Rempel suits up for the Abbotsford Cardinals in the B.C. Premier League.

Rempel suits up for the Abbotsford Cardinals in the B.C. Premier League.

Abby ballplayer into the swing of things in Florida

At 17, Tanner Rempel is playing with the big boys in Florida, and rubbing shoulders with prospects a half-dozen MLB teams.

Justin BEDDALL

Abbotsford News

Ever wonder how hard it is to hit a major league fastball?

Seventeen-year-old Tanner Rempel can tell you.

The Grade 12 Yale Secondary student is one of 30 players participating at Baseball Canada’s national junior team fall instructional league camp in Orlando, Fla.

The camp includes nine exhibition games against teams composed of Major League Baseball prospects from the Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays.

During his first at bat on Monday, Rempel faced an Astros pitcher with a 98-mph fastball.

“You have such a little window of time to react to where the pitch is and whether or not to swing. It comes in so fast that if you blink you won’t see the ball at all,” he explains.

In the B.C. Premier League, where he plays third base for the Abbotsford Cardinals, most pitches are in the mid- to high 80s.

Still, Rempel’s not  daunted by speed-limit change in Florida.

“Well, I knew stepping into the box that this was nothing I couldn’t handle – we have nothing to lose being so young facing these professional pitchers.”

He struck out his first at-bat but felt more comfortable his second time up knowing that “we weren’t going to see anything over 98” and cracked a hit.

“I really don’t even remember even seeing the ball. It just came in so quick. I just kind of saw it out of his hand, picked up where it was going to be, then swung. Once I saw it through the infield I felt a little bit of relief now that I had my first hit under my belt.”

During the 10-day camp, the junior Canadians are training and playing most of their games at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports facility, the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves.

“Unbelievable stadium, super nice field,” Rempel says.

And while the sprawling Walt Disney World looms in the distance, Rempel’s been too busy at the diamond to play tourist.

“[Disney World] is close, 10 minutes away. No time for that unfortunately.” .

On-field training, led by Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, starts at 8 a.m. daily and players don’t return to their hotel rooms until 9 p.m.

“The coaching has been amazing,” says Rempel, who is hoping to earn a spot on the Canadian U18 team for the 2015 IBAF World Cup in Nishinomiya, Japan.

But for now he’s focused on the team’s remaining exhibition schedule in Florida.

Rempel, who models his game after his favourite MLB player, Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays, is especially excited for the upcoming game against Toronto’s prospects on Oct. 12 in Dunedin, Fla.

“I’m really looking forward to playing those guys.”