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Canadian club eyeing gold, ace or not

Olympians eyeing gold, sans ace

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TORONTO -- Members of the Canadian Olympic Baseball Team were at Rogers Centre on Wednesday, taking in the series finale between the Blue Jays and Rays. As well as being introduced to the Toronto crowd prior to the afternoon affair, the Olympic team also got to witness the Major League debut of Toronto starter Scott Richmond, a player whom they are very familiar with.

Seeing Richmond on the mound for the Jays proved a tad bittersweet for Team Canada, as the North Vancouver native was an integral part of its pitching core. Before he was called up by Toronto on Monday, the 28-year-old starter was set to compete for Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

"It's tremendous for him," said the team's general manager Greg Hamilton, who also plays a coaching role on the squad. "To say that it's not a tough loss for us would not be an honest answer. But, what are you going to say? He's a guy who's battled to get an opportunity in the big leagues. The timing is really difficult for us, obviously, but we're happy for him."

With Richmond out, Team Canada has not yet decided on its starting rotation, as it is waiting to see what happens with the Jays pitcher. If Richmond were to be sent down to Syracuse before Friday's Olympic roster deadline, he would be eligible to return to Team Canada in time to compete in Beijing.

However, that scenario remains unlikely, as Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has indicated that Richmond would be in the Toronto rotation, at least for the time-being.

Terry Puhl, Team Canada's field manager, said that while Richmond's loss to the team is great, there is nonetheless a strong group of starting pitchers on the squad.

"It's a loss, absolutely," said Puhl. "But I look at any of our starters as good options. There are no easy games over there [in Beijing]. We're beyond that now. Every starter we have come in, it's almost like the Blue Jays, where we have three, four good starters. That's the only way you really win."

Candidates for the rotation include right-handers Chris Bregg and Mike Johnson -- a former Expo -- who both competed for Canada in the 2004 Summer Games, where the team finished fourth. Right-handers Brooks McNiven and former Seattle Mariners reliever Chris Reitsma are also possible options.

As for the time being, the Canadian squad will head to North Carolina on Thursday to play Team USA in a pre-Olympic, four-game tuneup series. The club will then head to Beijing and will officially begin Olympic competition on Aug. 13 versus the host nation.

Hamilton says this year's team is quite different than the 2004 edition that competed in the Athens games.

"It's more of a blend of youth and experience, than in '04," said the GM. "On the '04 ballclub, we had a lot of guys who were on the tail-end of their careers, with a lot of experience. On this club, we've got, I think a real blend of the next generation of impact Canadian players, and obviously, some seasoned veterans."

One of the "seasoned" veterans on the club is second baseman Stubby Clapp, who in addition to playing for Canada in the 2004 Olympics, has also represented his country various times in international competition.

The 35-year-old onetime St. Louis Cardinal left no questions as to what his current team is aiming for in Beijing.

"Gold medal," said Clapp firmly. "There's no other reason to go over there, besides to get a gold medal. Anything after that, then ask me then. But right now, there's gold in my eyes, and that's it."

David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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