* Luke Tevlin made a successful transition from the outfield to shortstop thanks to a world of support around him. He's now headed to Binghamton University on a scholarship. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list
By Bob Elliott
How many is a gazillion, anyway?
More than a million, and maybe a word only a teenager can use properly and comprehend.
Yet, it was the answer to the question asked of former outfielder Luke Tevlin, who is now headed to the Binghamton University Bearcats as a shortstop.
How many ground balls does it take to make an outfielder into a slick-fielding shortstop, one that every time the ball is hit his way with two out his Ontario Terriers dugout starts to rise as in ... “inning over.”
How many grounders for him to learn to field short hoppers to his left and right?
To figure out how to bare hand slow rollers?
To learn how to get that Sunday hop rather than the in-between ‘that-will-leave-a-mark’ short hopper?
An outfielder picking up Hoover vacuum status does not happen overnight.
Not at this level.
“I fielded about a gazillion ground balls in here,” said Tevlin after a Terriers workout at The Baseball Zone in Mississauga.
And then there were trips to the park - “any park that was free” - in Etobicoke where Luke’s father, Mike Tevlin, would be the man with the bat.
As diamond transitions go, is there a more difficult one to make -- outside of a left-handed reliever to starting second baseman?
No, seriously, it’s a tough change of address ... sometimes your mail winds up behind you in short left ... or off your chest or bare hand ... or worse.
“That first winter I tried to figure it out ... I think I hit him between 5,000 and 8,000 ground balls,” said Mike. “I don’t think it was that difficult. Luke takes whatever challenge is thrown at him. He’s an athletic kid. It was exciting for him.”
And likely tougher on the hands of the pa, than the hands of the son.
* * *
Luke Tevlin began playing with the High Park Little League where so many others, like Jon Lockwood, Matty Medierois, Mikey Gonzalves and Greg Havilaris, started, and made the all-star team at age 12.
The Tevlins “were not enamoured by hockey,” so at a young age -- pre-High Park -- Luke played tennis. At the time, Tevlin was following in the footsteps of his mother, Nicole, and father, Mike ... rushing the net and trying lobs.
Coach Dave Trimble’s High Park Braves practiced every day for three hours. High Park is baseball and baseball only. Trimble didn’t want his Braves tiring themselves out by playing other sports before or after practice.
So that was that for tennis.
Besides, those tennis players think love means nothing.
From High Park, Tevlin moved on to West Toronto where he played minor bantam for coach Steve Grant, after trying out for Etobicoke. Informed via e-mail that he had not made the Etobicoke team, he stayed with West Toronto.
“So Etobicoke has this fire baller going the first time we play them,” Luke said, “he throws a fastball, chest high, middle in and I crushed it.”
Except Luke didn’t know it. He stopped at second, thinking that the ball had bounced over for a ground rule double. The base ump had to tell him he had hit a homer.
“I’d hit a few at High Park, but that’s a short fence,” Luke explains.
Luke does not tell the story with the “I-showed-them” cockiness you see from a traded major leaguer who does well against his old team. He explains it matter of factly ... even when he recalled that the reason he didn’t make the Etobicoke team was a "lack of power."
He pitched four innings that day, allowing one run in a 4-3 win. The next year he weighed his options and decided to play bantam for coach Jim Careyhill.
“At one point before the season, Bill Byckowksi asked him to play for Georgetown, which would have been higher profile,” said Mike, as Georgetown had won Canadian championships in 2007 and 2009, losing in the OBA bantam eliminations final in 2011 to Gareth Morgan’s North York Blues.
After bantam, it was decision time.
Where, oh where, would Luke land?
“He’d gone to some high performance camps and clinics at The Baseball Zone,” said Mike. “He liked what Rick Johnston and Ryan Armstrong were talking about. He went to a Toronto Mets tryout and liked it, but he preferred the idea of the Terriers.
“He’s not stubborn like his mother, Luke surprised me with his commitment ... commitment and loyalty are two of his best qualities.”
With the 16U Terriers, he played for coach Peter Angelow in 2012.
“The Terriers are focused on developing you as a person as well as a player,” said Luke wearing a t-shirt with a large T. “Everyone gets a chance to play ... now, that changes the final day of a tournament.”
He switched to the infield in the fall of 2012, playing last year and this year for coach Scott Van de Valk.
Wes O’Neill and Johnston helped Tevlin learn his new position.
“Some days, Elliott Curtis and I would show at The Baseball Zone and hit each other ground balls with the nettings pulled back,” said Tevlin. Elliott Curtis (no relation) makes the drive in from Waterloo and plays for the 17U and coach Rick Johnston. Now younger brother Joe, 15, a catcher, plays for Johnston.
Scott Thorman, the first Canadian high schooler ever selected in the first round, passed on his hitting cage to Tevlin. Thorman is now a bench coach with class-A Burlington in the Kansas City Royals organization.
* * *
Where does the bounce in Luke’s step come from?
In other words, as scouts and recruiters always ask ... who had the good genes?
Well, papa Mike played sports, but it was mom Nicole who really played.
Born in Hong Kong, Nicole and her family moved to London at age 10. Nicole attended Loughborough University in Leicestershire in the United Kingdom.
And Nicole played:
For the varsity tennis team.
For the women’s rugby team.
For Great Britain’s first national women’s rugby team.
(I have only covered one rugby game ... and basically it is tackle football without pads, although the losing side claps the team off the field).
The university has the following athletic clubs: American football, cricket, cycling, equestrian, football (soccer) men and women, field hockey men and women, lacrosse, polo, rugby union men and women and ultimate frisbee.
Plus, the school offers individual sports such as archery, athletics & cross country, boxing, fencing, golf, gymnastics, mountaineering, snow sports, trampoline, basketball, men and women, futsal, handball, netball, 10-pin bowling, volleyball, canoe, rowing, sailing & windsurfing, sub aqua, swimming, triathlon, wakeboard & waterski, water polo, martial arts, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, kick boxing, mixed martial arts, Shaolin Kung Fu, Shotokan karate, Taekwondo, Wado Ryu Karate, badminton, squash, table tennis and tennis.
A tad more than most universities, but no baseball.
* * *
Binghamton recruiter Ryan Hurba first saw Tevlin at the Super Six showcase tournament in Binghamton N.Y. in June of 2013.
“I had a great round of batting practice and ... a terrible game,” said Luke.
Last fall, Tevlin was on display at Selectfest in Flemington, N.J. Hurba was impressed with the improvements.
They saw improvement and offered him a scholarship.
Binghamton is where Canadians like LHP Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.), now of the Minnesota Twins, Jeff Skelhorne-Gross (Mississauga, Ont.), RHP Chris (Bronco) Nagurski (Mississauga, Ont.), INF Joel Stubbs (Norwich, Ont.) and RP Billy Hurley (Mississauga, Ont.) attended class. Former Terriers 18U coach Danny Thompson arranged for the coaches to look at the player and the kids did the rest.
How well has Tevlin adjusted?
Well, he was asked to the annual February invitational-only Major League Scouting Bureau camp.
“Luke was able to rise to the occasion,” said Nicole.
* * *
The Tevlins belong to the Lambton Golf and Country club in Etobicoke, although they only go for the tennis.
But before we get to court, we have to stop by the snack bar where the rest of the story lives.
Ever seen those Two-bite Brownies in a brown paper bag at an airport or a corner store?
Of course you have. Well, they were Mike and Nicole’s baby.
Mike met Dan Devlin at the Richard Ivey school of business, part of the University of Western Ontario.
Both Devlin and Tevlin (“Tevlin and Devlin, it was both a gift and a curse,” said Mike) worked at Loblaws for five years, joining an entrepreneurial frozen dough company for a few years.
They began making frozen microwave-able sandwiches with their company, Give & Go Foods, in 1989. A friend, working at Zehrs, told them during a game of golf that he’d be interested in home style butter tarts. They tried and it didn’t work out.
Nicole has a degree in computer and civil engineering, and “is a lot smarter than me, we ran everything by hand until 1994.” Along came Steve Martin.
Next came the Two-Bite Brownies, a mini muffin-shaped brownie, and by 2003, according to the UWO Ivey alumni newsletter, the company had well over 500 SKUs, 600 employees and 175,000 square feet of production space and was supplying virtually every major grocery chain in North America.
Give and Go Prepared Foods which they sold in 2003 to Larry Tanenbaum’s Kilmer Capital Partners, a private equity investment fund.
Mike won’t say how much his group sold the company for, only that “I got lucky in business.”
After the business deal, the Tevlins approached Tennis Canada. The Tevlin Family is one of 17 people listed for donating more than $100,000 to Tennis Canada. The Tennis Canada web site search turns up 15 pages containing the word Tevlin ... 15 pages ... 10 links per page.
Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard may be the stars of tennis in Canada, but we’re told the Tevlins are Canadian tennis royalty.
They made a record-breaking donation of $500,000 over five years in 2005 and have since doubled that gift, bringing their total investment to over a $1 million.
They sponsor the women’s $50,000 Challenger Series, which leads into the women’s WTA tour and the $15,000 Tevlin Futures for boys tennis.
“Eugenie stayed with us when she was in town two years ago,” said Mike. “It’s a lonesome life tennis players live. It’s not a team game like baseball.
“Why not stay with us, it’s better than staying at a hotel. Eugenie is 19, Serena Williams is 32, this kid could be moving very quickly through the rankings. She’s a lovely good personality, fun to be around.”this kid could become very quickly. She’s a lovely good personality, fun to be around.”
Nicole points out NIKE allows only three players to wear Maria Sharapova line of clothing.
Bouchard is one of them.
* * *
You know the saying ... lucky in business, unlucky in cars.
Or something like that.
A couple of weeks ago, the Tevlins returned from dinner, parked the car in the garage underneath their Etobicoke house and headed upstairs.
The car that was plugged in caught fire, the other car, a Lexus in the garage, burned before the fire department came and put out the fire.
“No one got hurt,” said Mike. “There were lots of fire trucks and there were explosions. We didn’t know what was going on with all the noise.”
Firemen explained it was the garden hose and most of the tires on the cars exploding.
The only car to survive the fire was Luke’s 2004 Ford Taurus, since as Luke says it was built Ford tough.
* * *
Have you seen that Canadian Tire commercial about everyone from the skate sharpener, to the coach with the lady on the air horn who were all behind getting Jonathan Toews to Sochi?
Tevlin touches all the bases with his bouquets.
He goes out of his way to thank coaches and instructors in his interview, and then e-mails that night.
“During the interview, you asked about who helped me when I transitioned to shortstop, and I only mentioned people who I worked with during the winter. I forgot to mention my infield coach on the 18U team Dean Dicenzo, and my fellow middle infielders who were a world of help, Geoff Seto, Marcus Dicenzo and Cal Murphy.”
He even thanked the construction workers.
No, not the guys who built his swing.
“A lot of times I’d field ground balls on my street and there was construction going on next door,” Luke said. “I didn’t want to miss a ball and hit one of their trucks, so I’d ask if they’d mind moving the truck and they’d always comply.”
There might be enough people to sit in the seats behind Tevlin at his first game at the Bearcats Sports Complex Stadium in Binghampton to form a mini Maple Leaf.
So alongside him, he’ll have mom Nicole, pa Mike and brother Joe.
Then, coaches Dave Trimble, Steve Grant, Jim Careyhill, Peter Angelow, Scott Van de Valk. Rick Johnston and Dean Dicenzo.
Instructors Wes O’Neill and Ryan Armstrong, plus The Baseball Zone co-owner Mike McCarthy, who made sure Luke had room to field ground balls.
Pal Elliott Curtis and teammates Geoff Seto, Marcus Dicenzo and Cal Murphy.
Scott Thorman, Danny Thompson and Terriers senior guru Ed Heather.
Not enough bodies?
OK, cue the construction workers.
Now, bring on the firemen who saved the day and the house.