Commentary

Welcome to Canada

Updated: March 4, 2009, 2:54 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

QUICK FACTS

Most known (outside baseball) for its … Passion for ice hockey, very cold winters and beautiful scenery. Location: Northern North America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean on the east, North Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Arctic Ocean on the north, north of the conterminous U.S.

Size: 3,851,734 square miles, or somewhat larger than the U.S.

Population: 33 million.

People: British Isles origin 28%, French origin 23%, other European 15%, Amerindian 2%, other, mostly Asian, African, Arab 6%, mixed background 26%

Language: English (official) 59.3%, French (official) 23.2%, other 17.5%.

Government: Confederation with parliamentary democracy.

Capital: Ottawa (population: approximately 1 million).

Famous National Anthem verses: "From far and wide, O Canada! We stand our guard for thee."

QUICK CANADA BASEBALL HISTORICAL FACTS

Most Known In Baseball For Its … Aspiring hockey players turned mentally tough, athletically-sound baseball players (see Larry Walker, Eric Gagne, Matt Stairs) and a "new era" of players that gave up hockey at an early age to focus on baseball (Jason Bay, Jeff Francis).

Baseball's Canada debut: 1838, in honor of King George IV's birthday, a game closely resembling baseball, in its current form, was played in Beachville, Ontario between the town's club and a team from a nearby township. The day had been declared a holiday in celebration of the government's success in overthrowing the rebellion of the preceding year.

First Canadian to play pro baseball: Tom Smith (Guelph), in 1875, for the Brooklyn Athletics of the National Association.

Canada's National Baseball Hall-of-Famer: Ferguson Jenkins (Chatham, Ontario), who was inducted 1991. Jenkins won 267 games, amassed 49 shutouts and captured the National League Cy Young award in 1971, finishing his career 11th on the all-time strikeout list.

Other notable Canadian firsts: Tip O'Neill (Woodstock, Ontario), first Canadian to win Triple Crown (1887 with St. Louis Browns: .435, 14 HR, 123 RBI); Jack Graney (St. Thomas, Ontario), first batter to face left-hander named Babe Ruth in a professional game, and also the first player to bat wearing a number on his uniform; Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Saskatchewan), first Canadian-born pitcher to start a World Series game (for the Boston Red Sox, in 1975); Toronto Blue Jays became first team to eclipse 4 million fans in MLB attendance over a single-season (1993); Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC), first Canadian to be named National League MVP (in 1997); Jason Bay, first Canadian and Pittsburgh Pirate to win the National League Rookie of the Year award; Eric Gagne (Montreal, Quebec) saved a record 84 straight games for the Los Angeles Dodgers between 2003 and 2004.

Best Canadian baseballtown: Not one particular town, but one particular province: British Columbia. Current MLB players Justin Morneau, Jeff Francis, Rich Harden and Jason Bay all hail from British Columbia.

Canada's baseball weather: Except in BC, can be inhospitable until June, July and August.

Biggest sports competitors: Ice hockey is number one, followed by all other winter sports, including skiing and snowboarding.

Canada's best baseball museum: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, St. Mary's, Ontario.

Distinctly Canadian: Canadian-born J.J. Lannin was owner of the Boston Red Sox from 1914-1916, and it was he who signed Babe Ruth. The Bambino led the Sox to back-to-back World Series titles during his reign. Lannin's great-grandson, Christopher Tunstall, predicted the Red Sox would win the World Series after his great-grandfather was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in June 2004. National federation rules dictate aluminum be used until a player reaches Midget level (16-18 years). Pitcher limitations are in play for those 15 and under. A pitchers can not throw more than seven innings in one day; no more than 14 innings in a championship or week; and he must gets two days rest after any performance five innings or more (latter rule for 13 and under only).

QUICK TEAM CANADA AND PLAYER FACTS

Biggest international rival: U.S.

Biggest international successes: In 1991, Canada won the IBAF-sanctioned "AAA" Junior World Championship (under 18 years of age). One year earlier, a team from Trail, British Columbia, which included future MLB player Jason Bay, advanced to the finals of the foreign-division of the Little League World Series (ages 11-13). British Columbia's District 3 team from Fraser Valley won the Big League World Series (ages 16-18) in 2000. 2006 WBC showing: Canada failed to advance to the quarterfinals, but beat the U.S. in the first round. Ones To Watch For In The Near Future: Mike Saunders (Mariners); Nick Weglarz (Indians); Brett Lawrie (Brewers).

Back from the 2006 WBC team: Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Matt Stairs.

Gone from the 2006 WBC team: Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis Now on 2009 WBC team: Russell Martin, Joey Votto, Phillippe Aumont (Mariners prospect).

Missing in action from the 2009 WBC team: Eric Gagne, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden

PLAY BALL -- IN CANADA!

Besides the Blue Jays, Canada has professional Minor League Baseball in Vancouver (Athletics short-season affiliate, Northwest League), plus professional independent league teams in the Can-Am League (Quebec City and Ottawa); Northern League (Winnipeg); and Golden League (Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria).

On the amateur level, Canada has a number of provincial leagues, mostly playing a few days per week starting in the spring and through the summer. The top one is the B.C. Premier League (http://www.bcpbl.com) with the Premier Baseball League of Ontario (http://www.pblo.ca/) considered second best in terms of player skill. The University of British Columbia, a NAIA program, plays against major U.S. colleges, and Canada also has a few teams in mostly U.S.-based college summer leagues.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He's the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.