Montreal magic at 18u BCS

Revue de Web

Jeff Dahn, site Internet de Perfect Game, le 27 juin 2017

Pierre Olivier Avoine, Académie Baseball Canada (ABC)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – For two weeks now, these Canadian ballplayers have ridden the bus in search of the kind of top-tier competition that generally can’t be found back home in Quebec.

And for two weeks now, the mostly French-speaking prospects, all in their late teens, have found just that while playing in a pair of Perfect Game national championship tournaments as members of the Montreal-based Academy Baseball Canada 18u squad.

Photo ci-dessus : Pierre-Olivier Avoine, 18-year-old, has signed his letter of intent with Galveston (Texas) College and will begin that career in the fall. (Photo: Perfect Game)

The AB Canada 18u’s  – wearing bright red jerseys with the French-Canadian spelling of “Académie” scrawled across the front – were at the Player Development 5-Plex near this city’s historic downtown river district on Tuesday morning looking to wrap-up what had to that point been a successful four days of pool-play at the 18u PG BCS National Championship. The team didn’t leave the 5-Plex disappointed.

After opening play on Saturday with a 2-1 victory over the Vanguards from Kissimmee, Fla., the AB Canada 18u’s closed it with an 8-1 win over East Coast Baseball from nearby Coral Springs, Fla., on Tuesday. They outscored their six opponents by a combined 40-14 on their way to a 5-1-0 overall pool-play record; their only loss was a 9-8 setback to the West Coast 9 Devils out of Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

No team in the field completed the two-part pool-play undefeated and only three others had as few as one loss, so while nothing was official as of early Tuesday afternoon, it seemed certain the Canadians would advance to Wednesday’s final-four. The long bus ride is paying big-time dividends.

“For the chemistry of our team this is a great, great thing, and the experience is awesome,” 2016 right-hander/corner-infielder Pierre Olivier Avoine told PG Tuesday morning, speaking in French-accented but more than passable English. “This is definitely a learning experience because we face great competition down here.”

Casual observers might be understandably confused when looking at the Academy Baseball Canada Roster and seeing several players listed with a 2016 grad year. That is because there is one year less of high school required in Quebec, so a student with a 2016 grad year is the same age as a U.S. student that graduated in 2017.

After finishing their required three years of high school instead of four, a Quebecois student must then enroll in a program called CEGEP – a French acronym – for two years before they can move on to study at four-year colleges or universities. It is sometimes compared to a college prep school or even a junior college in the U.S., but they’re actually quite different.

The players on the roster from the Quebecois classes of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 come from cities and towns scattered about the province with French names like Gatineau, Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue, Terrebonne, Cote Saint-Luc, Pointe-Claire and Boischatel.

The Academy Baseball Canada organization has been in operation since 1991, but up until two years ago functioned only as an indoor training program during Quebec’s winter months; the only traveling the academy members did together was a trip to Florida in March.

That changed about two years ago when Robert Fatal took over as director of the program and decided to turn everything around. Now, when the high school-age prospects make the team after tryouts in April, they stay with the organization for the entire year.

The goal – not unlike the goals of every travel ball organization in the U.S. – is to get the players as much exposure as possible and ultimately help them gain of the interest of a college or two along the way.

“This is our second year of (attending) summer tournaments and, so far, it has been good,” team manager Dave Dufour told PG Tuesday morning. “We’ve developed (better) relationships with more people on the (U.S.) teams that we’ve faced and with people that have been recruiting at our games.”

The team traveled south by bus and made several stops along the way, including one at Perfect Game Park South-LakePoint in Emerson, Ga., where the Academy Baseball Canada 18u’s played in the 18u PG WWBA National Championship.

It was a memorable stop. ABC missed the playoffs after finishing second in its pool with a 4-0-3 record, but one of the ties was a 2-2 outcome with the eventual tournament champion East Cobb Astros; the Astros won it with an overall record of 9-0-1.

“We -played pretty well up there in Georgia – we had a really good game against the East Cobb Astros – and now we’re here in Florida” Dufour said. “It’s been a long two weeks, but we’ve played a lot of games and a lot of baseball, and that’s what we want.”

Added Avoine: “We learn from each team we play … and when we play against great competition like last week against the East Cobb Astros, we try to come out with our A-game; we try our best to win.”

Official box scores from AB Canada 18u’s six games were not immediately available, but a quick look through the pitch-by-pitch account of its 8-1 victory Tuesday revealed a few notables. Avoine, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound righty from Gatineau, Que., got the start and threw a complete-game four-hitter, allowing one earned run while striking out five and walking one.

The AB Canada 18u’s totaled eight hits in the win, all singles, with 2016 outfielder Marc Antoine Lebreux accounting for four of them. Thomas Drouin (2016, Quebec, Que.), Anthony Marcano (2016, Montreal), Olivier Mayrand (2016, Laval, Que.) and Marc-Olivier Tessier (2017, Terrebonne, Que.) each singled once.

Avoine played soccer early in his athletic career but his dad encouraged him to switch over to baseball when he was 8 years old. He’s been working diligently on his game ever since, and the 18-year-old has signed his letter of intent with Galveston (Texas) College and will begin that career in the fall. This experience is giving him a taste of what baseball in The States is all about.

“You get to see what these other players who (are able to) play the whole year around can do (out on the field),” he said. “It makes us realize we have to work harder to get to where they’re at. We can’t play outside during the winter and that makes it a lot tougher, but we can see what they’re able to do and we can learn from that.”

Quebec lost the MLB Montreal Expos after the 2004 season when the franchise relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. The Expos had been a part the province’s sporting scene since 1969 and Quebec’s baseball fans – and its players – were deeply affected by the move.

Even the Team Quebec youth programs suffered the first few years after the Expos left, Dufour said, but things are starting to turn back around. In fact, he said, in the last two years the number of baseball players at all age levels in the province has doubled from 15,000 to 30,000. And, as Major League Baseball considers expanding to 32 teams from the current 30, there is talk about big-league baseball returning to Montreal.

“Baseball is getting a lot more popular now than it was five years ago and we can sense that everywhere we go,” Dufour said.

“Baseball is not like it is here … but I think it is a growing culture in Quebec,” Avoine added. “Maybe in the next several years we’ll see more and more baseball players in Quebec. I think we have good competition there even though it’s not a real (strong) culture, but it is a growing one.”

Dufour can’t find one aspect of this long road-trip that hasn’t been beneficial to his team of 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds, and it’s a certainty that similar – and maybe even additional – bus rides will be planned in the future. There just isn’t anything to lose.

“We get to play a lot of games and we get to play against some really good ball teams,” he said. “I’ve spoken with about a dozen (college) recruiters about some of our players, they are definitely seeing some benefits from these long trips. They get to know a little bit more about what baseball is like in the U.S., too.

“We’ve been playing some really good ball and we’ve got a really good group of leaders, and our main players are doing well on our trip so far.”

Revue de Web publiée par Jacques Lanciault.

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