Canada's top talent on display at Rogers Centre

Canada's top talent on display at Rogers Centre

Canada's top talent on display at Rogers Centre
TORONTO -- Rogers Centre is home to Canada's only Major League Baseball team, but this week it's also playing host to some of the nation's top young players.

The Blue Jays teamed up with Baseball Canada, Major League Baseball International and Mizuno to hold the Junior Elite Baseball Camp for 63 ballplayers aged 16 and younger.

It's an opportunity for the country's up and coming talent to receive instruction from national team coaches and members of the Blue Jays.

"It's tremendously important," said Greg Hamilton, who is coach and director of the national team. "It gives them a sense of what it's like to be a professional player in a professional environment -- it motivates and inspires.

"It allows them to touch it and realize, yeah it's unique and special in its own right, but it gives them a sense of comfort around it. I think one of the greatest things is that you're seeing more and more Canadians believe they can play the game at an elite level."

The players in attendance were hand picked from across Canada. The invites were a result of direct looks from the national team or through referrals by elite provincial coaches. They arrived in Toronto on Thursday afternoon for the start of a four-day camp, which includes everything from on-field drills to life-skills seminars.

Blue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield assumed the role of lead instructor for the camp. He was joined by pitching coach Bruce Walton, bench coach Don Wakamatsu and coach Luis Rivera. Former Blue Jays Duane Ward and Paul Quantrill are also taking part as are other members of the organization.

The partnership for the camp began in the early 1990s and is something that means a lot to both Baseball Canada and the Blue Jays.

"Baseball Canada continues to be a great partner to work with to grow and promote baseball both at the grassroots level, as we've seen with our camps across the country this summer, and now with this select elite-level camp," Blue Jays senior vice president of baseball operations Stephen Brooks said. "Hosting this camp here at Rogers Centre is just another way the Blue Jays hope to support the growth of the tremendous programs of Baseball Canada."

The timing of the camp couldn't have come at a better time for those involved. Former national team player Adam Loewen arrived in Toronto on Wednesday and joined fellow Canadian Brett Lawrie on the Blue Jays active roster.

Both players took part in the Elite Camp earlier in their careers. That gives the young players something to look up as they continue working on developing their game.

"I think when you have Canadian players for a Canadian team," Hamilton said, "and not just playing, but have the ability to have an impact, I think it motivates and inspires generations of kids to play the game and that the dream is real, that they can.

"A very small percentage actually will, but it's just the reality that baseball is a sport that Canadians can excel at, which motivates these kids to try and to play and get involved. When these guys are playing for a Canadian team it's very visual, you get to see them and you get to understand they came from where you come from."

For 16-year-old shortstop Jake Lumley the camp is an opportunity to play on the same field as the team he grew up rooting for. It's also a chance to see what type of talent there is across Canada in his age bracket.

"It's pretty exciting, especially here at the Rogers because obviously it's exciting to play on a big league field and all the kids are really good," said Lumley, who lives in Windsor, Ontario.

"It's pretty cool because you get to learn a lot of stuff you never knew before. You learn a lot about the game."

The camp participants take part in baseball-related activities each day and finish the night by attending Blue Jays games. Following Saturday's afternoon game against the Orioles, the Elite Camp will hold a 14-inning intrasquad game to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to take part.

It's an experience that Hamilton hopes will stick with the kids as they move forward in their young careers.

"The level of instruction is very good so they're going to have the opportunity to go back and understand some of the things they need to work on," Hamilton said.

"They're going to get a sense of where they fit talent wise in relation to some of their peers in the country and they're going to get a sense of what it's like to be a professional baseball player and play the game at the highest level."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.