DUNEDIN, Fla. â€” Dalton Pompey remembers watching the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto as a teenager and wondering if he’d ever get a chance to play in the tournament.
Fast forward eight years and he finally has his answer.
The 24-year-old outfielder from Mississauga, Ont., will be in Miami next week when Canada opens WBC play against the Dominican Republic on Thursday.
Pompey, who hasn’t worn a Canadian jersey in an international competition since playing for the junior national team in 2010, is thrilled to be on the roster. But as someone who’s still hoping to crack the Blue Jays’ big-league roster out of spring training, he wasn’t initially sure if leaving camp for a week to compete for Canada was a good idea.
“It was a tough decision,” a thick-bearded Pompey said in a recent interview at Toronto’s spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla. “I had the conversation with (general manager) Ross Atkins and it’s something that I wanted to do. I’ve waited so long for this opportunity. I don’t know if there’s going to be another one so if this is my last shot, I wanted to do it.
“I’m still competing for a spot (with the Blue Jays) but when they signed Jose (Bautista) I knew it wasn’t as open as it once was. I figured, ‘Hey, I should go. Best case scenario I miss a week of spring training and that’s not too bad.'”
Canada will be without two of its most recognizable faces with Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto and Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin unavailable. Also missing are Phillies outfielder Michael Saunders, Mariners left-hander James Paxton and White Sox second baseman Brett Lawrie.
Votto turned down Canada’s invitation to focus on his own play this spring while Martin had to bow out due to insurance concerns following off-season knee surgery.
“It’s disappointing because it means we can’t put our best team on the field, but it’s their careers at the end of the day and they should be able to do what they want,” Pompey said. “Unfortunately, as other people say, we don’t have the depth that other teams do but we still have quality guys and we’re going to compete regardless.
“We kind of have to focus on the guys that we do have and in a short tournament you never know what can happen.”
The WBC features a three-game round robin with the top two teams from each of the four groups moving on to the second round. The winners and runners-up from there advance to the single-elimination championship round in Los Angeles.
Canada has never moved past the group stage in each of the three previous tournaments. And with the Canadians in arguably the most difficult group of the tournament with the United States, Colombia and the defending champion Dominicans, they’ll have an uphill battle again.
“We know we look like underdogs,” Pompey said. “But it’s early in spring training and guys aren’t going to be in mid-season form anyway. You just have to come out and put some at-bats together, hopefully make some pitches, play some defence and you never know.
“If we end up winning, we’re the underdogs, we’re the good guys.”
Canada does have a few players with lengthy MLB careers on its roster â€” free agent Justin Morneau has 14 major-league seasons under his belt, Ryan Dempster spent 16 years in the majors before retiring after the 2013 season and Eric Gagne pitched in the big leagues from 1999-2008. The team also has a wealth of experience playing in short, international tournaments.
Seven players, including Blue Jays left-handed pitching prospect Shane Dawson, are returning from the 2015 gold-medal winning Pan American Games team, and nine members of this year’s WBC roster also played at the 2013 tournament.
Morneau, along with infielder Pete Orr and right-hander Scott Mathieson will be making their fourth WBC appearances.
Pompey, one of the younger players on the team, sees the benefit of having a mix of MLB and international experience.
“You’re playing with major league guys but you’re in an international tournament so it helps to have both,” he said. “It’s just a couple of games, it’s not a season. In a season guys have to make adjustments and stuff like that, but minimum three games and onward from there I feel like it’s a smooth transition.”
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Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press