HOUSTON -- As a member of Canada's Olympic baseball team that competed in China in 2008, Astros prospect Jimmy Van Ostrand was part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But if anything were ever to come close to matching that thrill, Van Ostrand experienced that last week.
Van Ostrand got to carry the Olympic torch for about 300 yards last week when it came through Richmond, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, which is playing host to the 2010 Winter Games. Van Ostrand was born in Richmond and now lives in California.
Near the end of 2009, a season in which Van Ostrand hit .283 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs at Double-A Corpus Christi, he received a call from a local official in Richmond saying he had been nominated to carry the torch through his hometown.
"I thought it would be an unbelievable opportunity," said Van Ostrand, who was one of several local figures to participate in the torch relay Jan. 9 in Richmond. He said about 15,000 people were in the streets to watch the torch make its way to Vancouver.
"It was a huge honor to be able to do it at home," he said. "The streets were packed with family and friends. They all came out there and showed their support. Everyone in the whole city is behind the Olympics 100 percent. The excitement and the atmosphere was awesome. It's a real rush."
Drafted in 2006 out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Van Ostrand makes his home in California so he can take advantage of the weather and work out year-round. He visits his hometown around the holidays and was excited to take part in the Olympic torch relay after years of anticipating its arrival.
"It's been awesome," he said. "At first, there was controversy over money and where it's being spent, but I definitely noticed over Christmas and the last few days back up there, the city is totally behind it and the atmosphere is unbelievable. There's pride in hosting, and all the facilities look great."
The Canadian national team finished sixth in the '08 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where Van Ostrand was a teammate of Stubby Clapp, a former Major Leaguer with St. Louis who was born in Windsor, Ontario, and is currently hitting coach of the Astros' affiliate in Lexington, Ky.
Clapp carried the torch about 300 yards last year near his hometown after being able to apply for the honor because of his status as a former Canadian Olympian.
"It was great," Clapp said. "I got to go home a couple of days before Christmas and carry the torch and it was unbelievable. Having that kind of opportunity to represent the country is special. Carrying the torch is pretty special, but nothing compares to playing and competing."
Van Ostrand agreed.
"Being able to represent your country over there [in China] and being part of the opening ceremonies was probably the highlight of my sports career for sure," Van Ostrand said. "But to do this in front of friends and family made it really special. So much of my athletic career has been spent away from home in the States, and there are so many people back there that helped me growing up. To be able to partake in the Olympic torch relay in front of familiar faces is a very special moment."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.