CANOE Network

SLAM! Canadian Baseball

Saturday, September 6, 2003

National baseball team a strong squad

By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

  If Canada's national baseball team makes it to the Olympics, chances are several local pitchers will have a hand in getting them there.

While the Olympic qualifier in Panama City, Fla., doesn't begin until November, national team coach Greg Hamilton has already named several players to the team, including pitchers Mike Meyers from Tillsonburg, who is with the Triple A Iowa Cubs, and Brett Gray from Wyoming, who is pitching for AA Chattanooga Lookouts.

"We aren't running a selection camp. This is a selected team," Hamilton said.

It's going to be one of the stronger national teams Canada has put together. National teams now have the opportunity to grab players from a major league team's 40-man roster. While players such as Larry Walker, Corey Koskie and Eric Gagne are not going to play, Meyers, Gray and Justin Morneau, a first baseman with the Minnesota Twins, will. Hamilton said they are waiting to see if Chris Mears, a right-hander called up by the Detroit Tigers, will be available. The team will include veterans such as Stubby Clapp and Paul Spoljaric.

"Overall, this is one of the better teams we've had," Hamilton said. "It's a top-notch Triple A level team. But the other teams also have 40-man roster players available, so they'll be stronger as well."

Gray spent most of the season with the Lookouts and he spent it working out of the bullpen. It's not ideal for him. For most of his career, Gray has been a guy who likes to log a lot of innings. But he finished the year with a 5-3 record and an ERA of 3.94, pitching 64 innings.

For Meyers, simply getting through this season was a big deal. A shoulder operation caused him to miss the 2002 season. While Meyers never believed it was career-ending, any time a pitcher undergoes surgery it's a time to hold one's breath.

"It felt pretty good all this year," Meyers said. "I was happy with the way it bounced back from surgery. I felt it only once in spring training. I had to come out of a game because something felt weird. My mechanics didn't feel right. So I took a week off from throwing and took some anti-inflammatory pills and it seemed to knock it right out of me.

"You always worry after surgery and then you feel it. But that was the only time there was a problem."

The surgery was a tough break for Meyers, who has quietly become one of the most successful players from this area and wasn't far from getting a shot at the Chicago Cubs major league roster. He came back to work out of the bullpen, but when several pitchers got a call to the majors, he returned to the rotation.

Meyers also missed six weeks this year when he sprained his foot covering first base. But he managed to throw 74 innings with nine starts. He finished 5-2 with a 4.60 ERA.

"I was happy with my curveball and I hit 93 (m.p.h.) with my fastball, which is what I had before the operation," Meyers said. "I wasn't consistent with my location. But when you're off that long, sometimes that's the most difficult thing to get back. But I can't complain. I came back and my arm is healthy."

He couldn't have got healthier at a better time. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in October, the same month he turns 26. He's still young. He's healthy and he'll get some exposure pitching with Canada's national team.

"I'm going to take a couple of weeks off, then get right back into it," Meyers said. "The national team is going to Arizona, I believe, on Oct. 16. I'm not worried about becoming a free agent. The Cubs haven't talked to me, so maybe I'm not in their plans, but I don't think I'll have a problem getting a job."

Especially if he helps Canada make the Olympics.