Futures Game a showcase for Canada
Three native Canadians help power World team to victory
SAN FRANCISCO -- It was just last November that Twins slugger Justin Morneau became only the second Canadian-born player to win a Most Valuable Player award.But by the looks of it Sunday, he won't be the last. The future of Canadian baseball was on display at AT&T Park as three Canadians took part in Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game. Michael Saunders, Joey Votto and James Van Ostrand all played for the World Team and delivered a significant amount of the offense in the team's 7-2 victory over the U.S. squad. The three combined to tally two home runs and scored four of the club's seven runs on the day. "It's a real proud day for us," said Votto, a 23-year-old infielder in the Reds organization. "Two home runs by James and me, and Michael swung real well today -- it kind of tells you that Canadian baseball players are coming along pretty well." Of the three Canadian prospects, Votto is considered to be the closest to being Major League-ready. Coming off an MVP campaign in the Double-A Southern League, Votto is hitting .315 for Triple-A Louisville this season with 11 homers. And he showed that long-ball stroke in Sunday's game. It came in the sixth, when Votto led off the inning with a homer to left field. Votto's feat was duplicated in the seventh by Van Ostrand. An outfielder for the Astros' Class A Lexington club, Van Ostrand led off with a solo shot of his own to left field. Saunders, an outfielder for Class A High Desert in the Mariners organization, helped spur the World offense early, leading off the first and third innings by reaching base. In both cases, Saunders then stole second base. "The manager took me aside before the game and told me I had the green light," Saunders said. "So I had it on my mind to steal right away. I do kind of feel left out with the home runs those other guys hit. But I played well and those guys played awesome."
The Canadian presence in the Major Leagues has grown drastically over the years. From the increase in sluggers like Jason Bay and Morneau to a growing number of dominant pitchers like Erik Bedard and Jeff Francis, it seems you can't look very far without seeing a successful Canadian player.And because of that, the first thing mentioned about those players no longer is that "he's a Canadian." "With Canadian guys, it used to be 'The pride of so-and-so,' and now it's Justin Morneau, slugger and last year's MVP," Votto said. "That's something to be proud of." That didn't mean that the three players weren't happy to be representing their country in the event. Saunders said that he proudly wore the red Maple Leaf flag on his jersey and that it meant a lot to see his fellow countrymen perform so well, too. "Whether it's a little flag over your arm or you're wearing your country's name over your chest, it's always a bit of a pride issue that you want to do well and represent your country well," Saunders said. "It's just a great feeling to know we're not just considered a hockey country anymore."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.