Taking on the world

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Braiden Turner of the Prince Albert U19 Astros connects on a pitch during a game against Argentina ahead of last month's WBSC Junior Men's Softball World Championship.

There’s no substitute for facing world-class talent in sports.

That’s something that the Prince Albert Under-19 Astros are finding out first hand this week as they play in exhibition games against teams that will be a part of the 2018 Junior Men’s World Softball Championship.

“The level of pitching that we saw tonight (Monday) against Argentina is going to go a long way for us,” Astros coach Kevin Preymack said.

“We usually face some good pitchers in our league, but these guys are so strong and they never put the ball in a spot where we could hit it. We had the bases loaded at one point in our second game against Argentina, but we couldn’t seem to bring anyone home.”

Having arrived in town ahead of the Canada Day long weekend, Argentina hit the ground running Monday at Optimist Field as they cruised to 19-1 and 8-0 wins over the Astros.

This was the second international team that the Astros have faced in the last few weeks.

They picked up a pair of wins over a touring team from New Zealand on June 18 and will be taking on the Czech Republic Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Shaye Amundson Field.

“The speed of the game is something that stands out with these teams,” Preymack said. “I’ve watched the (Toronto) Blue Jays play and other big league games, but everything happens much faster here with the smaller field.

“The crowds have been great so far and hopefully we see that during the tournament so we can get the younger generation back into the game. Back when I played we had 14 to 15 teams in one division, but now we’re lucky to have 12 to 13 players as part of the midget ranks.”

Although they missed out on making the podium at the 2016 tournament in Midland, Mich., Argentina won the previous two world championships in Parana, Argentina in 2012 and in Whitehorse four years ago.

“Games like this against teams from around here are crucial for us,” Argentina coach Andres Gamarci said. “We’ve already had two international tours and we’ve played in many tournaments back home, but it’s not the same.

“When you get to a unfamiliar place, you have to get as many games in to get the guys ready and drain away any anxiousness. Once the tournament starts Saturday, we should be relaxed and ready to have fun.”

Argentina was to play Delisle at Shaye Amundson Field Tuesday night before completing their pre-tournament schedule Thursday with a doubleheader against India at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Shaye Amundson Field.

A triple-header is planned for Wednesday at Optimist Field with New Zealand playing South Africa at 2 p.m., South Africa taking on the Czech Republic at 4:30 p.m. and the defending tournament champion Japan going up against the United States at 7 p.m.

Thursday’s slate of pre-tournament activities will get started at 11 a.m. at Optimist Field, as Team Canada will be hosting a skills clinic for softball players 12 years of age or younger.

The tournament hosts will then travel to Shellbrook to play a doubleheader with Japan.

Optimist Field will host another triple-header, which will start off at 2 p.m. as Australia faces the Saskatoon Selects Under-19 team.

Australia will then play South Africa at 4:30 p.m., while the United States will take on Denmark at 7 p.m.

Mexico’s lone pre-tournament contest will take place at 7 p.m. that night when they’ll face the Delisle Under-18 team at 7 p.m.

Melfort will also host a doubleheader Thursday as New Zealand will play the 222s Masters.