Only six teams will compete in the Tokyo Games in baseball.
A place is naturally reserved for the host country. Mexico, South Korea and Israel have qualified in regional tournaments.
This means that Canada is battling with powers like the United States, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Venezuela, Colombia and Puerto Rico are also participating in the tournament where only one team will get its ticket to Tokyo.
The countries that finish 2nd and 3rd will have one last chance to qualify in another tournament in Mexico.
In Group B, Canada faces successively Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela. At the end of these three matches, the two best teams advance to the deciding round.
There is no room for maneuver.
Within the Canadian team, we find a mix of veterans and young prospects.
Team manager Ernie Whitt will be able to count on former major league pitchers such as John Axford, Scott Richmond and Andrew Albers.
Unlike what has happened in previous competitions, Canada will be deprived of several talented young players who were not released by their majors.
Most hopes have lost a season due to the pandemic and cannot leave their livelihoods to represent their country.
Former Quebec Capitals to the rescue
Two Quebecers were chosen by Ernie Whitt, veterans Jonathan Malo, 37, and Josué Peley, 33.
The two former teammates of the Capitales de Québec haven’t played professional baseball for five years, but are still full-time baseball players.
They work together at Baseball 360, a company that sells equipment, but also offers baseball lessons in its training halls, which include batting cages.
Between teaching baseball to young people in sports studies and playing against former major league pitchers, there is a margin.
Joshua Peley knows it and saw it firsthand during the pre-season games against the United States.
For sure, when you haven’t faced a fastball at 96 or 97 miles an hour, it feels good. When I faced Edwin Jackson who was throwing at 95, 96 miles an hour, I said to myself: “OK, you have to get your foot on the ground a little faster and you have to be ready!”
For Jonathan Malo, a long-time Canadian starter, playing in a tournament is not the same level of difficulty as playing a full season.
It’s not like a 160 game season where you can have a bad day. You have to arrive and win every game, every set, every throw. You have to be at your best, he said.
I have no problem playing sequences of a week or two. It would be harder to play a full season and stay healthy. We won’t hide it, I’m going to be 38 in September and sores are coming faster, concludes the Quebec infielder.
The depth of the United States
If Canada is deprived of many of its young hopefuls because of the lost year, so are other countries.
The Americans have such a large pool of players that they should fare better than the rest, but they have also chosen to bring in veterans.
In the preseason games, the Canadian hitters were able to compete against pitchers who have spent more than 10 years in the big leagues like Homer Bailey, Edwin Jackson or David Robertson.
Former Dodgers Matt Kemp, a player who has racked up over 1,000 RBIs in the MLB, patrols the outfield for the Americans.
Jonathan Malo, who spent seven seasons with the Mets organization, acknowledges that the depth of the United States can seem impressive.
The United States came in with five or six guys who played 10 years in the big leagues. They are very well endowed with experience.
But we just played two exhibition games against them and it was very close, he says, delighted. It can go from one side to the other. In these competitions, anyone can beat anyone.
By donning the Canadian uniform, Josué Peley comes full circle.
Like Malo, he rolled his head in affiliate baseball, before settling in Quebec with the Capitals. He hadn’t worn the Canadian uniform since a stint with the junior team 15 years ago.
Since that time, he notably spent three seasons with the staff of the Blue Jays, which made him fulfill his dream of reaching the major leagues.
Wednesday, his sport could give him another beautiful moment.
I was born in Venezuela. I moved when I was 10 years old. It’s going to be something cool and moving to face them. It will do something to my heart to play against my homeland, my country of origin, he said.
And, who knows, maybe he can hit a hit against former Detroit Tigers Anibal Sanchez and send Canada to the Tokyo Games.