Blue Jays prospect Andrew Case was back home in St. John, Canada this off-season when the phone rang.
"Hey, do you have time to talk?"
Toronto's Pitching Coordinator Jeff Ware was on the other end. For any prospect in the Jays system, when Toronto calls, you immediately make time to talk.
"We want to extend congratulations," Ware told Case. "We want to invite you down to Big League camp and get you ready for the upcoming season."
Fresh off an Arizona Fall League championship season during which he did not allow an earned run over 10.0 innings, the invite to Major League Spring Training was a thrill for the 25-year-old reliever.
"It means a lot on my part, being Canadian and having the dream to play on the Blue Jays," Case said, sitting next to fellow Canadian righty Jordan Romano outside the Blue Jays clubhouse in Dunedin. "Getting this invite means you're one step closer to wherever you're headed."
Romano, who hails from Markham, Ontario, was actually at the Rogers Centre in Toronto when he found out he had received an invite to Major League Spring Training.
"I was at Rookie Development Camp at the Rogers Centre and Jeff Ware and [Director of Player Development] Gil Kim pulled me aside and said, 'Congrats, you're invited to big league camp'."
For a prospect, being invited to big league Spring Training is both a vote of confidence from the organization and a valuable opportunity to learn from Major League coaches and players.
"Being around all of the guys that we've watched on TV and learning from them, seeing how they do their business, it helps us a lot," Romano said, reflecting on his first few days in camp. "Everything here is done with intent. Everything is done right. We're not just going through the motions here. The guys come in and get good quality work in. It's pretty cool."
"It's so chill here, it's actually amazing," Case said of his immediate impression of the Major League side of Spring Training. "They say, 'Don't let the game speed up'. This camp is the definition of that. The guys are not speeding the game up. They take care of business every day and leave the park saying 'I got better today'."
Both Case and Romano grew up as Blue Jays fans in Canada and are relishing the opportunity to be around and learn from the players they've spent years rooting for.
"I've looked up to Roberto Osuna and watched him close big league games," Case, a closer throughout the majority of his minor league career, said when asked which player he's most excited to learn from. "I'm not trying to be him, but hopefully I can be there to help him some day."
For Romano, Toronto's starting pitchers have set a strong example early in camp.
"Watching how they take care of business in the locker room, in the weight room, and on the field, I'm trying to emulate that. If I don't know where to be, I'll look at one of the starters and do what he's doing."
Both pitchers enter 2018 looking to build off strong momentum from the previous year. Case reached AAA-Buffalo and then won a title in the Arizona Fall League while Romano finished second in the Florida State League in strikeouts during a championship season in Dunedin. Their first invite to Major League Spring Training is a big next step on their way to Toronto.
"I want to play for my home town," Romano said of his goal to reach Toronto. "This is the team that drafted me, that took a chance on me. This is the team I want to play for."
While every prospect dreams of reaching the Majors, having the opportunity to pitch for their home country is an added incentive for the two young pitchers.
"Ending up with the Blue Jays makes you want it that much more," Case said. "That's the dream I've always had, to be a Blue Jay. It's right in front of us now. We just have to go get it."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.