TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays may be in New York City fighting for a spot in the American League's post-season, but there is still top-flight baseball happening at Rogers Centre.
Canada's best high school players are competing in the Canadian Futures Showcase at the downtown Toronto ballpark until Saturday, with six teams of prospects competing in the tournament.
TJ Burton, the Blue Jays program manager of amateur baseball, said the team wants to grow the sport in Canada, regardless of what Major League Baseball organization the players might end up playing for.
"Our goal is just to get as many of these kids to the next level," Burton said on Wednesday, standing near the home team's dugout. "Hopefully, they can chase their dreams and hopefully they're playing on this field someday for the Blue Jays but if not, another team."
Established in 2013, the event has been a proving ground for several future major leaguers. Part participants include Calgary's Mike Soroka, who is now a pitcher with the Atlanta Braves, and brothers Josh and Bo Naylor of Mississauga, Ont., who are with the Cleveland Guardians.
Burton believes that the showcase will help make Canada a stronger competitor in international baseball competitions. He noted that 13 players — including Bo Naylor — on Canada's roster at this year's World Baseball Classic had played in previous editions of the tournament.
"I think that's only going to grow and grow," said Burton. "I think what you're going to see, and this was the vision 10 years ago, is every Canadian that breaks into the big leagues was here, has experienced this.
"I think down the road you're going to see a full World Baseball Classic team of kids who played at the showcase. That's what we're shooting for."
The players participating in the tournament are certainly excited by the opportunity to play at an MLB ballpark in front of national team coaches, big league scouts and college recruiters.
"This is probably the coolest thing I've ever done," said pitcher Owen Fernandes of Maple Ridge, B.C., who also played in last year's Canadian Futures Showcase in Ottawa. "The guys are all super nice.
"The coaches are super good. Everything's been pretty cool."
Recruiters from more than 17 NCAA Division 1 schools are up from the United States and scouts from over 20 MLB teams are also in attendance.
"There's been lots of guys who've come from this event and have moved on to the next level and played professional baseball," said pitcher Wesley Johnston of Toronto. "I think that's definitely an opportunity for me.
"I think I showed pretty well today and I think hopefully that could be a potential opportunity for me in the future, just from doing this event."
Shortstop Maxime Boies of Levis, Que., understood the opportunity the showcase presents, but is working to not let it dominate his thinking.
"I try not to focus too much on it," said Boies. "I just want to play my game and have fun and feel that's where I'll play my best baseball.
"So just focus on that and if it happens, it'll happen."
Tickets are available to the general public, with single-day and full-tournament passes available. Burton said fans can expect impressive displays of athleticism.
"They're here trying to showcase their talents," said Burton. "Whether that's speed, whether that's power, whether that's velocity on the mound. I think that's what you're going to see.
"What you're going to see is the hunger and the excitement that comes with young kids playing in a major league stadium."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press