(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - Have baseball, will travel. As Spring Training draws near, we begin to hear the stories of former Vancouver Canadians who took their game abroad to try and move up the ranks within the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
2011 Vancouver Canadians second baseman Jon Berti just got home a few days ago after playing winter baseball in Australia with the Canberra Cavalry where he hit .309 (55-for-178) with a home run and 31 stolen bases. As many back in North America worked out in batting cages and local gyms, Berti was on the base paths facing a collection of minor league players all looking to bask in the warm glow of an Australian summer where temperatures kept things comfortable, giving players the chance to fine tune their game.
Berti did more than fine tune, he set records eclipsing the Australian Baseball League's stolen base record which prior to his 31 was a respectable 16.
"It was definitely a surprise, I didn't know what the record was," said Berti during the season as reporters took notice to his closing in on the record long before he did.
Berti ran tough on the basepaths of the Northwest League just over two seasons ago and defensively worked alongside SS Shane Opitz who as fate would have it was patrolling the middle of the infield in Canberra once more as these two Blue Jays prospects continues to develop their defense together.
"Working with Opie was great and it was tough to see him have to head home early with his shoulder. I'm sure he'll be fine and I'll reconnect with him down in Dunedin," said Berti after the Blue Jays caught wind of a nagging injury that forced Canberra manager Micheal Collins to move Opitz to designated hitter in hopes the shoulder pain would ease.
Opitz finished his condensed season hitting .261 (29-for-111) with a home run and 17 RBI in 28 games for the Cavalry.
The time spent in Australia was well worth it for both players who both celebrated their first Christmas away from home with Berti describing it like 'Christmas in July' due to the 30+ tempuratures that welcomed both prospects.
Berti logged almost 200 at-bats with the Cavalry this off-season. 200 extra opportunities to see pitches, work on his swing and becoming a more complete baseball player. Most of the Blue Jays main stream media has focused on the likes of RHP Marcus Stroman and RHP Aaron Sanchez as the highly touted 'first rounders' are nearing a date with destiny in Toronto.
Ask around the Blue Jays organization and a little 'birdie' might tell you about a second baseman making waves around the globe.
With files from thebaseballdigest.wordpress.com and vancouversun.com
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.