FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 23 -- On a recent morning in the Baltimore Orioles' spring training clubhouse, an unusual sound could be heard above the chatter, tapping of bats and clanking of cleats. Two young men were engaged in a conversation that seemed more fitting of a cafe in Paris or a restaurant in Quebec. They were pitchers Erik Bedard and Steve Green conversing in French, the second language of their native Canada.
"We're out there getting players from everywhere these days," Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo said. "It just makes it a little tougher to learn the languages. Before you know it, that will be one of our prerequisites -- one of our coaches will have to speak French or Japanese."
The Orioles have four Canadians -- Bedard, Green, Adam Loewen and Adam Stern -- in camp, an usually high number, which is a testament to the emerging power of Canadian baseball. Loewen and Bedard are certain to make the Orioles' roster, while Green and Stern are long shots.
Several years ago, Larry Walker stood as the most prominent Canadian in the major leagues, but now he has been eclipsed. Last year, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was the American League most valuable player and in 2003 Eric Gagne, then of the Los Angeles Dodgers, won the National League Cy Young Award. Last year, the Canadian team in the World Baseball Classic, with four current Orioles on its roster, defeated the United States, 8-6.
Canadian "guys are impact players now," Stern said. "If you used to make the big leagues as a Canadian, that was huge. Now there are actually guys that are becoming stars from Canada."
Last season, 14 Canadian-born players were on either Opening Day rosters or began the season on the disabled list, according to Major League Baseball.
Green and Stern both took unusual paths to the majors. Stern, from Lambeth, Ontario, was a softball player who began to play baseball at age 10. For the three months of the year when the weather cooperated, Stern played on gravel fields.
"I didn't play on a field with a fence until I was 16," Stern said. "We used to hit the ball and just run. Sliding wasn't the most fun. There were rocks everywhere. That's the way it was. You didn't know any better. I grew up in a small town and we played small town baseball teams."
Green, from Greenfield Park, Quebec, started playing baseball at age 4 as a summer alternative to hockey.
"What else are you going to do during summer for Canadian guys?" Green said. "And the summer wasn't that long, only three months out of the year."
Later, when given the choice of playing baseball in the summer or waking up at 5 a.m. in the freezing cold for hockey practice, Green chose the more comfortable option.
Both Stern and Green were discovered in tournaments in the United States while playing on travel teams, the most common way Canadian players get noticed. But Canadian youth baseball has evolved.
"It's a result of people going away and coming back and being involved with coaching," said Greg Hamilton, coach and director of national baseball teams for the Canadian Federation of Amateur Baseball. "You've seen the evolution of the game to the point where people can aspire to things [in the game] and not just playing in the major leagues, but to get a scholarship and get their education taken care of."
Previously, the Canadian junior national team, ages 18 and under, would only participate in a two-week training camp prior to international competition. Now the team plays an exhibition schedule in Orlando against professionals in the fall and in April. In May, the team travels to the Dominican Republic for 10 days to play against teams from the Dominican Summer League.
"Their games grow because they are challenged and put in that environment," Hamilton said.
It did not take long for the four Canadian Orioles to bond. On Thursday night, they gathered in front of the television to watch the most common of Canadian activities: a hockey game.