Maple Ridge’s favourite slugger, Tyler O’Neill, has been selected to play for Team Canada in the 2015 Pan Am Games this summer.
He will join former major leaguers Jeff Francis and Shawn Hill in defence of the Pan Am hardball championshipm which Canada won in 2011.
And another of Maple Ridge’s favourite sons will be part of the team – former Montreal Expos star Larry Walker will be coaching.
O’Neill, who turns 20 on Monday, is making a name for himself as a power hitting outfield prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization. The third-round draft choice has hammered 14 home runs in 56 games for the Bakersfield Blaze of the Single A California League, while hitting .243. He’s striking out a lot, but the power numbers for his age being recognized. He’s tied for third in home runs in the league – 16 is tops.
“It’s not really that I try to hit home runs,” O’Neill told a Minor League Baseball website. “I’ve always kind of followed the way Albert Pujols swings the bat. He just really tries to hit the ball hard, good swing path. He just hits it hard, and doesn’t try to get underneath, and it just goes. That’s pretty much the mentality that I take.”
In spring training this year, O’Neill got to spend two games in Seattle – sitting in the dugout with hardball heroes like ace Felix Hernandez and all-star infielder Robinson Cano.
“They’re all real good guys, everyone out there,” O’Neill said. “It’s almost a different level of competitiveness, playing in front of [Mariners manager] Lloyd McClendon and the rest of the coaches. It’s a little bit of an adrenaline rush being up there, but you just have to treat it like another game and be yourself.”
For him, this season is about making the jump from short season single A last year, to a 140-game grind in the Cal league. Almost at the level of the 162-game pace of Major League Baseball.
His six-game Pan Am schedule will start July 11 against the Dominican Republic, and end on July 17 against the U.S. The medal games will be played on July 19.