Wearing the maple leaf at home

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Shellbrook native Ryan Smith teaches a catching drill during a youth clinic put on by the Canada junior men’s national team Thursday at Optimist Field

It’s a moment that Ryan Smith can’t wait to experience.

The first baseman from Shellbrook will get the chance to play for Canada and have a home field advantage this week as they serve as the host squad for the 2018 Junior Men’s Softball World Championship in Prince Albert.

“It’s going to be pretty special to wear that maple leaf and play so close to home,” Smith said following a youth clinic put on by the team Thursday.

“It’s been pretty well advertised online and through my club team (the Shellbrook Rangers) so I’m expecting to see a lot of family and friends at the diamond all week.”

After being announced as a member of the Canadian national team following their training camp in Prince Edward Island last summer, Smith has been keeping busy along with the rest of the squad in preparation for the tournament.

“I’ve flown out to Ontario a couple of times to meet up with the team, then we’ve been in Saskatoon for about a week and a half for our training sessions and then around the province for our tune-up games,” Smith said.

“The chemistry that we have as a group is unbelievable. We all have the same common goal of winning the gold medal on home soil.”

That close-knit bond is something that Smith feels will be a key to the team’s success, especially with the infield unit that he’s a part of.

“I think our group is strong all the way around the diamond,” Smith said.

“We’re super smooth when it comes to fielding and I don’t think we have a real down side of our game anywhere.”

After playing the defending champions Japan Thursday night in Shellbrook in their final exhibition game, Canada will open up their tournament schedule Saturday on the Rotary Field at 7:30 p.m. against the United States.

“I think that’s the perfect team to play right after the opening ceremonies,” Smith said.

“Everyone’s going to be excited for that game and I think that atmosphere is going to be fantastic with that cross border rivalry to start the tournament off.”

Having won a bronze medal two years ago in Midland, Mich., Canada is attempting to win their second world championship and their first since the 1993 tournament in Auckland, New Zealand.

“One of the things we’re really focusing on in a short tournament like this is reacting positively to any mistakes that might happen out there,” Smith said.

“Mistakes are going to happen in this sport, but it’s how we bounce back and move forward that will determine if we end up being the best team on the diamond.”