Stetson freshman pitcher Ben Onyshko did not get to spend much time getting acclimated to life as a college student before answering the call to represent his country.
Onyshko, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, left campus on Tuesday for Houston, Texas, where he and the rest of the Canadian Junior National Team will spend the next week practicing and playing games against Team USA in preparation for the Pan American Baseball Confederation Championship.
That event is scheduled to start on Sept. 5 in Los Cabos and La Paz, Mexico, near Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the Baja, California, peninsula. While there, the 13 best teams in the Confederation will compete to earn one of five spots in next years’ World Championship, which is scheduled to be played in Japan.
Onyshko, who was drafted in the 16th round of the MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers back in June, is no stranger to international competition, having played for Team Canada for the last two years. His most recent travels took him to Cuba in July where the team spent eight days playing games against top teams from the island nation.
Onyshko said the purpose of this trip, for him, is simple.
“The main purpose of the trip for me is an opportunity to represent Canada as a part of the 18 and under National team,” Onyshko said.
Fans of Stetson Hatters baseball may remember Onyshko from the exhibition game the Hatters were scheduled to play against Team Canada last October. Onyshko was on the mound for the start of that game, but play was halted in the second inning by rain.
The biggest hurdle for Onyshko in making the trip is leaving campus for three weeks at the very start of his first semester of college.
“Obviously, it will be tough academically,” Onyshko said. “But, being here at Stetson with all of the good teachers that we have, and with it being a smaller school, it will be a lot easier for me to stay caught up with my school work.”
Onyshko said he received nothing but positive responses from his instructors when he went to them last week with information on his trip and his desire to keep up with his academic responsibilities. He is also excited about the chance to compete against some of the best players in the world in his age group.
“It is going to be super fun, especially in this more competitive setting,” Onyshko said. “A lot of times with the national team, we are in a showcase setting before we commit to school or the draft. This is going to be a lot more fun because we will really be competing for our country.”
While the schedule for the tournament in Mexico is yet to be set, the Canadian team will face Team USA for four straight days, starting this Saturday, in Houston. Two of the four games will be played at the University of Houston’s Cougar Field and a third will be played at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.
Team USA, which has won the last two world championships in this age group, has a star-studded roster filled with incoming collegiate players. Combined, the Red and Blue squads of Team USA have 37 players who are committed to top Division I programs. Not surprisingly, the two schools with the most players on Team USA are the last two NCAA champions, Vanderbilt and UCLA, with four players each.
Team USA enters the Pan American Championship ranked No. 1 I both the Americas and the world. Team Canada is the fourth ranked team in the Americas and is ranked seventh in the world.
“I haven’t seen the schedule yet, but the top teams will be there,” Onyshko said. “The US, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and other teams from South America – it is going to be cool.”
Other teams slated to compete in the tournament are Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Curacau, Argentina, Guyana, the Bahamas and Guatemala.
While Onyshko is looking forward to the international competition, he is also excited to be a Hatter. He said he was sold during that rainy October visit to Melching Field.
“I just loved the whole atmosphere here at Stetson,” Onyshko said. “The baseball program, coupled with the school, was just a perfect match for me.”
By the time Onyshko returns to campus, on Sept. 15 or 16, he will be just in time for the start of team workouts for the Hatters as they get prepared to play an exhibition game at Melching Field on October 5, against the Canadian Junior National Team.