To The Max

By JOE McFARLAND

Extending his baseball season wasn’t exactly at the top of Max Hartman’s mind.

He was deep into his summer school classes when he received an unexpected phone call from Baseball Canada Junior National Team coach Greg Hamilton.

The 18-year-old St. Albert native was being invited to the team’s camp in Ajax, Ontario, where a team would be chosen to represent Canada in the 18U Friendship Series against the United States in Florida.

“It was a leap in my stomach as it was super-exciting,” Hartman told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “I was so, so excited to even get the chance to go to the camp and tryout.”

For the Okotoks Dawgs Black outfielder, he wasn’t even aware he was on the radar as he didn’t think he had been seen enough.

“I just kind of put it in the back of my mind,” Hartman said. “It would be really cool if I made it or was asked, but if I didn’t, it wasn’t the end of the world.”

Hartman was among three Albertans heading east for the August 19-September 1 showcase, as he was joined by Medicine Hat’s Kayden Hleucka and Sherwood Park’s Conor Pote.

CAMPING OUT

The two-week camp saw 38 athletes practice and compete in inter-squad games, hoping to make the final 25-man roster.

Hartman spent the first couple of days scoping out the competition, getting a feel for the talent around him.

He says the coaching staff was very supportive, telling the players to “just be who you are.”

Hartman was a consistent performer at the plate and in the field, earning himself a spot on the final roster.

While the other Albertans at the camp wouldn’t be joining him, he had some familiar faces around him as four Dawgs Academy teammates were also chosen – Carson Hindmarsh, Ty Doucette, Matt Grabmann and Boston Warkentin.

MORE THAN THE SCORESHEET

The team, which also included Vauxhall Academy of Baseball product Anson McGorman, kicked off the Florida tour on September 3.

They played at a number of ballparks during the seven-game series, including Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota and Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

While Canada compiled a record of 1-5-1, it was about more than just the game outcome for Hartman and his teammates.

“The scoresheets sometimes didn’t tell the full story because the game was a little bit closer than the score showed,” he said. “We were sometimes a hit away, a catch away, a defensive play away, and sometimes the ball just didn’t go our way.”

The Washington State University commit added it was an opportunity to learn a few things about his game and where it needs to go.

“I just have to hit velocity more and learn how to hit 95-plus miles an hour,” Hartman continued. “It was crazy how many guys were throwing over 90, which is pretty hard to hit.”

He’s also hoping to key on off-speed pitches as well, something his American counterparts were able to utilize more than what he had seen previously.

The whirlwind summer also provided him with an opportunity to network and meet some new lifelong friends.

“It was just a crazy experience to be around all those guys,” Hartman said. “I picked their brains as much as I could about approaches, stances, hand placement and all that kind of stuff.”

REPPING THE MAPLE LEAF

With the benefit of hindsight, Hartman looks back at his Baseball Canada experience with gratitude.

Like other athletes, he and his teammates were especially proud of representing their country.

“I think that was something that was really special for me,” Warkentin, a Delta, BC native, told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “I hold that pretty close to my heart with being able to represent my country with ‘CANADA’ across my chest is something pretty special.”

Grabmann, who hails from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, agreed.

“It was an honour and a dream come true,” Grabmann told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “I’ve been eyeing up the Junior National Team for a while now, and I always thought I had the talent to play on it. So having that come to fruition was definitely an honour and a privilege.”

He also had the chance to play in the Baseball Factory All-America Game in Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium a couple of weeks later.

“A lot of the guys we played against with the Junior National Team were there as well, so I got to talk to them a little bit about the series and got to know them a bit,” Grabmann added. “So it was a great experience just representing Canada in that event as well.”

And Hindmarsh, a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan product, relished in his first opportunity to represent his country.

“I really don’t think it has sunk in yet,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “I look back at pictures of me pitching at Tropicana Field and it’s so cool to see.”

The 17-year-old Hindmarsh is expected to join Baseball Canada again in mid-October for a camp ahead of the 2022 season.

Looking back on it, Hartman smiles about the experience of playing in a Major League Baseball ballpark and being considered one of the top 25 Canadians in his age group.

However, he wouldn’t mind getting another phone call before too long.

“It’s something to be proud of, for sure,” Hartman concluded. “But you still have to work hard and it just gives you a lot more motivation to keep getting better.”  

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