JOPLIN, Mo. -- Canada is not known for high-level youth baseball, but Team Ontario has done its share the last 10 years to change that perception.
The program, which began in 1998, had 44 players on college baseball rosters in the United States this past season, according to a team spokesman. A total of 47 Team Ontario graduates have been drafted by major league teams during the past 11 years, and 15 grads are currently playing in the minor leagues. Chris LeRoux, a Team Ontario guy and a 6-foot-6 pitcher, plays for the Florida Marlins, although he's currently on the 15-day disabled list with a sore shoulder.
"We're proud of our program," said Tom Colangelo, the head coach of the Team Ontario team that is playing in the Premier Baseball Junior Championship here this week.
Team Ontario is fielding an 18U and 16U team this year. And as you might expect, the clubs are spending a lot of time in the U.S. this summer, travelling from tournament to tournament, seeking top-level competition. They don't get many home games.
"We always have to travel," said Colangelo. "They won't come up. We've tried."
Colangelo's team will have visited Oklahoma, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Delaware, Connecticut and possibly Florida before the summer is done. That's a lot of travel, mostly by air. "We do a ton," he said.
Colangelo said they'll play approximately 80 games during the year, all in an effort to improve and give players a chance to play college ball in the U.S. or get drafted. Compared to the competition they see on a regular basis in the States, he said Team Ontario is a "middle of the road" team in terms of performance.
Colangelo said a summer travel team is vital for the Canadiens, because high school baseball in Canada is played at a fairly low level. In fact, he called it "bad."
"It's sort of like playing high school hockey in Oklahoma," he said.
Colangelo said there are no other programs in Canada that can match Team Ontario's level of success in developing players. No other program in Canada, he said, can match their record of producing draft picks and players for U.S. colleges.
"We were the original," he said.
Team Ontario began the Premier Baseball tournament with three straight losses, including a tough 6-5 setback to the Kansas City Sluggers, but was hopeful of bouncing back as the tournament continued through this weekend.