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Junior national team taps Macleod pitcher

Pitcher Jake Hansen

Jake Hansen will pitch for the Canadian junior national team in exhibition games in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Fort Macleod’s Jake Hansen will test his powerful left arm against a junior college team from Florida and a professional team from Korea.
The 17-year-old Hansen will pitch for the junior national team, a collection of the best 18 and under players from across Canada.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Hansen, a Grade 11 student at F.P. Walshe school.
The junior national team will play a series of eight exhibition games from Feb. 26 to March 5 in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Hansen is scheduled to pitch two innings against St. Petersburg Junior College and two more against the Korea Nexen Heroes, a professional team.
A strong performance in both of those games could earn Hansen the nod for one inning of work against a split squad version of the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, March 4.
“Having this game occur is a natural fit for the Toronto Blue Jays and Baseball Canada,” Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said in a news release. “The ability to assist in development of the elite Canadian baseball players is an opportunity we are thrilled to be a part of.”
The Canadian team will also play Beach State Independent and a touring national team from the Netherlands.
The exhibition series gives the Canadian players a chance to represent their country, sharpen their skills and expose their talent to major league and college scouts.
It’s an exciting opportunity and one that Hansen almost let slip away.
“I was going to quit baseball when I was 10 years old,” Hansen said, flashing a smile.
The 10-year-old Hansen admitted he was afraid of the ball when standing at the plate, and found baseball too slow.
But he stuck with the game, and he’s glad he did.
“As I got older I started to love the game,” Hansen said. “It just fit what I wanted — my personality.”
Hansen developed into a dominating pitcher for the high school F.P. Walshe Flyers as well as the American Legion Fort Macleod Royals.
Credit for his development, Hansen said, goes to his coaches and teammates.
“I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far,” Hansen said of the chance to wear the uniform of his country. “It’s definitely from the efforts of my coaches and teammates.”
F.P. Walshe school teacher Peter Lavorato and Jake’s dad, Erik Hansen, guided the Flyers last season to the provincial high school baseball title.
Jake Hansen also credited his coaches with the Royals, Brad Dersch and Ben Paskal, with helping him develop as a pitcher.
“They really helped me out confidence-wise,” Hansen said.
Kevin Kvame of the Spitz Canadians, an all-star team on which Hansen played, provided considerable inspiration, Jake said.
This past fall and winter Hansen’s development as a pitcher, baseball player and athlete accelerated with the help of the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge.
Hansen and Flyers and Royals teammate Taylor Wolstenholme travel to Nolan Yard in Lethbridge four or five times a week for 2 1/2-hour workouts.
Prairie Baseball Academy coach Todd Hubka — a former Fort Macleod Royal — and his assistants have helped Hansen with his mechanics, awareness of the game and conditioning.
“It’s made me reach a level I thought was not approachable,” Hansen said. “The coaches have helped me improve in so many areas.”
While he’s had lots of support on the ball diamond, Hansen has also benefited from the unwavering help of his father Erik and mother Denise.
“They’ve always supported me,” Jake said. “It’s a good feeling to have parents who support me.”
Hansen caught the eye of junior national team coaches last summer while pitching for Alberta at the Baseball Canada Cup, a tournament made up of teams of the best players aged 17 years and under from every province.
Hansen was on the short list for the first round of tryouts for the junior national team but did not get invited.
Then he got the call to audition for the second round, throwing 40 pitches for junior national team coaches at the baseball facility in Vauxhall.
“They liked my command, and my off-speed (pitching) was good,” Hansen said.
The spring training camp and exhibition games are part of the process for Canadian players to qualify for the 2012 World Junior Baseball Championship in Seoul, South Korea.
Jake Hansen is excited to test his skills against a higher level of competition, and have the chance to stay with the junior national team.
“There is pressure,” Hansen admitted. “You have to take the stress and work with it. You’ve got to work harder at every level as you go up.”