Canada Sidearm Nation and Japan set to open WBC

First things first - they aren't all sidearm pitchers.

When Canada Sidearm Nation takes to the field tonight against Japan to open the Ramada Inn World Baseball Challenge, fans will notice right away that many of the Canadian throwers use the traditional over-the-top delivery. In fact, only a few of them - player/coaches Geoff Freeborn and Tony Wyllie, as well as Bo Lewington - utilize the more unconventional style.

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"If I pitch - and I'm not sure if I'm going to - I pitch from there," said Freeborn, a lefty who had a five-year professional career. "And Tony, he's an interesting pitcher. He throws over-the-top, sidearm, submarine, but he's also a knuckleball pitcher. He's kind of entertaining to watch. We're both kind of the coaches but, if needed, we'll both pitch just to save arms. It depends what's going on."

Lewington, meanwhile, dropped down to sidearm in the last year or so. Most recently, the six-foot-two, 195-pound righty threw for the Okotoks Dawgs of the Western Major Baseball League, billed as Canada's best collegiate summer loop.

The Sidearm Nation name actually comes from Freeborn's website, sidearmnation.com, a business he established to teach the art of the sidearm delivery.

Freeborn himself started throwing sidearm during his first season of independent pro ball. Earlier, during his college career, he developed persistent shoulder problems. Consequently, by the time he made it to the pro ranks, his velocity was declining and his ERA was rising. His manager at the time asked him if he had ever considered dropping his arm angle to take some of the strain off his shoulder. Freeborn started practicing the sidearm motion and, not long after, picked up his first professional win. The following year, he was a Northern League all-star and was drawing interest from major league teams.

This is the fourth edition of the World Baseball Challenge in Prince George. Other years were 2009, 2011 and 2013. The tournament was supposed to happen in 2015 but was postponed a year because of a lack of sponsorship dollars.

Unlike the previous WBC tournaments, this one is not sanctioned by Baseball Canada. So, with no actual Team Canada here, Sidearm Nation will fill that role.

Freeborn played for Team Canada in the 2011 WBC and is looking forward to a similar experience this time.

"When I played in 2011, it was a great tournament and I had fun playing in it," he said. "When I reached out to (WBC chairman Rick Pattie in 2015) I wasn't sure who was going to be coaching Team Canada. I was curious about that, and I believe at the time (the team) was going to be the Langley Blaze. When things fell through there, Rick gave (the Team Canada entry) to me. It's been a fun process to put together the team. It's kind of been frustrating at times too. I had a guy a couple days ago let me know that he can't come anymore. That kind of process has been a little frustrating - I didn't quite get some of the former big-leaguers I was hoping to get. But, either way, we still have a pretty solid team and I'm looking forward to seeing how they play together."

Pitcher D.J. Carrasco (New York Mets, Atlanta Braves organizations) and outfielder Simon Pond (16 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004) are two of the ex-pros Freeborn was hoping to have in uniform at the WBC. There was even a chance that iconic pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee, who played for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos during a 14-year major league career, would be here with Canada Sidearm Nation but that didn't work out.

"His movie is actually coming out next week so (getting him) kind of fell through," Freeborn said. "He obviously would have been a fun guy to have come out to the tournament."

Of the players who will suit up for Canada Sidearm Nation, two to watch for are pitchers Ryan Johnson and Scott Beever. Both were top throwers for Weyburn of the WMBL this season.

"From what I've been told, Ryan is a lefty, high-80s, low-90s, throws three pitches for strikes and is probably ready to play pro ball next year," Freeborn said. "And Scott (throws) mid- to high-80s but just knows how to pitch. Both of them hope to play pro next year and want to come to this tournament as a stepping stone and kind of see where they're at after the WMBL."

Another chucker will be Justin Johnston, whom Freeborn coached in the Calgary Babe Ruth league. Johnston has also played for Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo and Yorkton of the WMBL.

"He's kind of a hard-throwing knuckleball pitcher," Freeborn said. "He can throw mid-80s - probably tops out at 86 - but then also uses his knuckleball as his changeup. He's had a pretty good summer this year. I'm looking forward to seeing how that pitch works."

Key position guys for Sidearm Nation include outfielder and former minor pro player Dan Chappell, outfielder/utility player Aaron Dunsmore, who played professionally in Germany last year, and Kevin Czarnecki, an infielder who saw limited duty with the Frontier League's Normal CornBelters this past season.

At the plate, one of the big hitters for Sidearm Nation will likely be Jason Lewis, who is scheduled to arrive in Prince George on Monday, the fourth day of the nine-day tournament. Lewis has NCAA Division 2 experience in California and currently plays for the Red Deer Riggers of Alberta's Sunburst League, considered the top amateur league for that province's 19-and-over crowd.

"From what I've heard about him, he's one of those power bats in the lineup," Freeborn said. "He has already hit five or six home runs this year and can definitely swing the bat. Aaron Dunsmore is a guy that can also (hit for power). We've got a couple guys that can square it up but I think, overall, we'll be a little more small-ball."

The clash between Canada Sidearm Nation and Japan will start at 7:30 p.m. at Citizen Field. The game will be preceded by the opening ceremony at 7.

The other teams in the Ramada Inn World Baseball Challenge are the Kamloops Sun Devils, Roswell Invaders and Thurston County Generals of Olympia, Wash.

Games continue through Aug. 20. The championship final that day is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Citizen Field. The top two teams from preliminary play will vie for the title.

Tickets will be for sale at the park.

Ramada Inn World Baseball Challenge

All games at Citizen Field

Schedule

Today - Opening ceremony, 7 p.m.

Today - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Team Japan, 7:30 p.m.

Sat. Aug. 13 - Kamloops Sun Devils vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.

Sat. Aug. 13 - Thurston County Generals vs. Canadian Sidearm Nation, 8 p.m.

Sun. Aug. 14 - Team Japan vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.

Sun. Aug. 14 - Kamloops Sun Devils vs. Thurston County Generals, 8 p.m.

Mon. Aug. 15 - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.

Mon. Aug. 15 - Team Japan vs. Kamloops Sun Devils, 8 p.m.

Tues. Aug. 16 - Thurston County Generals vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.

Tues. Aug. 16 - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Kamloops Sun Devils, 8 p.m.

Wed. Aug. 17 - Thurston County Generals vs. Team Japan, 4 p.m.

Wed. Aug. 17 - Roswell Invaders vs. Kamloops Sun Devils, 8 p.m.

Thurs. Aug. 18 - Thurston County Generals vs. Canadian Sidearm Nation, 4 p.m.

Thurs. Aug. 18 - Kamloops Sun Devils vs. Team Japan, 8 p.m.

Fri. Aug. 19 - Thurston County Generals vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.

Fri. Aug. 19 - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Team Japan, 8 p.m.

Sat. Aug. 20 - Bronze-medal game, 3 vs. 4, 2 p.m.

Sat. Aug. 20 - Gold-medal game, 1 vs. 2, 6 p.m.

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