Les Williams, a pro pitcher with a degree
*RHP Les Williams (Scarborough, Ont.) went from Team Ontario and the Ontario Mets to Northeastern University to the Blue Jays system./Photo: Alexis Brudnicki ….
Alexis’ trip to extended spring:
By Alexis Brudnicki
DUNEDIN, Fla. – Minor league baseball is a learning experience.
Many young players enter the professional world as teenagers, leaving home for the first time and experiencing life on their own, straight out of high school.
Les Williams thought about doing that, but instead went to Northeastern University to continue to play baseball and to continue his education. The 23-year-old went undrafted out of Birchmount Park Collegiate after putting a price tag on his signing to the scouts, after playing with Team Ontario and the Toronto Mets.
“I really wanted to go to college,” Williams said. “I wanted to have that experience and I was happy that I went to school. I would never ever trade that opportunity. I would never go back and change what happened or change what I did. I was really happy with my college experience and I think I made a good decision to go to college.”
The experience that the right-hander had at Northeastern is one that changed his life. The future looks bright for Williams, both on and off the field. His degree in criminal justice and psychology and the relationships he made at school allow him some security beyond baseball.
“I met my fiancée [Jennifer] there,” he said. “We’re getting married [in November]. And I made a lot of friends; lifelong friends. And the education, you can’t put a price on that. I’m relieved to have an education now so if this doesn’t work out, I’m able to go and get a good job and continue to do what I like to do.”
Williams was ready to be drafted as a college senior last year, and though he had lost all of the bargaining chips he might have had in high school, he was happy to finally have his chance as a pro ball player.
“I had a good year,” he said of his last college season. “I was confident. I was hopeful that I could get a chance to play. Every time Toronto came up on the board I was sitting there a little nervous. When I saw my name called I was really, really relieved. I was happy to have the opportunity to continue playing.
The Toronto native was taken by the Blue Jays in the 37th round of the draft last year. Although he was waiting for his childhood-favourite team to call his name, he was never sure that it would happen.
“I had no clue,” Williams said. “There were a few teams I was talking to and I talked to my agent and he gave me an idea of what teams it would be. The Jays were one of them and I’m a hometown kid. I would be glad for the Blue Jays to pick me and when I saw that they did I was really, really happy. I’d be happy to go anywhere and get the opportunity to play but just with my Blue Jays it was really cool to see my name on the board.”
The right-handed hurler was especially excited to be a part of the organization this year, coming back after the off-season to put on the logo that he grew up watching, and to be surrounded by the Blue Jay blue.
“That was the best part,” Williams said. “The first year it was wearing the uniform, but then when I found out that they were going to the old ones, that’s when it really stuck. It was really special to be playing for the Blue Jays. I was really excited to see them go back to the old logo. It was pretty cool.”
As happy as he is to be back in blue this season, the highlight of Williams’ career came at a time when he was sporting another uniform altogether.
“Playing with the national team,” he said. “Just wearing Canada across your chest and the flag on your back; there’s nothing that can beat that. Playing against a bunch of other countries, going for the same goal, all the national pride there; it makes the game so much better. It’s a really fun experience.”
Williams has a couple of his Team Canada teammates in Dunedin with him right now, easing the transition for all of them. The collection of young Canucks at extended spring training have all grown close throughout the time they’ve spent together.
“Shane Davis and Zack Breault played on the national team with me,” he said. “And I know Dalton Pompey from Toronto. Tom Robson and I hang out a lot and with Justin Atkinson. Nick Purdy is from around Toronto and I worked with him this off-season too. It’s a small community of Canadian players so we all talk to each other.”
Williams continues to keep up with the national teams, speaking when he can with, “one of the best coaches he ever played for” in Greg Hamilton, following everything going on with Baseball Canada and hoping one day to be able to make an impact at the senior level.
“I follow the national team quite a bit,” he said. “I hope they do well. They did really well last year so I just hope they continue to keep that going. Maybe another time soon I’ll be able to play for the senior national team. Hopefully I get that opportunity.”
Before Hamilton starts looking for senior players to head to Germany for the World Baseball Classic qualifier, Williams will have the opportunity to get his first full season of pro ball under his belt. It’s a chance he’s been waiting for and he is ready to get started.
“This is the first time that I’ve been in June without playing a real game,” the righty said. “It’s a little different. In college we would start in February, in high school we would start in February. So it’s been long and I’m ready to get out there and start playing some games against other teams; games that mean something.”