NEWS
09/02/2016 11:43 EDT | Updated 09/03/2017 01:12 EDT

Stephenson ready to lead Canada in 7th Women's Baseball World Cup

Before she steps on the field for Canada's first game of the Women's Baseball World Cup on Saturday, Ashley Stephenson will sit at her locker and put on her spikes in a purposefully methodical way.

Left shoe before right shoe, no exceptions.

It's not superstition as much as ritual for Stephenson, a veteran of the national team who competed in the first instalment of the women's World Cup in 2004 and each one since then. This will be her seventh.

"Just like when you're in the on-deck circle you have a routine that you go through, I have one when I get dressed. I think about it mentally and it helps me prepare," Stephenson said from Gijang City, South Korea, the site of this year's tournament.

"When I was a kid I heard about how Shawn Green would cross the foul line with his left foot every time he'd run out to the field and he thought it was good luck. I followed the Jays and wanted to do the same kinds of things they did. So I thought I'd pick one thing and make it mine."

The regimen seems to be working for the Mississauga, Ont., third baseman through 13 years on the women's team.

She has four World Cup medals — one silver and three bronze — and a silver from the Pan American Games in Toronto last year, the first multisport event to ever feature women's baseball.

While she's proud of the team's Pan Am achievement, Stephenson can't help but see that silver medal as a missed opportunity. Canada lost 11-3 to the united States in the final.

"It was an incredible letdown last summer. I'm still disappointed with it," she said. "That was an opportunity lost for our team and for women's baseball in Canada. The fans were fantastic and extremely supportive but I still think about what could have been a year later.

"That's honestly what keeps me going," the 33-year-old continued. "Obviously I love to play but gold is the only colour that I'm missing — I want a chance to celebrate a gold medal."

The Canadians are ranked fourth heading into the World Cup tournament, which features 12 teams. Their best result was silver in 2008. They finished fourth at the last one in 2014, losing to Australia in the bronze-medal game. 

Stephenson, a high school gym teacher in Mississauga, is one of two veterans remaining from the first World Cup in 2004. Pitcher/infielder Kate Psota of Burlington, Ont., is the other.

Stephenson said Canadian women's baseball has "grown significantly" in the last 12 years.

"If you look at the first World Cup and the girls from that team, and this isn't to slight anyone, but I'd say some of those girls wouldn't make a recent World Cup team because the level of ball has grown so much," Stephenson said. "Lots of girls are playing in guys' leagues. In Ontario we have an all-girls team that plays in the TBA (Toronto Baseball Association).

"Women are committing more and more to playing elite ball. And it's growing across the country."

The current 20-woman roster features two players from the Atlantic provinces, including 15-year-old right-hander Katie Hagen, three each from Quebec and Alberta, five from B.C., six from Ontario, and one from Saskatchewan.

The tournament begins with a three-group round robin stage. The top two teams from each group advance to a super round, with the top two after that moving on to the gold-medal game on Sept. 11. The third- and fourth-place teams will meet for bronze.

Canada opens against top-ranked Japan, the defending champions, in the marquee night matchup at the newly completed Gijang Hyundai Dream Ballpark. The Netherlands and India round out Canada's group.

Stephenson says the team is "ready to go." She's enthusiastic, too, despite having experienced international competition multiple times. 

"Wearing Canada on your chest never gets old," Stephenson said. "I know what to expect a bit more, but I'm still excited. Once you step on the field, you still have those butterflies. You still get goosebumps when you hear the national anthem."