Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
About a month ago, Batter’s Box visited Jerry Uht Park in Erie to watch the Blue Jays’ Double-A affiliate take on the Tigers’ farm club. We’ve already published interviews from that trip with pitching coach Rick Adair, first-round draft choice Aaron Hill and second baseman Dominic Rich, and we also spoke to two young Canadians who aspire to represent their country at the Olympics this year.

The obvious first question for an Ontario native playing professional baseball in Pennsylvania was who he liked in the NHL game between the Leafs and the Flyers, a few hours later. Matt Logan grinned, hedging just a little.

“Well, I’d like to say Toronto, but they’re an older team, and the Flyers crash and bang pretty good, so we’ll have to see tonight.”

At least he and roommate John Ogiltree, also from the GTA, would have a chance (after a bus ride to Akron, next stop on the road trip) to see the third game of the playoff series, which doesn’t happen often when you’re a New Hampshire Fisher Cat.

“The only time we get to watch much hockey is when we play a day game.”

The soft-spoken Logan signed with Toronto as a free agent in 1998, out of St. Augustine High School in Brampton. He credits one man for signing him.

“Bill Byckowski, the Blue Jays’ Canadian scout at the time, doesn’t live far from where I do, so he’d watched me play quite a bit.”

His first season of pro ball was a huge adjustment for the teenager.

“I went to spring training, then extended, then went out to Medicine Hat. It was a lot of work, but we also had a great time,” he recalled with a smile.

Logan’s walk to strikeout ratio (39/37 in 2003) suggests he’s developed a pretty good batting eye while advancing through the system.

“I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I think I’m finally learning how to hit, getting a better idea at the plate of what to look for, and what to do in certain situations.”

It’s a process that takes time, but the 25-year-old is becoming more confident in his ability.

“I’ve matured as a ballplayer, and as you experience more and more games, I think I’m starting to figure a few things out.”

In the game the night before, though he made one ill-advised throw across the diamond trying to erase the lead runner (it was ruled a fielder’s choice), Logan also ranged far to his right to make a fine defensive play, which we complimented, prompting a nod of acknowledgement.

“I take just as much pride in my defence as I do my hitting," he said with typical modesty, "and work just as hard on the field as I do in the cage.”

Matt doesn’t consider himself exclusively a first baseman.

“When I played for the Canadian national team, we had a few exhibitions against the American team where I played in left field, and I’ve played a few games at third, so I try to keep all my options open. Right now, we have a limited number of players, so I think it’s a good thing if I can be a backup infielder.”

We wanted to know how it feels to play ball with “Canada” on your uniform.

“It’s great pride to wear the maple leaf; a lot of people never get that opportunity.”

This summer’s Olympic baseball team won’t excite the nation quite like a Canada-U.S. gold medal hockey game, but Logan doesn’t mind.

“Baseball may not have as much renown in Canada as hockey,” he concedes, “but I’ve really enjoyed all the national teams I’ve played for, and we’ve always had a lot of fun.

Matt first played for his country in 1999, at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg. That was a bittersweet experience.

“We were in the unfortunate situation of having the best record in that tournament, but we didn’t qualify for the Olympics.”

When it was mentioned that the U.S. players in Panama last fall must have learned how disappointing that was — their first loss knocked them right out of the Olympics — Logan didn’t show much sympathy.

“Yeah, that’s the way it goes. We lost out in 1999, and the Americans lost out this year, but we can only concentrate on us, and we’re really looking forward to going to Greece in August.”

The national team will be assembled without the benefit of a tryout camp.

“They’ll pick the team by the middle of July,” he explains. “In the past, you’d just get a phone call, asking if you want to go. I think it will be the majority of the team that did qualify in Panama, maybe with a few changes here and there.”

Anyone currently on a major league roster would be a tremendous asset if they happen to get sent down by then, but Matt wasn’t looking ahead.

“Certainly, there’s a few guys who might be on the bubble either way. Some guys could also get called up to the big leagues, and we could lose a few of our excellent players.”

We asked Logan to compare Double-A ball to what he expects from the opposition at the Olympic tournament.

“I know a lot of the Australian players from playing with them; they might be equivalent, but the biggest challenge over there will probably be from Japan. From what I hear, they’ll be taking ballplayers from their major leagues. They’re quite talented, but if we do what we did in Panama, we can compete.”

Matt hasn’t noticed a significant difference in the Toronto organization since the change of front office regimes.

“All the young kids who have come through are excellent ballplayers,” he reasons. “This team we have here has great pitching, and the hitting’s going to come around. It’s a young team, and some of these guys just need some experience — it’s a big jump from A-ball to Double-A. The quality of players throughout this organization is phenomenal.”

Obviously, the patient Logan bought into the new hitting philosophy.

“Absolutely. That all starts in spring training. A lot of the guys on this team were in the big league camp — I got to go up there and play a game, too — and that just filters down. You talk to those guys, you learn how they do things. It’s a good philosophy — you’re taking pitches, working the count, trying to get into their bullpen early. You can’t be afraid to hit when you’re behind in the count, because a lot of times, that’s what happens.”

We asked about the biggest adjustments young players have to make in the Eastern League.

“The overall quality of play increases. You see talented players everywhere in the infield; all the pitchers are tougher, they know what they’re doing. You just don’t see as many mistakes as you do in A-ball — they don’t leave many pitches over the plate, you don’t see as many 2-0 or 3-1 fastballs, they’ll come at you with something that’s tailing away.”

Matt is practical about what he has to do to get to Triple-A and beyond.

“I just have to play consistent baseball. I’ve been known to be a slow starter in the past, but I’ve started off well this year. If I hit the ball consistently and play good defence, they’ll keep me in the lineup, and everything will take care of itself from there.”

One of Logan’s opponents on the weekend we met could be a teammate on the Olympic squad. Maxim St. Pierre, the Erie catcher, battled flamethrowing Brandon League in a memorable at bat the previous night (here's Robert Dudek's video of the last four pitches: 1 2 3 4) before striking out. Two innings later, St. Pierre got his revenge by taking Adam Peterson deep to clinch a SeaWolves victory.

After catching bullpen sessions for three pitchers in the damp and cold the next morning, the wiry 23-year-old was barely breathing hard when he stopped to chat with us. That blast off the side of the nearby arena had to be fun, we suggested.

“It sure was. After all those balls I hit right at people, even though I’m getting walks and doing the little things, that definitely felt good.”

Though Peterson is touted as a possible future closer for the Jays, Maxim never considers who the opposing pitcher is when he’s at bat.

“All I’m thinking about is to get a good fastball I can handle, out over the plate, and reacting to off-speed stuff.”

After 24 games, St. Pierre is hitting .205 with 3 HR, but when we spoke, his average was down near the .125 mark. He’s realistic about his skills.

“Defensively, I’m very good. I’m a major league defensive catcher. I’ve been hitting the ball hard, right at people, which is why my average was so low, but it looks like now that may be coming along a little.”

Maxim was drafted by the Tigers when he was only 16, right after high school.

“I didn’t know how to speak English,” he explains, “so I had to learn by myself. It took me about five years to learn to speak with confidence.”

He’s more than able to joke at his own expense in his second language.

“That’s why my structure is not very good; I learned with baseball players.”

Did we detect a bit of a Southern accent? St Pierre chuckles in agreement.

“Yeah, I’ve been there for so long, that’s what people tell me. I spent a lot of time in Florida, in four instructional leagues and three fall leagues.”

Just then, New Hampshire pitching coach Rick Adair walked by, shaking his head in mock disappointment that three Jays fans would be fraternizing with a Detroit farmhand.

“Boy, you Canucks sure stick together,” he chided us.

Reminded of our heritage, we asked St. Pierre who he liked in the hockey series between the Habs and the Lightning.

“I’ve been in Florida for so long, and I love Martin St. Louis — he’s my boy. It’s not like we hang out or anything, I’ve talked to him a couple of times and I’ve seen him play a lot. I like the Canadiens, and they have a good goalie, but the Lightning is better on offence and defence.”

The native of Pintendre, across the river from Quebec City, wasn’t sure if there was a renaissance of baseball in his home province, or more interest among young athletes there in taking up the sport.

“We don’t have college baseball, and it’s not all over the TV, but I’m sure there’s a lot of talent there. My mother gave me the choice, and I thought I was too small for hockey.”

Eric Gagne has obviously become a focal point of provincial pride, and St. Pierre mentioned another Quebec big leaguer with noticeable esteem.

“Eric Bedard, who’s now starting for Baltimore, is one of my best friends.”

When the conversation turned to Athens in August, St. Pierre’s enthusiasm was immediately obvious.

“I think Canada is going to have a good team, and possibly I’m going to play — you never know what can happen. I do think I could help the team, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Max wasn’t on the Olympic qualifying team in Panama; for some players, that was a difficult decision.

“Greg Hamilton (Baseball Canada's director of national teams) called my agent and I couldn’t do it. I’ve spent seven years in the minor leagues; I couldn’t afford it. It was better for me to go to the fall league and learn there, but I would have loved to go.”

This year, he’s waiting hopefully for another invitation.

“I’m going to go if they ask me to go. It’s only going to be two weeks, and our team could be very good, with me or without me.”

Both players still have some work to do before reaching the major leagues, but when you meet young men like Maxim St. Pierre and Matt Logan, and get to know them even a little, it’s impossible not to cheer for them to succeed. Let’s hope they both get a chance to experience the Olympic tournament, and a medal ceremony.
Matt Logan & Maxim St. Pierre: Olympic Hopefuls | 1 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Thomas - Sunday, May 23 2004 @ 01:53 PM EDT (#63530) #
Nice interviews. I hope to see both of them on the Canadian Olympic squad and I wish them the best of success in representing Canada and hopefully bringing home a medal.
Matt Logan & Maxim St. Pierre: Olympic Hopefuls | 1 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.