-known products, which he said he could go on for days about. A couple stick out for him though.
“Ayden Makarus will show some speed in the 60, hit the ball off the bat close to 100 miles an hour and maybe even put one in the second deck,” Cox beamed. “He has really good power for a catcher.”
— PBR Ontario (@PBR_Ontario) September 14, 2018
And last year’s T12 MVP was Micah McDowell, another Dawgs Academy product. Cox believes McDowell will have a few pro scouts watching his speed and power as he plays for the Atlantic squad.
A total of nine players from the Prospects Academy in Edmonton were named to T12 rosters while Dillon Poschenrieder will represent Badlands Academy on Team Prairies.
The T12 is known as a pitchers tournament for a reason. Each at-bat starts with a 1-1 count, which presents a new set of challenges for the coaches.
“We really struggled with the bat two years ago,” Cox said. “Last year, we really worked hard during the fall to prepare our guys.”
Both Cox and McTavish think that if Alberta’s arms come to play, they will be a force to be reckoned with. The trouble is they will have a tough schedule facing B.C. twice as well as two Ontario teams in the round-robin.
While winning the tournament is always the dream, the staff is simply hoping to provide the players with an opportunity to get noticed.
“Two things you can control are work ethic and attitude,” McTavish told Alberta Dugout Stories. “That stuff you can’t take away. There are games you will be off and sometimes you can’t control that.”
He has learned a lot of these points as he enters his sixth T12. McTavish has talked to enough coaches and scouts over the years to know that it’s sometimes the intangibles that can either aid or derail a player’s progress.
Updated 2019 Alberta Rankings – Summer is coming to an end and the 2019 class is getting ready to go back to school, we take a look at the updated Alberta rankings packed with uncommitted talent. Click here to see complete list and more https://t.co/OF7JLtigQG #BaseballAB #BeSeen pic.twitter.com/NtzSevTqln
— PBR Alberta (@PBR_Alberta) September 16, 2018
“I like to talk to players about not making it bigger than what it is,” he pointed out. “It’s still a baseball game. It’s a prestigious game but it’s still a baseball game and you have to treat it that way and do everything can to keep it as normal as possible.”
An interesting conundrum also faces the coaching staff: working for Alberta but potentially facing players who they coach for their home squads.
“Ultimately, we’re there representing Alberta and that’s my job,” McTavish said. “If we’re playing one of the Vauxhall guys, I’m cheering for Alberta and trying to do the best I can, but I also want our guy to be successful on the other side as well.”
Both McTavish and Cox are also relishing in the idea of coaching players from other programs. It allows them to get to know them on a different level, but also see what makes them tick. They also take advantage of the situation by networkng and singing the praises of their own academies.
“Dawgs Academy is growing everyday and is at the elite level of baseball in not only Canada but the world,” Cox said. “We are winning tournaments in the US and sending guys off to some really cool places to play college baseball and professionally.”
Win or lose, the coaches are hoping the players take a moment to soak in the experience. For some, it will be just another step in their baseball journey while for others, it might be the highest point of their careers.
“I think the new guys will be as giddy as Valero was when he was 13 … just in awe,” Cox said. “It will be another level for these guys for sure, but they will be fine as they have played on some pretty big stages already.”
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As for the coaches, they will be looking to have some fun and learn. They don’t want to try to change the players at this point.
“The biggest thing as coaches is to try to put the kids in a position to be successful and stay out of their way,” McTavish stated. “They all come from good programs, they’re all really good players, so you just try to offer support and advice if they need it.”
Cox couldn’t help but joke around a bit when asked what he hoped everyone takes away from this year’s T12.
“Free gear and autographs!” he laughed. “But seriously, I know they will take away the experience of being a part of something really cool, put on by an individual (Alomar) who doesn’t only talk about giving back, but one who actually gives back over and over again.”
In his opinion, it’s something no one ever forgets. The tournament has seen MLB-calibre players over the last six years, including Calgary’s Mike Soroka and Vauxhall product Andrew Case. But it’s not just the prestige of the T12 that keeps it growing.
“You have Roberto and his father, Sandy, all the way to guys like Duane Ward and Moseby, which gets the coaches a little giddy,” Cox concluded. “But the coolest part is when the families get to watch their boys play at Rogers Centre.”