Andrew Case didn’t want to miss a chance to play for Canada on the international stage, even if the timing wasn’t perfect.
Case, a Blue Jays pitching prospect from Saint John had to work around his own wedding – travelling from the ceremony site in Mexico a day after tying the knot – to join Canada’s roster this week at the Pan American Games baseball qualifying tournament in Brazil.
“My [wife, Kelsey] is a saint,” Case said with a laugh in a phone interview. “Get married the 27th then fly to Brazil – it’s crazy, yes, but we talked about it to see if we could make it work and I was able to get a flight out of Cancun the next day.
“It will be my first time playing for Canada and I cannot wait.”
The tournament begins Tuesday, with the Canadians opening against Panama, and runs through Sunday in Ibiuna and Sao Paulo. The top four teams from the seven-team qualifier advance to the Pan Am tournament this summer in Peru.
Case, who missed a four-day pretournament camp with the team in Florida, won’t arrive in Brazil until early Tuesday morning. Manager Ernie Whitt said he likely won’t use the right-hander until later in the week.
“It’s kind of a unique situation, we couldn’t ask him to not get married,” Whitt said from Brazil. “When you have a chance to represent your country at a tournament, you’ve got to try to do it because opportunities like this don’t come around all the time.”
Canada is the two-time defending gold medalist at the Pan Am Games, having beaten the United States in Mexico in 2011 and once again in Toronto in 2015.
Left-handed pitcher Ryan Kellogg, who grew up a 10-minute drive from the Ajax, Ont., field that played host to the last Pan Am baseball tournament, is on this year’s qualifying roster after missing the action four years ago.
“That was the field I grew up playing on, so that was heartbreaking,” said the 24-year-old, who had signed his first professional contract with the Chicago Cubs just before the 2015 games. “I understood why I wasn’t able to go, but I get to play now and that’s all that matters.”
Kellogg was drafted as a starter but transitioned to a reliever during the 2018 season. He’ll be used out of the bullpen this week, and with the tournament starting so soon into the new year, most of Canada’s pitching staff will likely see only an inning or two of work anyway.
Major-league pitchers don’t report to spring training for another two weeks and minor-leaguers start even later. That means pitchers seeing live game action this week are doing so a month or two earlier than they’re used to.
“We basically have two pitchers who are stretched out who might be able to go four or five innings, but the rest of them we’re hoping to get an inning out and give them a couple days off,” said Whitt, who’s managing Canada for a 15th time. “We’re very cautious with our pitchers.”
Kellogg said he’s ready for the earlier start.
“I think it will be good,” the Whitby, Ont., native said. “The only thing that’s kind of weird about it is that you have to get built up quickly and then not see live hitters again until mid-March. So it’s a little bit different, but I’m ready to go and it will be fun.”
Canada’s roster features seven players with big-league experience, including right-handed pitcher Scott Richmond, who will start Tuesday’s opener, and outfielders Dalton Pompey and Michael Saunders.
Case is one of three players making their international senior team debuts in Brazil, although he was technically on the roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic when he suited up for one pretournament game.
“I put the uniform on for a day and kind of faked it, I was a little rental boy,” he said with a laugh. “But it still meant a lot and it was a cool experience.”
Canada is in Group B with Panama and Colombia (Venezuela pulled out earlier this month). Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic make up Group A.
The Canadians head into the tournament ranked 10th in the world, down from sixth in 2012 and eighth in 2016.
“The game has evolved so much over the last decade or so, and more countries have become better at baseball,” Kellogg said. “It’s not just the U.S. and the big countries any more. Other programs have taken leaps and bounds and now you have players from all over. … That’s going to shake up the rankings a little bit.”
Case blamed one of the reasons for Canada’s slip in the standing on the country’s tough climate.
“Typical Canadian stereotype, but we’re born with skates on and we get two months of summer,” he said. “These other countries play baseball 12 months of the year.”
That’s the main reason Whitt thinks Canada is heading into Brazil with a disadvantage – most of its opponents have played in winter leagues throughout the off-season – but he’s not counting his team out.
“There’s no question they’re in better baseball shape than we are, but having said that, the willpower of the Canadian player in these tournaments has been great,” the former Blue Jays catcher said. “We seem like we always show up and do what we’re capable of doing.
“We won’t sell ourselves short.”