Oh Canada

Team Canada plays Great Britain today in qualifying for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Despite being based in Canada, Canadian baseball is something that we don’t normally spend a whole lot of time considering on the virtual pages of this blog.

That’s not by accident.

First of all, anything that’s the least bit nationalistic tends to make me feel uncomfortable. I’m not trying to come across as better than anyone who feels the need to wave a flag from time to time. It’s an admittedly personal stance, and it comes across in the writing here because a very good portion of blogging tends to be rooted in personal feelings. That’s also not to say that I would ever be evangelical with these feelings. I recognize that expressing patriotism can be a genuinely inspirational force for many.

Secondly, there is a lot of content already online from writers that focus specifically on Canadian baseball. I don’t share their passion and I don’t expect many who do to visit Getting Blanked in search of that type of material. Again, that’s not to denigrate what writers like Kevin Glew or even the gentlemen from Mop Up Duty (sometimes) care to share with their audiences. It’s merely different from my own interests.

Having said all of that, I was reminded of a Canadian legend ahead of today’s qualifier featuring Canada and Great Britain. Now, it should be noted that the story I’m about to relay probably has little to do with actual events. It’s the anecdote that I heard, as passed down, and likely exaggerated to silly proportions. And while the legend certainly favors Canada, it’s not the patriotic arousing that I find appealing about the story, but rather the narrative of a sure underdog embarrassing a cocky favorite. It goes something like this:

Ned Hanlan was a very good rower. He grew up on Toronto Island in the later part of the 19th Century and literally rowed himself to and from school every day.  He was such a good rower, in fact, that on his way to school, he’d often tow in loads of freshly caught fish to sell at market before the bigger fishing boats had docked.

Eventually, he began rowing competitively, and he quickly became a dominant force on the amateur scene. However, he failed to earn the respect of England where rowing was taken more seriously. He was largely dismissed as being good for a colonial, but not up to snuff compared to those racing overseas. Several times, Hanlan requested races with the best that England had to offer. However,he was constantly turned down.

During this time, his name grew in stature as a rower, until the best at sculling from the mother country could not ignore him any longer. Thomas Loudon took a race with Hanlan, and proceeded to bully and belittle the Canadian rower prior to the race, goading him into accepting a $100 bet, which he wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay after having paid his own way to England for the chance to compete.

All through the pre-race trash-talking, Hanlan kept silent staring straight ahead, not ignoring the derisive words of the Englishman, but not letting them affect what he had come to the country to do. As soon as the race started, it was evident that the best that England had to offer was absolutely no match for Canada’s prized rower. Hanlan sprung out to such an enormous lead on the five mile course that he was able to finish the race, row backwards,  and circle his struggling opponent three times, berating him constantly, before once again finishing ahead of him.

It was the biggest mic drop in the history Canadian sports, and it came years before a microphone was even invented to allow that metaphor to make sense.

Strangely enough, today’s game is likely the reverse in terms of favorites and underdogs, considering that Canada is expected to emerge as the champion of the qualifying tournament in Germany. However, if you’re supporting Canada, let’s hope that the baseball team that represents our nation doesn’t forget a time when we were the upstarts, battling against the more established forces. Complacency can be real jerk sometimes.