Balkwill chasing pro dreams

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Larry Balkwill is doing a balancing act at the World Baseball Challenge.

He’s playing for his country and for himself, trying to win a gold medal while also impressing scouts.

“You’re playing for Canada and you want to win,” said the 22-year-old catcher from Chatham. “They remember who the champions are. ... But, at the same time, you have to look out for yourself, too. If we lost and I find a scout who likes me, it wouldn’t be a loss by any means.”

The Canadian team – mostly college players and recent graduates – lost 13-6 to the United States in Tuesday night’s opening game of the five-country tournament in Prince George, B.C. Balkwill hit an RBI single and reached base three times in five plate appearances.

Cuba, Japan and Chinese Taipei also have teams in the tournament, which is held every two years.

Balkwill heard there were as many as 30 major league scouts at the 2011 tournament. That was a big selling point after being recruited by manager Darren Doucette.

“Plus, you get to play for Canada,” Balkwill said. “It’s pretty sweet.”

He last wore the Maple Leaf with the Canadian junior team in 2009.

“It should be fun,” he said. “Another chance to play for your country. Don’t get those every day.”

Balkwill was a 41st-round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2009, but he chose to attend Siena College.

He wasn't drafted this spring after being a four-year starter for the Saints.

Now with the London Majors, he's taking a break from the Intercounty Baseball League playoffs to chase his pro dreams in Prince George.

“Ideally I get an independent ball contract or even a free-agent contract, something like that,” Balkwill said. “That’s the goal. Obviously you can’t control that. You can only play well and hope somebody likes you.”

The 2009 tournament all-star team had four future first-round draft picks. Gerrit Cole went No. 1 overall in 2011 and is now in the starting rotation for the NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates.

The U.S. roster isn’t as stacked this year. The USA Baseball collegiate national team played in 2009, but the Americans are now represented by the Northwest Athletic Association of Colleges.

Chinese Taipei sent its national team, the Ciego de Avila Tigres come from the Cuban National Series and Japan is represented by Intercity champion JX-Eneos of Yokohama.

Canada will play six round-robin games. The semifinals are Aug. 21 and the medal games are Aug. 22.

Balkwill is swinging a hot bat for the Majors. He's hitting .444 with a team-high four RBIs in the playoffs. In the regular season, he batted .318 and slugged .455 with 23 RBIs in 30 games.

He hit a walkoff homer Sunday for a 3-0 series lead over the Burlington Bandits in the quarter-finals.

“My going-away present,” Balkwill said. “But the way it looks right now, I won’t miss too many games. Best of both worlds.”

The Majors understand why he left. The timing isn't good, but they gave their blessing.

“It’s all about getting more looks,” Balkwill said. “Where we are, there’s (only) so many scouts in southwestern Ontario. Hopefully, someone out there likes me.”

mark.malone@sunmedia.ca

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