Baseball Canada emerging into powerhouse under Hamilton's watch
Toronto, Canada – It is arguably the biggest moment in - gold.
Turns out, it may only be the tip of the iceberg for the program's success.
There is a strong core of players in tact -- notwithstanding Canada's major- league talent -- and some great baseball minds leading the charge. And according to a pair of newly-minted gold medalists, it all starts at the top.
"Without Greg Hamilton and the rest of the staff, we would have never had the chance to accomplish such a feat," said Tim Smith, an integral part of the offense and member of the Kansas City Royals organization.
Hamilton is the director of the national teams, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential Canadians in baseball. Anyone who speaks of him showers him with praise and acknowledges his undeniable dedication to the program. Those who have played for him believe they are better off because of him and the rest of his coaching staff.
"This man has gone above and beyond for Baseball Canada," said Smith. "These guys dedicate themselves for us and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that. The work they put in behind the scenes is unbelievable. Not only are they all great baseball minds, but amazing people in general."
Smith, 25, has had the chance to play for Hamilton at both the junior and senior levels and has transformed himself into a key cog of the program. Like Smith, outfielder Michael Crouse is not only thankful, but also aware of the quality of people he has had the chance to play for by suiting up for the red and white.
"Greg is a class-act, a professional," said Crouse, 21, a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. "Playing for a guy like that is great. I would love to play for Ernie Whitt again, too. He's a great manager, knows how to treat his players and just knows baseball.
"Those are two guys I'll cherish forever, and hopefully down the road I'll get a chance to play for them again."
Crouse, Smith and many former and current players have spoke of a family-like relationship that exists when putting on the Canadian jersey and there is no doubt as to what type of role Hamilton plays in that. Egos get checked at the door and praise is always deflected.
"Everyone was close in the locker room on and off the field," said Crouse, who was playing for the Senior National Team for the first time. "We had one of those teams that everyone wasn't there for themselves, but there for Team Canada, and the only thing they wanted to do was win gold."
Smith echoed similar sentiments.
"Our team was a great group of guys," he said. "Constant joking, pranks and chirping was a regular theme. We were a big family since the first time we strapped on our uniforms. It's like playing with 20-plus brothers, your family, so you pull for one another so hard and have each others backs when the time is right."
Crouse and Smith do not only speak highly of Hamilton and his staff, but one another as well. Smith batted .350, with a .985 on-base plus slugging percentage at the Pan American Games, which were both the second best marks on the team, after leading the charge offensively a week prior at the Baseball World Cup in Panama where Canada won bronze.
He made quite the impression on Crouse.
"That's the first time ever seeing Tim Smith -- he's a great baseball player," said Crouse. "He's one to look out for down the road, if not next year. He's the type of guy you wanted up with runners on base because you knew he was going to produce. He did well for us in Panama and then again at the Pan American Games. It was exciting to watch him play."
Smith has been around the game for a long time and has accumulated numerous accolades over his five years in the minor leagues, after being a standout player at Arizona State University and Midland College in Texas. He knows talent when he sees it after playing with and against a long list of major leaguers over his career and believes Crouse has a very bright future ahead of him.
"He has some serious tools," said Smith. "It's crazy to look at the guy and realize he's only 21. He has the ability to become something very special one day. He's a hard worker with a great personality, so I know he will go the extra mile to improve his game with no hesitance.
"He's so long and agile in the outfield, it feels as if there is no such thing as a gap when he plays."
The Baseball Canada program is thriving with Smith, Crouse and a list of others donning the maple leaf. Smith feels as though Canada has historically been overlooked on the diamond, but suggests that might change after taking home gold.
"We have been underdogs since day one," said Smith. "The gold medal is an eye- opener for baseball fans. Our country has developed into a force to be reckoned with. Every country that faces off against us from here on out knows that they are in for a battle.
"This paves the way for the next wave of players coming up. We set the bar and proved it was possible. Now every Canadian ballplayer should strive to wear a gold one day. All the hard work, year after year since being a little kid...that is what it was for. I'm proud to be a Canuck."
Smith described the clubhouse scene afterwards as an emotional one and one that he will never forget. He said the players put their arms around one another and sang the national anthem with all their hearts. It was a special moment for him.
It was that same national anthem being sung by those in attendance for Canada's gold that stands out to Crouse.
"The whole crowd singing our national anthem was an experience I would love to relive again," he said.
With Hamilton at the top, the possibility certainly exists that Baseball Canada will get to replay that moment again.