When the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Jameson Taillon second overall in June of 2010 after No. 1 pick Bryce Harper, he became the highest Canadian ever drafted into Major League Baseball.
Only, no one knew that he was Canadian.
Born in Florida, raised in Texas and drafted out of The Woodlands, the same Texas high school that fellow first-rounder Kyle Drabek attended, Taillon’s dual citizenship never became a topic of conversation. It wasn’t until his name was released on Team Canada’s World Baseball Classic roster this year that the people around him began to ask questions.
"When I got drafted it was out there that I was [a citizen] of both [countries] but I shocked people up until the last day whenever they found out I was leaving [for the WBC]," Taillon said. "At least over in Pirates camp a lot of people didn’t know. And then they’d ask me what my connection is."
The 21-year-old has a long list of connections to the country north of the border. The majority of his family members, both immediate and extended, are from Canada. Many still live in the country, including Taillon’s father, brother and grandmother, all of whom he spent time visiting this off-season.
The only reason the right-hander ended up in the States was because of his father’s occupation, which caused his family to move numerous times. Despite Taillon’s close relationship to Canada, it was still a huge surprise to many when he joined the national squad.
"I think I shocked a lot of people when I decided to do this," the young pitcher said. "But it’s something my parents made sure we knew when we were young is that we’re dual citizens. They always said it will pay off in the future and they made sure we got cultured both ways, so I think this is a pretty cool opportunity for me."
Taillon’s dual-citizen standing has certainly paid off for him so far in his career. As a junior, and before Canadian national teams director Greg Hamilton knew the righty had connections to Canada, USA Baseball came calling. They offered him a spot on their junior national roster and still have an almost-life-sized mural of him at their complex in Cary, N.C., as they do of all their first-rounders.
The stuff to 'get anyone in the world out'
Now he will get the start for Canada against the United States in the first WBC appearance of his young career. Despite not being asked by USA Baseball to be a part of their roster, Taillon believes he surprised some people by joining forces with their North American rival.
"I know I made a couple people angry over there but I’m really proud to be able to do this," he said. "I was born and raised in the States but most of my family is Canadian… Most of my family is up there and I know my grandparents are extremely proud."
Taillon later clarified that the people from USA Baseball were more shocked than angry, but since he wasn’t offered a spot on their senior team, saying yes to Canada seemed a logical choice, not to mention one that he was incredibly enthusiastic about.
"I wasn’t given [the opportunity] by USA Baseball, but whenever Canada even started asking about whether I’d be interested, from day one, it was something I was really excited to be able to do," Taillon said.
The Canadian squad also sweetened the deal by pencilling Taillon into the starting rotation, something that likely would not have happened on the American team even if they had offered him a spot. The young hurler’s reaction to the news surpassed excitement.
"I was honoured because there are a lot of good arms in there," Taillon said. "I’m pretty excited to do it and I think it will be a really good experience for me moving forward."
Taillon doesn’t show any sign of nerves in preparation for his start against some of baseball’s biggest stars. One of his greatest assets might come in the fact that he is a fresh face, and an arm that Team USA has yet to face on any stage.
"It definitely can’t hurt," Taillon said of being an unknown commodity. "I feel like going into the game I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m a younger guy. I haven’t made my major league debut yet. That’s how I’m approaching it — nothing to lose. I know if I make my pitches, I’ve got the stuff that can get anyone in the world out."
While Canada’s No. 3 starter is pretty relaxed about his Team Canada debut, he’s already gotten used to facing high expectations throughout his young career. Taken one spot behind Washington phenom Harper, Taillon has been forced to quickly mature within the game.
"When I first got drafted I was 18," he said. "Definitely then it was a little, I don’t want to say nerve-wracking, but I thought about it a lot and expectations and whatnot. As I’ve grown up, as I’ve matured a little bit, it’s something I’ve really come to just embrace. There’s nothing I can do to change it.
"With getting picked where I am, great expectations come. So it’s just something I’ve embraced. I set my own goals, so now I’m really just trying to live up to my own expectations."
Canada can expect nothing less than to see Taillon try to mow down his countrymen with a repertoire that includes a four-seam fastball and a two-seamer that both consistently sit at 94 to 97 mph, plus a changeup that he says is "coming along pretty well" and a dangerous curveball that he considers his "out" pitch.
The hope from Canadians will be that Taillon shows USA Baseball exactly what they passed on in this first round of the WBC, and maybe now his reputation as a Canadian will precede him. Beyond this year, the man with the very bright future has now given his heart and his loyalty to his adopted country, which is good news for Team Canada.
"That would be a tough call," he said of what he would do if he had to choose between Team Canada and Team USA. "Obviously I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but right now Team Canada gave me the opportunity so I’m never going to forget that.
"I think in the future I’ll be loyal to Team Canada."