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Crouse, Knecht together again with Team Canada


By Alexis Brudnicki via Canedian Baseball Network

DUNEDIN, Fla. — First stop, spring training. Dunedin.

Second? Lansing, Mich., for a 140-game season in the class-A Midwest League in the Blue Jays system, plus three games in the first round of playoffs, two games in the second and another three in the championship round.

Next up, a three-game exhibition series in Cary, N.C. That will be followed by a trip to Panama for the World Cup and a trip to Mexico for the Pan Am Games.

This is the year that Marcus Knecht (North York, Ont.) and Michael Crouse (Port Moody, BC) have been having. And what, may you ask, did they decide to do in the little bit of down time they had between the end of their season in Lansing and the beginning of their first stint with the senior national team?

They headed back to Dunedin to get in some workout time and play some more ball.

“This is kind of recharging,” Crouse said after a morning workout at the Bobby Mattick training centre. “We started working out again and to us, this is recharging. Starting to work out and starting to get back into the routine.”

While neither outfielder appears to be showing blatant signs of wear or tear, the long season was a huge change for Knecht. He left the world of college baseball to embrace the confines of pro baseball, and embrace it he did. For the Lugnuts this season he batted .273/.377/.474 with 16 home runs and 86 RBIs.

“It was good,” Knecht said of his season. “At times it was a struggle. But all in all, looking back on it, it was a great season.”

Though the Lugnuts lost three straight games in the championship series, the two Canadians made their mark in the post-season. Knecht helped knock out the league favourites Dayton Dragons in the first round with an RBI-double and a solo home run in a 4-3 Game 3 victory. He also scored eight runs in their eight playoff games.

Crouse, who batted .261/.352/.475 with 14 home runs and 38 stolen bases over the regular season, drew a one-out bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth to take the second straight game against Fort Wayne, sending his team to the championship.

“This summer was great,” Crouse said. “I learned a lot from the coaches and through the players and just hope to repeat that next year. I hope to learn from that and then outdo that summer. That’s basically what we’re trying to do every year.”

The two young Canucks won’t have to wait until next year for more learning opportunities however. They’ll join Team Canada for the first time as a part of the senior team on Monday when they head to Cary to play three exhibition games against Team USA.

Having met in 2007 at the Canadian Junior National Team tryouts and playing together for the junior team, Knecht and Crouse are familiar with the feeling of representing their country. But the experience isn’t one that could become old hat.

“It’s exciting,” Knecht said of playing for the senior national team. “Every game counts.”

Crouse shared his teammate’s sentiment.

“Every game is meaningful,” he said. “You only probably have a 10-game schedule to get to the championship. It’s like how we were in the playoffs for Lansing. Every game counts. It’s just intensified.”

Intensified would be a good descriptor of the daily lives of these young men. The ambition, drive and dedication it takes to get through the season and just keep working toward the next one isn’t exactly commonplace among their demographic. At the ages of 21 and 20, respectively, Knecht and Crouse are living a life that not many can imagine and for them, it couldn’t be better.

“It’s awesome,” Crouse said. “I mean, how many people want to travel the world and see new things but don’t actually get the chance to do it? And through baseball, we get the chance to go to Panama, to go to Mexico, and to not only see the world but play ball and experience their culture.”

Panama City, Panama plays host to 16 countries for the 2011 IBAF World Cup, starting Oct. 2. Team Canada’s preliminary round competition consists of Puerto Rico, Japan, Greece, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands and the USA. From there, the top four teams from each pool will head to the second round, with medal matches happening on Oct. 15.

After that, Team Canada will head to Guadalajara/Lagos de Mareno, Mex. for the Pan Am Games, which take place Oct. 19-26. The Games welcome eight countries, with four teams advancing to the semi-finals.

Knecht and Crouse have been traveling this year-long journey together the whole way through. They literally road-tripped down to Dunedin from Lansing together, along with two of their other teammates. And if they can survive 20 hours straight in a car with each other after a six-hour drive back from Quad Cities following a loss, they can probably get through anything.

Beyond the jokes about fighting with one another and getting sick of each other all the time, the two stress that they have more in common than just a love for the game.

“I feel like we’re the same type of player as in what we want and what our goals are,” Crouse said, with Knecht nodding in agreement. “We compete off of each other every single day and overall, it makes us better for what we want to become.”

Despite having already spent several months together on the field and off, Knecht doesn’t mind having Crouse with him in the next phase of their season.

“We’re living together now,” Knecht said. “And we’ll probably room together with Team Canada. It’s good to play with people you know on a team where you don’t know a lot of people.”

They’ll meet the rest of their teammates on Monday, some of whom they’ve faced this year in competition and some they’ve never met. While the main goal for Knecht and Crouse is an obvious one, it will also be common ground for them with the rest of the national team.

“We want to win,” Knecht said. “It’s going to be a good experience. I want to see the pitching, see how the older players play the game and kind of feed off of that and learn from that. But above all, I want to win.”

Added Crouse: “Yeah, just go there and get that gold medal. I’ll stay with my approach that I’ve had all year and compete and go out there and continue to learn.”

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