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Team Canada's manager Ernie Whitt (CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Team Canada's manager Ernie Whitt (CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

Canada ready to put past behind them at World Baseball Classic Add to ...

Canada will play exhibition games against Milwaukee on Tuesday and Cincinnati on Wednesday.

Baseball Canada’s Greg Hamilton, the director of national teams and architect of Canada’s roster, said he is optimistic Votto will join the team. Losing the Toronto native would be a major blow to Canada’s offence, a point not lost on Whitt.

“That would hurt our lineup,” said Whitt. “Would that kill us? It would make things a little more difficult, but it gives an opportunity for someone else to come in and try to fill that spot.”

Lawrie likes the look of the roster as it is. With a resume that includes time on the Canadian junior team and the 2008 Olympic squad, Lawrie points out the squad has plenty of experience.

“I feel like we have a lot more guys now that have been through professional baseball,” said Lawrie. “It’s different because our pitching and what-not last time was a different boat. Now we have a lot of guys that have been around the game and that’s important because we understand what professional baseball is about and this tournament is about.”

Lawrie says the 2013 edition of Team Canada is “a little more special” than four years ago.

“If we can understand the game and know our limitations I feel like we’re going to be a lot better off,” he said.

Hamilton began the work of building Canada’s roster a year ago. He said it started by securing commitments from major-leaguers – Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster, Colorado pitcher Jeff Francis and Seattle outfielder Jason Bay are among the players who declined invites – then looking at depth charts to plug the holes.

Minor-leaguers Hamilton thinks can compete at the international level – such as outfielder Tyson Gillies and shortstop Cale Iorg – are given priority. Hamilton also benefited from Canada winning a gold medal against the U.S. at the Pan American Games in October 2011 as 10 players from that team are on the WBC roster.

The lineup tinkering won’t stop until Canada steps on the field Friday. Pitcher Jay Johnson and Suomi were both added to the team in the last month to replace injured pitcher Scott Richmond and Martin, respectively. If Votto pulls out, Hamilton said he will have a replacement ready.

Hamilton often speaks directly to players, but putting Canada’s team together also meant talks with agents and general managers who still are nervous about players competing at the WBC.

“I think there’s a difference between people being concerned and people having serious reservations on the viability of the event and whether or not it’s right,” said Hamilton. “I think at the end of the day if it’s ever going to get to become similar nature to the World Cup of soccer that eventually everybody will have to take a big sigh and say that we’re all in. Might not be comfortably in but we’ll be all in, and I don’t think the tournament is at that point now where everybody is all in.”

But Hamilton is in. So are Whitt and Lawrie, who want to move on from the embarrassment of 2009 and start the baseball season with games that matter.

“It’s going to be a great push,” said Lawrie. “Not only for myself, but I know for the rest of the guys on my team and a great push for the Blue Jays because it’s going to get Canada excited about baseball.”

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Here’s a look at the teams in Pool D:

CANADA

Record in 2009: 0-2

Canada is hoping to advance past the first round for the first time. A disappointing 6-2 loss to Italy knocked the team out of the ‘09 tournament at Rogers Centre in Toronto. Avenging that loss will be Canada’s first goal in Arizona.

“It stung. You never let those go easily,” Greg Hamilton, director of national teams for Baseball Canada, said of the Italy loss. “It’s something you reflect on, you look at, and as we move into this one everybody in the clubhouse brings a long memory of that one. We want to erase it and move forward.”

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