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Canadians Infielders finding success with a team-first mentality.

Canadians Infielders finding success with a team-first mentality.

August 1, 2012

Jason Leblebijian (pictured above) Jorge Flores and Derrick Chung are all competing for a starting position at shortstop with the Vancouver Canadians this season (photo credit: Vancouver Sun)

It’s not hard to find professional athletes, regardless of the sport, to toot their own horns and boast about their own accomplishments. Nowadays, it is common for athletes to build their ‘brand’ and stand out amongst their peers for a shot at real fame and success.

That’s why it is refreshing to hear about players who genuinely put the team ahead of themselves. Especially in a unique environment such as minor league baseball, where the main goal is for players to move up through the ranks and seize their dream as a MLB player. And yet, this mentality of fighting as a team is flowing throughout the Vancouver Canadians locker room. Don’t get me wrong, all of these ballplayers are stand-outs in their own rights, but this year’s Canadians are led by some unselfish players that would rather talk about the team’s progress instead of putting their names in the headlines.

The most competitive position on this year’s roster is shortstop. Traditionally, the SS anchors the infield and is perhaps the most important defensive player on a team (excluding pitchers / catchers). Over the past decade or so, we have seen an influx of offensive talented shortstops in the Major Leagues, and this holds true with the Vancouver Canadians.

Currently, the C’s have three players listed as shortstops on the team roster: Jason Leblebijian (Arlington Heights, IL), Jorge Flores (Chandler, AZ), and Derrick Chung (Garden Grove, CA). Chung has since moved to 2B to balance out playing time. One reason for this is because of the production that these three players are providing. Leblebijian and Flores are one-two on the team in batting averages (.302 and .301 respectively), while Chung is fourth with a .290 AVG. In order to keep all the bats in the line-up, Leblebijian and Flores have been alternating between the SS and DH positions. Besides sharing the same position, all three players are as humble as they come.

In addition to great defensive ability, Jorge Flores is also second on the C’s with a .301 average

A recent example is when asked Flores about his game performance; he preferred to discuss the team, despite having gone 2-for-4 himself in the game and driving in the winning runs. “It feels good, but it feels better when your team wins. So that’s all it matters, we won and we just got to keep working hard and working as a team.”

At the time, Flores was riding an 11-game hitting streak and has reached safely on base in 19 games. When asked about this success, once again, he deferred away from himself. “I don’t know, it’s all up to God. He has a plan for us, I believe in him. Thank God I’ve been doing pretty good. Like I say, it’s more important when we win, I don’t really look at myself, so we just got to win, as a team.”

Besides making his mark on the diamond with his speed and bat, Flores is bringing a family type atmosphere to the clubhouse. “This team gets along pretty well. Everybody, pitchers, position players, we treat everybody as brothers. We joke as brothers. So that’s the key, we have to keep doing the same thing.”

“We’ve been fighting as a team and that’s why we succeed every game.”

The other Canadians’ middle infielder also took some time to speak with JaysProspects. Derrick Chung, a standout in Sacramento State, is a versatile infielder who feels comfortable playing at his natural position at shortstop but as well as second base and even catcher. He has been a surprise for the C’s this season, and maybe even himself. When asked about his recent rise, Chung responded, “I don’t know, I really don’t know. I just show up and play hard.”

And with the way he has been swinging the bat, maybe this isn’t a bad thing. “The more you do, the more complicated it gets, so just try to keep everything simple. See the ball, try to hit it. If you do, good. If you don’t, you don’t.”

Another shortstop, Derrick Chung, is versatile, playing second base and catcher as well

Like Flores, Chung is another team-first guy and let his work do his talking. “I show up to the field every day and work. If they are looking for a player that would hustle every second during the game, that would be me. I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win.” Flores explained, “the team always plays hard, so that’s our main goal. Just show up every day and grind it.”

Drafted in the 31st round, Chung discussed his transition from the college game to the pros. “There’s a lot more pressure, but there’s a lot more fun. Just showing up on the field every day, knowing you’re going to compete for a spot, you are going to have to work harder than everybody else around you. There’s a lot more competition. And the fans here are amazing. Like the last inning [of this game], that was giving me chills, like … Damn. That never happened in college.”

Ultimately, it is the goal of every player on the Canadians to climb the ladder and reach their dreams of playing in the big leagues. And it doesn’t hurt to have the support of your professional family behind you. With the positive team-first mentality around the clubhouse, it seems the coaching staff is doing their job for the players on the field and off of it.

The Vancouver Canadians finished third in their division for the first half of the season and hold a 25-19 overall record. The C’s begin a three-game home stand against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on July 31st, before going on an eight-game road trip that takes them to Eugene and Tri-City.