At six-foot-five with a left-handed delivery, and Canadian junior national team invitation in the mail, 16-year-old pitcher Kurt Horne of Sooke looks to be throwing a strike.
“I’m really looking forward to this because it’s always more intense when you are playing for your country,” said Horne, one of 28 players invited for the 10-day Canadian junior team camp, which begins Saturday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
The Island has a strong recent connection to international baseball with Victorian and Beijing Olympian Mike Saunders of the Seattle Mariners and Courtenay’s Taylor Green of the Milwaukee Brewers representing Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Victoria Mariners grad Jesse Hodges, now a Chicago Cubs prospect, was named a tournament all-star after leading Canada to the silver medal at the 2012 World Under-18 championship in Seoul.
Horne, who cracked the B.C. Premier League last season as a rare 15-year-old with the Victoria Eagles, also looks to have all the tools for a run at an international career starting with this year’s World U-18 championship in September in Taiwan.
“The junior national team coaches are really impressed with Kurt’s size and athleticism,” said Baseball Canada director of national teams and junior national team head coach Greg Hamilton, in a statement.
“He has a fluid delivery and the ball jumps out of his hand.”
Horne attributes much of his athletic dexterity to his early years on the mats in martial arts.
“Karate helped me mature faster as an athlete and taught me self-discipline and flexibility,” said the Grade 11 Edward Milne student, who played his youth baseball in the Triangle organization.
“And being left-handed is a pretty big advantage as a baseball pitcher.”
The national camp will include seven exhibition games against MLB extended spring-training camp teams, including one against the Blue Jays’ squad next Tuesday in Dunedin, Florida.
The exposure will be important since Horne becomes draft eligible next year. But he’s cool about it.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said.
Also invited to the camp as guest coach is Eagles GM Gautam Srivastava, the UVic computer science professor who is an Island scout for the Minnesota Twins and was named Baseball Canada coach of the year for 2010.
“I’ve been watching Gautam’s progress over the last few years and I felt he had earned an introduction to the junior national team. He is a young coach with a bright future in Canadian baseball,” said Hamilton, in a release.
Horne is happy to have his Eagles GM with him in Florida.
“Gautam knows the game well and pushes us,” he said.
“He wants to win but realizes the development of the players is the most important thing and has sent a lot of guys on to college and pro.”
Srivastava’s latest project is Horne himself, a task that will be aided greatly by the addition this year of third-round Houston Astros draft pick, seven-season minor-league pro and former Victoria Seals pitcher Anthony Pluta as Eagles head coach.
“[Horne’s] velocity is up and his mechanics are better,” said Srivastava, of his Eagles star pitcher.
“It’s been a steady climb. He has a strong chance to make the national junior team.”
The Eagles, who opened the BCPBL season with an away split last weekend against the Nanaimo Pirates, will have to do without Horne when they play at home Saturday with a doubleheader at noon and 2:30 p.m. against the Whalley Chiefs at Lambrick Park.
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