The Man Behind Canadian Baseball

Adam Loewen is the highest-drafted Canadian-born player in history, thanks in part to Greg Hamilton. (via Keith Allison)

There is no end to the legend of Greg Hamilton.

On the surface, he’s the director of Baseball Canada’s national teams. He scouts amateur talent across Canada, and develops and manages the junior national team for its regular trips each year, as well as for world competitions. Then he scouts professionals, drawing out what must be an incredibly lengthy depth chart, constructing the senior squad for its international tournaments. This year is Hamilton’s 20th at the helm of Baseball Canada, though he’s been involved for much longer. His identity and the team’s are closely interwoven; at times, they may be hard to distinguish from each other.

Hamilton is Team Canada, but he is also much more.

Providing an opportunity

From the beginning, Hamilton envisioned a plan to find the Canadian players with the most potential and provide them a professional schedule they could use to develop as players, get a glimpse of the next level, and be provided opportunities to showcase their talents for college recruiters and professional scouts.

“Obviously from a development perspective, when they start they’re not ready for it, but that’s the beauty of development,” he said. “You find players who have the ability to play up, who have the tools to play up, and you nurture that process. We could not do that without the partnerships we have with professional teams and the ability to play them, because the speed of the game goes up and players grow and mature and they learn that they have the ability and can actually accomplish and succeed at higher levels.

“That was the founding principle – if we were going to be successful in developing players, we have to create an environment with a continuum. It wasn’t just an in and pick a roster, go play in a tournament, and then go off elsewhere. It was repetitive competition in a pro environment against professional competition.”

No matter the players, or how long they spent on the junior national team, they are almost universally grateful for the opportunities they received and impressed by the growth of those opportunities for young players as the program has continued to build.

“I didn’t really know what Canada had to offer until I met Greg Hamilton,” said Adam Loewen, who became Canada’s highest-ever draft pick in 2002 and is still playing for Hamilton. “He got me on the junior team at 16 years old. The first time I met him, I remember having a long meeting with him and him explaining all the opportunities that were available that I didn’t know were possible.

“I didn’t even realize there was a draft until I was 15 years old. I was in the dark. I was just playing for my local team in Surrey and then Greg rolled around with the junior team and it was like, here we go. There were so many opportunities to be seen and I didn’t even have to go to any Perfect Game showcases or anything like that because we were always in front of scouts wherever we were.”

Added Chris Leroux, whose time from playing on the junior team to his latest Team Canada trip has also spanned almost two decades: “It was everything. Not only the opportunity to get drafted and go to a good D-I college, but it offered us a chance to play against the best players in the world. When I was coming up we were playing against Delmon Young and Lastings Milledge and Jeff Allison – Team USA had about four or five first-rounders when we were traveling with them the summer I played, in 2002. Where else would I have played against five first-rounders on one team for the whole summer? It’s the best.”

“It gave me the opportunity to have the visibility from scouts,” said Phillippe Aumont, who became a first-round pick after his time as a junior. “It allowed you your time to shine, and to get an opportunity to sign, and for me it worked out super great. I always felt like I was a part of this family and it gave me the confidence to take it to the next level. As a young guy, you have a hard time seeing yourself and being able to evaluate yourself, and that’s where Greg did a great job. It’s incredibly special.”

When Paul Quantrill entered his teen years, he crossed the border to play his high school baseball in Michigan before college. There were stories of Canadian players who were getting opportunities in the game, but he found his in America. Years later, Quantrill began working with Hamilton and the junior team, and saw his own son Cal go through the system before heading to Stanford University and becoming the eighth overall pick of the Padres in 2016.

“I learned more when Cal came through but by then I had spent years and years with Greg and the program, especially with the juniors,” Quantrill said. “It’s the biggest separator for us. The Canadian program is better than any program in the world. I’ve spent an awful lot of time working with the Blue Jays in Toronto but also down here in the U.S. and it’s such a huge advantage for these kids. My son faced more college and pro hitters with the junior team than he faced high school hitters.”

“It’s the entire reason I got drafted pretty much,” 2015 second-rounder Andy Yerzy said. “It’s not the only time but it’s one of the main reasons you get to play out in front of pro teams and get exposed. I learned how to be a pro. That schedule is like a pro ball schedule.

Koob and Groom Double Down for the Browns
Two days, three games, and 20 no-hit innings.

“It’s pretty similar and it teaches you to grow up a little bit earlier and gives you a head start on most other high school kids. I would get almost 200 at-bats a season against professional baseball players before I became a pro player. I got three years of that so I probably got more than 500 pro at-bats before I even became a pro.”

While every Canadian high schooler drafted in the past several years has been a member of the junior national team, the program’s reach goes well beyond pro ball. With each passing season, more players are going to higher-ranked schools, making bigger impacts, and giving college recruiters a reason not to sleep on the great white north.

“Being on Team Canada, Greg is the main reason I got a scholarship [to the University of Kentucky],” Marlins prospect Tristan Pompey said. “He knew Gary Henderson and lined it up for them to come see me play with the national team. I would definitely say I owe a lot to him and Baseball Canada. I am where I am today because the University of Kentucky got to see me and I got the opportunity to play in the SEC.”

“The exposure is incredible,” said Jamie Romak, who, when you include the postseason, led the KBO in home runs last year. “It’s more reflected in where these kids now have options to go to school. It didn’t used to be where you would see these SEC, ACC, west coast, top-ranked schools with Canadians.

“The exposure and relationships he’s cultivated are allowing kids to go from the Canadian Premier Baseball League and playing on the junior team to playing meaningful roles at SEC schools out of high school. It’s really impressive. I can’t imagine any sport in the world, any country, putting together that schedule and opportunity for high school and amateur players. And it’s only continuing to get better.”

Added Larry Walker: “Greg doesn’t stop, I know that. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does. These kids come up and get these opportunities and they need to realize that Greg Hamilton is a big reason why all these things happen now. Guys show up to these events and go about their work and do their things, but without Greg, these opportunities don’t exist. He’s got his hands in everything and it’s all for the good of the program.”

The family man

It makes sense that Hamilton would be able to have this sort of impact. He is, first and foremost, a family man, though he has an expansive understanding of the term. He has his immediate family at home in Ottawa – his wife, a 13-year-old daughter, and 14-year-old son – but over the 20 years he has worked full-time at the helm of the country’s national teams, Hamilton has created a family that extends far and wide, and an environment in which those family members would do anything for one another.

“My sister spent time in Sierra Leone and he actually helped us adopt their daughter,” Loewen said. “It’s amazing. He would do anything for his guys. Everybody respects him, and everybody loves him. I can’t speak highly enough about him. There are no words.

“But I think that story puts into perspective what he’ll do for his guys.”

For 22-year-old Demi Orimoloye, a Nigerian-born natural athlete with an early affinity for the gridiron, Hamilton was an instigator of change. The now-Toronto Blue Jays prospect’s parents were unfamiliar with the extent of the sport, the idea of the national team, or what it might be able to offer their son, and were at first uninterested.

Fortunately for Orimoloye, Hamilton shared his neighborhood, and made several trips to the young player’s house. He spent time with his family, and gave him a chance to understand the possibilities.

“We would have a lot of conversations one-on-one, and he would come to my house and talk to my parents,” Orimoloye said. “We had talks about everything, about baseball, about life. He had to explain Team Canada to me and my family. I didn’t know it existed until then. He gave us a lot of perspective.

“I didn’t know anything and Greg was almost like a second dad when it came to baseball, telling me the ins and outs of the process, what to expect, what not to expect, how to prepare, and step-by-step he was always there. Greg’s that guy who was always there to talk to, whether it was baseball or something other than baseball. He knew and did everything. We called him ‘The Perfect Man.’”

Perfection isn’t an image Hamilton aims to portray, nor does he think it is possible. But according to Canadian baseball legend, the man who is known to his players as being in better shape than all of them, getting his miles in before they wake, organizing each day to a tee, and having only one vice – miniature chocolate chip cookies – is as close as it gets.

“Greg’s honestly turned into a father figure, and he’s arguably the best man I’ve ever met,” Michael Saunders said. “When I had to say ‘no’ to him last year about going to the [annual] banquet, it ripped me up inside. It was the first time I’ve ever had to say no to him and it’s not an easy task.

“He takes care of us. No one’s more proud to be Canadian than he is. He’s the guy who doesn’t get enough credit behind the scenes for all the work he puts in. It’s not just about getting ready for a tournament here or here; it’s a year-round thing for Greg. He’s incredibly proud of this program and he should be. He’s really made Canada into a force in international baseball.”

In the 20th anniversary season of Hamilton’s full-time reign of the national teams, the senior squad will look to defend its back-to-back Pan Am Games gold-medal wins at the end of July. Before that, Hamilton will take the junior team on three separate tours to play against professional competition.

After capturing bronze at last year’s qualifying tournament, the juniors will have their turn at taking on the world in September at the U18 Baseball World Cup before the focus turns back to the senior team for Premier 12 in November.

Throughout his tenure with Baseball Canada, both full and part-time for 27 years, and his time with the French national team before that – where Hamilton’s influence was felt so greatly that there is now a baseball field named after him in France – he realized how important the creation of a family is for the international game.

The Ottawa native came to understand that before teams can win world tournaments, they have to trust one another. They need to want to take care of each other, take pride in what they are doing, and everyone must be going in the same direction.

“Without care and without a sense of purpose and without people being invested, it’s tough to be successful and create something that people feel they’re a part of,” he said. “When you can do that, when everybody cares and has a little part of it, and people do care about one another’s families and their personal lives, then they care about the team. Ultimately, especially in the international game, that’s everything.

“It’s playoff baseball every time we get together, so if you’re going to an event or tournament, you have to be all in, you have to care about it, and it has to matter. If you’re divided, it’s very difficult to have successes on the international stage. It’s a natural extension of bringing the team together, when people care about one another.”

After Aumont’s time with the Canadian junior national team, his professional career met ups and downs. In 2015, he even thought he might step away from the game. Then Hamilton invited him to suit up once more in the red-and-white uniform at the Pan American Games, hosted that year in Toronto. After rejoining Team Canada, and winning a gold medal on home soil, Aumont’s passion for baseball was reignited.

“This is the biggest family I’ve had in baseball,” the 30-year-old right-hander said. “Every time I get a phone call from Greg, or an email, it’s always like Christmas morning. I get to put on the uniform again, I get to put on these colors, and to go compete with the family we’ve had for so long. It’s always the biggest sense of pride.”

Though Leroux has officially stepped away from playing professionally, and is currently a member of the Blue Jays broadcast booth after a stint on Bachelor Canada, he couldn’t resist an opportunity to put on that one particular uniform with a specific group of teammates.

“This is something that gets me going,” he said. “This is Team Canada baseball. Playing and being on the field, I forgot how much I missed it and this has been amazing. I literally go to bed at night and I’m thankful to Greg for giving me this opportunity just because I actually forgot how much I loved baseball and there’s nothing better than being able to put on this uniform.”

Pride is the differentiator

It becomes hard not to see Hamilton and his program as legendary when a Super Bowl champion proudly mentions his time on the Canadian junior national team as one of the best athletic experiences of his life. Those were Luke Willson’s words after the Seahawks won it all in 2014, and the tight end continues to rank his time with Team Canada among his favorite sporting moments.

“That is definitely one of the fondest teams I’ve been on,” Willson said. “I would put our first couple years in Seattle when we went to the Super Bowl a little above it, if we’re being transparent, but part of it was the obvious of playing for your country.

“In football, we don’t have a Team Canada, so to play a game that every country in the world really plays at this point, and stroll out with Canada on your chest is pretty special, especially being somewhat of a small-town Canadian kid from LaSalle. That was a memory and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

Saunders was an 11th round draft pick in 2004 and has since turned into a major league All Star, but before all that he was a junior national team member playing for Hamilton, which was a time he will never forget.

“I remember the camaraderie first and foremost,” the 32-year-old outfielder said. “I got to play a couple years with the junior team and I try to explain to everybody that there’s just something about Team Canada, where it’s like a tight fraternity and we can be away from each other for years and it’s like we never missed a beat when we get back together.

“So that was my first taste of what it meant, and essentially the junior team is the feeder system into the senior program and it’s the same feel all the way through. You learn what Team Canada is all about – it’s about pride, playing for the country rather than the name on the back of the jersey.”

Though Brock Dykxhoorn hasn’t had a chance to play for Team Canada since the 2015 Pan Am Games, and before that as a junior, the 24-year-old hurler, who is currently headed to the Korean Baseball Organization, believes what was instilled in him by Hamilton with those teams is something he continues to think about every day he’s on the field.

“A lot of it is pride in who you’re playing for, whether it is Team Canada or your organization – it’s about taking pride in that opportunity,” Dykxhoorn said. “It’s more than just you. You’re representing your family, you’re representing the country of Canada, or the SK Wyverns, whoever it may be, so take pride in that and realize it’s not just you that you’re playing for. That was the biggest thing off the field I took from him, was to think outside of yourself – to think of the team, the organization, your family.”

Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro and Hamilton first crossed paths at Princeton University; while the former was playing football and the latter started in hockey and then joined the baseball team, they only knew of each other. Since Shapiro has become immersed in the Canadian game, he’s continued to learn just what pride means to the country’s players and how Hamilton has contributed.

“Obviously I knew before I came here what he was doing, but I don’t think I had a true grasp of the impact he has made, but maybe more importantly just of the person he is and how revered he is,” Shapiro said. “He’s the kind of person and leader who really resonates with me. I’ve got immense respect for his talent, his knowledge and his leadership ability, but what’s most impressive is his humility and the amount of respect he garners due to his authentic leadership style…

“If I had to be confined to one word about the Canadian baseball scene, I would say pride is clearly the differentiator. And I would say that Greg’s approach embodies the pride, how people feel about Greg and how people revere him, are a reflection of how they feel about baseball in Canada.”

What makes it work

With Hamilton’s unique ability to scout and develop talent, as well as build and maintain relationships at every level, there’s no shortage of guesses on how many jobs he’s been offered. But it’s because of his loyalty to his players, his program and his country that everything works as well as it does.

“He is one of those guys who could probably do anything,” Shapiro said. “He could be a farm director or he could manage professionally, but it’s clear that Greg is committed to his mission, which is not just to win baseball games with the junior national team, but to grow the footprint of baseball and the impact of baseball throughout all of Canada.”

Added Romak: “He’s a guy who has one of the most unique skill sets you might ever see, in terms of being able to wear a lot of different hats and cross over a lot of different industries and be very successful in all of them. He can talk to business people, 15-year-old kids, major league superstars; he can talk to everyone in between.”

Said Dalton Pompey: “He’s the heart and soul of Baseball Canada. As long as I can remember, anytime you think of Baseball Canada, you think of Greg Hamilton.”

“He is the face of Baseball Canada, absolutely,” Tristan Pompey said. “With the people he’s brought through, the talent level has gone up in Canada. It’s not like Team USA where you go try out for the team either. He comes out on his own, finds you, and picks you. He picks the people who he thinks are best and helps develop them. He is the messiah of Baseball Canada.”

Hamilton’s masterpiece is the creation of a baseball environment where players truly feel as though they are playing for and among family. The games have high stakes, and they matter to everyone involved, but no matter the result, the family remains.

“This environment is different because we emphasize to them that they’re playing for their country, No. 1, they’re playing for themselves, their parents and they’re playing for their team,” senior team manager Ernie Whitt said. “It’s awfully hard to bring a group of guys together who are pulling for the same thing. They want to do well themselves when they’re in minor league ball or major league ball, but the emphasis that we’re all in this together and we all pull the rope the same way and that’s what has made this very successful.”

Not only are the players playing for one another, but they have a desire to give back to those who gave to them.

“Playing for Greg Hamilton is a special experience,” Willson said. “Especially now, being 29 and looking back on it. I’ve played on a variety of different sports teams in my life, under different coaches, and it’s really special when you find somebody you play for and you want to do well for them. Obviously you want to do well for yourself, you want to do well for your teammates, you want to do well for the team, but Greg Hamilton promoted this atmosphere where I wanted to play well for G Ham.

“I wanted him to have success because he was just such a good dude, and so honest with me personally about my situation, with baseball and football. He was very honest regarding the opportunity that was potentially available if I played well. And I remember at random hours after crazy days where we had played doubleheaders and he had 30-plus 18-year-olds in Florida, he would spend an hour – numerous times – working on my swing, what I could correct, what my mentality needed to be, and his total approach to the game. By the end of that summer, in my opinion, I had become a decent baseball player.”

To all those who have played for Hamilton, he is nothing short of the best.

Added Braves prospect Mike Soroka: “Greg is everything to Baseball Canada, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who says he isn’t. It’s hard to envision the program without him. For what he does and he stands for daily, it’s on another level. He’s got so much excitement for being able to represent this country every day.

“I know he’s a guy who throughout his 20 years full time and part time before that, I’m sure there hasn’t been one day where he’s taken that opportunity for granted. He’s an example all of us can follow. He’s the gold standard in Baseball Canada and it’s pretty amazing to be able to follow one guy like that. It does wonders for a team and that’s why you see our Pan Am team going for a third straight gold medal because the guys truly come together because of Greg.”

For someone who lives his life to see others realize their dreams, it brings immense pleasure to those around him to know that Hamilton has done the same.

“It has been a dream job for me,” Hamilton said. “You have a little bit of an opportunity to help people move along, and it’s nice to see them go on and have success on the field and in life, and that’s the motivating factor for everything. It’s about people succeeding and living their dreams and realizing their dreams. The medium is baseball and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of something a lot of people care about.”


A competitive baseball player growing up, Alexis Budnicki has worked for the Toronto Blue Jays, and written for Baseball America, the Australian Baseball League and Canadian Baseball Network, among others. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.
newest oldest most voted
pedeysRSox
Member
pedeysRSox

*bookmarked the article*.

Ratking
Member
Ratking

This is such a great article. So many players here fall through the cracks because there is no support and the coaching is lackluster at best. We need more people fighting for the kids and empowering them. Having played in B.C. with/against some of these guys and other not mentioned former MLB players it reminds me the quality of talent here that is still untapped. Thanks for this!!!!

Ryan McCrea
Member
Ryan McCrea

not surprised Votto’s commentary is absent here

Curacao LL
Member
Curacao LL

Good luck in new gig at MLB. Will your work be public or not?