Jimmy VO looks back at memorable tourney, memorable year
* 1B Jimmy VanOstrand (Richmond, BC) shown here being congratulated by LF Tim Smith (Toronto, Ont.) looks back on his memorable season which helped get Canada to the World Baseball Classic ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
You’re only as good as your last tournament.
Jimmy VanOstrand’s last tournament was in Regensburg, Germany with Team Canada. At the World Baseball Classic qualifier he went 7-for-13 (.538) in three games with four home runs, a double, 10 runs driven in, and a 2.138 OPS.
But as good as VanOstrand was in his last tourney, he’s not just as good as that. He’s better. While it would be tough to have a better three games of baseball than the infielder had in Germany, he was the picture of consistency throughout the season.
After hitting .368 (35-for-95) in 27 games for the Sugar Land Skeeters with three home runs, eight doubles, a triple, 20 RBIs and 15 walks, VanOstrand made his way out of the Atlantic League and back into affiliated ball.
The Washington Nationals won the contract of VanOstrand and at Double-A Harrisburg, the Vancouver-born slugger went on to hit .310/.370/.465 with 10 home runs, 12 doubles and 30 RBI in 80 games.
The season may not have gone exactly as planned, starting after a successful spring training with VanOstrand’s release from the Houston Astros organization. But now that it’s over, he certainly has no qualms with the way everything turned out.
“I think I had a tremendous season,” VanOstrand said. “I know that I did everything within my control through the entire off-season all the way until the end of the qualifier in Germany. I was able to put up some good numbers and maintained consistency in my habits and performance throughout a roller coaster of events as far as switching teams and organizations.”
The roller coaster ride began with the beginning of the regular season, after VanOstrand’s surprising release from the only organization that he had ever called home.
“It was very disappointing for me,” he said. “I came in and I had a very good spring training and had felt that I’d earned an opportunity to break camp with the Triple-A team. The organization decided to keep a lot of the free agents they had brought in over the winter and I basically ended up the odd man out.”
From there, VanOstrand didn’t know where to go or what to do. He knew was going to keep playing but he just wasn’t sure where the next stop for him was going to be. So he packed up his things and went back to California to wait by the phone. Sugar Land came calling.
“The Skeeters were one of the teams to reach out to me early on in the process,” VanOstrand said. “The fact that they had several players I was familiar with and one of my best friends, Drew Locke, on their roster made it a comfortable fit for me. The opportunity to play third base on a regular basis was also appealing to me as a way to continue my personal development.”
The corner infielder had a place to play, but bigger goals still loomed on his mind. The Atlantic League is notorious for being a circuit that houses players looking for a way out, and VanOstrand was no different, though his focus never shifted from the task at hand.
“Getting back to affiliated ball was the goal for me while I was there but I learned that a lot of that is outside of your control,” he said. “So all I could do was enjoy my time there and try to perform to the best of my abilities. We had a great group of guys to play with there in Sugar Land and I really enjoyed it the whole time.”
While he enjoyed his time with the Skeeters, VanOstrand fielded two offers to head back to affiliated baseball. Before the Nationals made their pitch, another team made a proposal to the 28-year-old. The hitter felt more confident in the offer from Washington and left Texas for the Eastern League.
Though VanOstrand’s eye was always on the same prize throughout the season, the way he viewed the entire process was slightly altered during the year that he endured.
“My goals were and always have been the same in the fact that I’m pursuing an opportunity in the big leagues,” he said. “With that being said, I definitely feel my perspective for a lot of things changed and you realize how special it is to be able to put on a uniform for a living, and I enjoyed the day-to-day things a little more.”
What’s been the hardest part of it all?
“The toughest thing for me is waiting to get an opportunity to prove myself at the next level because I feel I’ve found a way to achieve success at every level I’ve played at up until now,” VanOstrand said. “The way I get through that is by understanding that I’m not the one who controls where I play; all I can do is go out and perform wherever it is that I am.”
He has certainly done that this season. From Sugar Land to Harrisburg to Regensburg, VanOstrand performed wherever he was. And the year was full of new perspectives and new feelings, including heading into the WBC qualifier as a favourite, something the Canadians have never really been considered in international play.
VanOstrand’s comments after beating Germany played well with major leaguers expected to compete next March, like LHP Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) of the Minnesota Twins.
“It was a completely different feeling,” VanOstrand said. “It is easy to be an underdog and try and take down the favourites. Being the team that everyone is gunning for and knowing there was so much on the line was a totally different experience.”
Canada’s first baseman was a part of the underdog national squad that took down favourites recently, bringing home bronze from Panama at the World Cup and then driving in the winning run against Team USA to grab gold at the Pan Am Games in Mexico just a year ago.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity,” VanOstrand said. “Any time you get to wear your country across your chest and go out and compete is a huge honour. The fact that we have been able to do some groundbreaking things for baseball in our country over the past year is really special to have been a part of.”
While many members of the qualifying roster have been quick to point out VanOstrand’s individual performance in Germany as one of the best that they’ve seen, the hitter remains modest.
“It’s definitely pretty cool knowing that I managed to have a good run at a time when it played a role in helping us qualify and get where we belong in the WBC,” he said of playing for manager Ernie Whitt.
A good run? Try unbelievable.
Of course VanOstrand was taking the tournament one at-bat at a time, not watching the scoreboard, doing what he could to help his team, or some other baseball cliché, but now that it’s all said and done, has he had a chance to look back at it and realize how special his performance was?
“Yeah for sure,” he said. “During the tournament you are completely caught up in your at-bat and what you have to do to try and get a ‘W’ for the team. Now that it’s over I can look back on those games and kind of go, ‘Wow.’ I was pretty locked in.”
Pretty locked in is a good way to describe VanOstrand throughout the entire season, but what he did at the qualifier will be hard to top. Just playing for the Canadian squad has given him many moments throughout his career that will be difficult to beat.
“Playing for the national team has meant the world to me,” VanOstrand said. “Most of the highlights in my career have come in a Canada jersey and I’m grateful for the memories I’ve had and all the guys I’ve been able to share it with along the way.”
But what has been the best moment he’s had with Team Canada?
“It is a toss-up,” he said. “The game we played beating Chinese Taipei in front of their home crowd in extra innings, which played a huge role in qualifying for the 2008 Olympics, will probably be the greatest single game I will ever be a part of. The other is winning the gold medal beating the USA 2-1 in Mexico at the 2011 Pan Ams. The feeling after both of those games is indescribable.”
With all of the memorable moments that Team Canada has provided VanOstrand, the relationships that he’s formed are something that he truly appreciates and values.
“The awesome thing about Team Canada is how team-oriented everybody is from the second we show up, and that doesn’t end after the tournament. It is such a special bond between all the guys I’ve been able to play with on the team and it is something to be treasured.”