McALESTER — With few exceptions, every baseball player has to travel at least a few miles to play in McAlester’s annual Jr. Sunbelt Classic baseball tournament.
For Canada outfielder Ashton Roy, however, “few” is an understatement. Growing up in Garson, a community in the city of Greater Sudbury in northern Ontario, Garson traveled approximately 1,400 miles to get to McAlester.
And despite Canada going just 2-7 and finishing ninth in the tournament, Roy said the Sunbelt was well worth the trip.
“I’ve seen a guy on Tennessee who’s hit like 96 (miles per hour), and then we’re facing guys here that are 85,” Roy said Tuesday. “We go back to Toronto, guys are (pitching at) like 72. So it’s a little different. It makes me a lot better hitter.”
Most Canadians start playing hockey at a young age, and as they age they continue playing both recreationally and in increasingly competitive leagues. Hockey is Canada’s national pastime, just as baseball is for Americans.
Roy said he started to playing hockey when he was 4 years old. He played left wing for a few years, then switched to defense.
Hockey was always going to be Roy’s future. He said he started playing baseball when he was 9, mainly “to keep me out of trouble in the summer, because you can only play hockey so much.”
Whereas many youth hockey leagues in America don’t allow fighting, young Canadians are allowed to battle so long as they’re willing to serve the resulting time in the penalty box. Roy grew up idolizing Dion Phaneuf, a Canadian defenceman currently playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs who’s been known to throw a punch or two throughout his career.
“Big defensive fighter,” Roy said of Phaneuf. He said his favorite baseball players are former Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez as a hitter and current Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano as a defensive player.