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September 16, 2004 — 1 Tishrei, 5764

Olympic experience thrills Canadian Jewish ballplayer

By Jack Borenstein — Tribune Correspondent

Many young players would consider making it to the ‘show’ (also known as the major leagues) as the ultimate goal in a baseball career. While he hasn’t given up on that dream, Adam Stern made it to a different show, in a greater global setting.

The 24-year-old, six-foot, 180-pound centrefielder was born and raised in London, Ont. He recalled travelling with parents Joe and Jane, and older brother Jason, to Montreal over the years and spending Passover with his aunt and uncle.

Adam’s sporting interest in his youth revolved around track and field, volleyball and baseball. “Family and friends commented on how good I was becoming in baseball, which led to phasing out the other sports,” he said in a wide-ranging interview. “I stayed with track and field to some degree, to help keep me in shape for baseball.” He played in the London Badgers minor ball system, and started attracting scouts with his offensive and defensive play. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Stern in the 22nd round of the 1998 Major League Baseball draft of high schoolers and collegians.

Stern had the choice to sign with the Jays, or re-enter the draft later. He opted for a baseball scholarship from the University of Nebraska. “The quality of ball was excellent, as we had five of the top 25 nationally based teams in our Conference.” During his Cornhusker tenure he was named to the First-Team All -Academic Big 12 team, as well as Big 12 Second-Team All Star, and graduated with a Sociology degree. He hit .302 with 5 HR and 41 RBIs in 64 games during his last season and played in the College World Series in Omaha. He credited Cornhusker manager Dave Van Horn for helping improve his game each year during his three-year stay. Expecting to be drafted during the fifth round, Stern was pleasantly surprised when Atlanta selected him in the third round (105th overall) of the 2001 draft. He was the highest ranked Canadian selected that day, and subsequently signed with the team. Adam said his family has been his biggest supporters, driving down to spring training and college regional tournaments to cheer him on the last few years. He spent the summer of 2001 with Jamestown of the New York-Penn ŒA’ League, and hit .307

“It was a big adjustment from college, where we had time to relax and socialize and attend classes,” he said. “At Jamestown we played every day, went to sleep and had to play another game the next day at home, or travel to another city.”

In 2002 with Carolina ŒA’ class Myrtle Beach, he led all Braves teams with 40 stolen bases. Last year was a near write-off due to nagging hamstring injuries, which limited Adam to the last month of the Myrtle Beach season. He played in the Arizona League autumn season, and it was where fate played favourably into Stern’s lap. “I was having a real good season, hitting around .320 or .300. The Canadian national team was training nearby. I advised them (that I had) recovered from (my) injuries, and would be available for the qualification tourney.” Canadian baseball management was aware of Stern’s ability, offering him a place on the team that traveled to Panama, which qualified for Athens. Stern chipped in a bit hitting a home run in 7 at bats. After receiving permission from Atlanta, Canada formally placed Stern on the Olympic roster. The Panamanian experience jump started his 2004 season at Greenville. When he left for the Olympics on July 31, Adam was batting .315 with 8 HR, 40 RBIs, 166 total bases and 22 stolen bases, in 89 games. His was the starting centrefielder for the Eastern Division in the Southern League All-Star Game. Stern joined the Canadian team at SkyDome in Toronto July 31 for a mini-camp, then traveled to Italy with the team to play in a tune-up tourney.

Marching with the Canadian contingent in the opening ceremonies was an unforgettable moment for Adam. “I got chills marching through the tunnel into the Olympic Stadium, with more than 72,000 people in the stands. The ceremonies were unbelievable, and something I would not have missed for all the world.” He described staying in the Olympic village as an exhilarating experience. He stayed mostly in the village, spending time chatting with fellow Canadian athletes and athletes from all over the world. “We cheered the Canadian women’s softball team early on. I realized that I’d probably never have another opportunity to meet these individuals again. It was a fascinating experience.” Stern said the Canadian team knew where they stood among the competition, and considered themselves underdogs for a medal. Canada went 4-0 in the preliminary round, and qualified for the medal round. The led Cuba throughout, before falling 8-5. Being downcast after almost coming back to tie in the last inning against Cuba, Canada lost handily to Japan, and had to settle for fourth place. Adam commented on the Athens weather being tough to play in, as there were no clouds and no humidity, making it different from other Southern League cities he usually played in. He complemented Canadian manager Ernie Whitt for allowing the players to play to their strengths, throughout. “I hit around .270 or .280 and had one of my biggest hits of my career knocking in a couple of runs against Cuba,” he said. Stern found it tough to get motivated upon returning to Greenville to finish out the season. He complemented his manager Brian Snitker, who allowed players to do their own thing, although “he was quick to admonish if he felt you were out of line in any way.” He finished the season batting .322 with 8 HR, 47 RBIs, 27 stolen bases and a .480 slugging percentage. Despite missing a month’s play, he was named centrefielder of the year and made the Southern League All-Star team. As for his own play, Adam said that he never emulated any particular major league player.

“I developed my own style in terms of hitting between the gap and going the opposite way, quick acceleration, base stealing, bunting and occasional long ball power when called on,” he explained. He plans to drive to Nebraska to visit some of his university friends, and continue on to London and spend time with the family. He will be playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic from mid-October to January, to get ready for 2005. He had no timetable regarding when he expects to play in Atlanta. “One never knows when you can be called up to the big leagues. You could be traded at any time. I’m leading a fulfilling life, and will let the cards fall where they may.” With a calm and relaxed demeanour, and his emerging talent that can only be enhanced by his Athens experience, Adam Stern could make his mark in major league baseball sooner, rather than later.

Jack Borenstein can be emailed at j_borenstein@hotmail.com

 

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