By Bob Elliott
It happens every year.
A few months after the draft someone will say “hey how come you don’t have Joe Blow listed among your Canadians drafted in June?”
And it happened the final week of the season Baltimore, the day after the Blue Jays clinched the American League East title.
“Did you have the fact we drafted and signed OF Tristan Graham in about the 20th round, a west coast kid?” the Orioles official asked.
We quickly skimmed the first 20 rounds.
No Tristan Graham selected in the first 20 rounds.
But the Orioles said they signed the outfielder from Northeast Texas Community College.
So, the more the merrier.
And as we set about to adjust the numbers on Canadians drafted from 30 ... to 31 ... we made an interesting discovery.
There in the 22nd round, selected by the Orioles and given a $100,000 signing bonus was none other than OF Tristan Graham.
While we didn’t miss him, we certainly overlooked him.
We should tell you some more about Graham who is in Florida at the Orioles instructional league camp.
“Tristan has all-fields power and a strong throwing arm,” said Baltimore scouting director Gary Rajsich, who said Graham’s signing scout was Ken Guthrie.
“He’s behind other 2015 draftees right now. A broken hand caused him to miss the GCL season, so he’s getting his first at-bats since May at instructs.”
At one time this season Northeast Texas CC was ranked fourth in the nation and he played a large role in the run. He hit .382 average in 43 games with 12 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and 47 RBIs. Graham had a 1.137 OPS.
“I started playing baseball when I was four,” he told the NTCC Eagle. “My dad had been playing all his life, and he got me into that as well as hockey.
“Where I’m from in Vancouver, baseball is probably, out of 10, like a 7. It’s not as popular as hockey, but it’s up there.”
Graham said most Canadian ball players seek opportunities south of the border by “going somewhere in the States and play junior college or NCAA.”
Graham said he likes baseball, because it’s a challenging sport telling Teresa Flores, managing editor of the NTCC Eagle, “it’s kind of set up for failure. If you’re up 10 times at the plate, and you hit three times out of the 10, that’s a good day.”
Graham said hockey and baseball conflicted with scouts asking which one he was dedicated to playing and he chose baseball at age 15.
Assistant coach Austin Knight said in his experience he usually sees this level of commitment in players who are not from the U.S. saying “we are unique in that we welcome those kinds of kids to come play for us because most of the time they really enjoy baseball, their drive and their passion and what they want to do.”
Graham was Knight’s first recruit as at Northeast. Knight said that there are some hardships recruiting players from outside of the United States, but it can also be positive.
“If you have the right connections with people outside of the States, you can trust their word on the kid’s character and ability,” he said explaining how the best junior colleges in Texas are going after the best players from Texas.
Head coach Josh Stewart expressed some difficulties as well explaining “sometimes you have to do your homework on these guys a little more, maybe you only get the chance to see them play once, if that, at a tournament. You really have to evaluate on video.”
Graham’s talent found its way onto the Eagles through a simple form of technology. The Canadian ball player said Knight gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“We heard about him just through an email and a video that we saw and saw that he was a very physical kid,” said Knight of the 6-foot-4, 215 pounder. “He’s got a lot of tools, but we had never actually seen him play.”
He reported for fall ball in 2014 but was far from healthy. He played at the 21U for BC in Dartmouth, N.S. diving for a ball and dislocating his left shoulder before bouncing back like a bad cheque.
Knight said Graham had an intriguing character: “what’s funny about Tristan is he actually is a quiet person and kind of keeps to himself, but on the field he is very competitive, it’s almost like a quiet, relaxed intensity that is something that our team has really benefited from.”
Graham said his family at home appreciates the opportunity he has created for himself. “They love it,” he said. “My dad gave up an opportunity when he was younger, so he made sure I was going to play college ball.”
And the Orioles made sure he got the chance to play pro ball.
“It is almost hard to describe- numb, surreal,” he told the NTCC Eagle, “but then you realize that all of the hard work and perseverance and all the people who supported me along the way has led to this opportunity. It is the realization of my lifelong dream to play professional baseball, but I know this is also just another beginning.”
Graham earned All-Conference freshmen of the year, and ended the season with a total of 13 homeruns and 47 RBIs.
Graham said his time at Northeast served as a stepping-stone toward playing ball professionally. “The mind set of the players and coaching staff was the perfect training ground for me and my goal to get drafted,” he said. “I am so thankful for being coached by Josh Stewart, Austin Knight, and Aaron Gilbreath. Their knowledge and passion for the game was something that I greatly value and feel is rare.”
The Canadian said despite his goal of being drafted, his priority was to help the Eagles win and make it to the playoffs. “I tried to focus on the daily tasks and to live in the moment to learn from Stewart and Knight as much as I could,” he said. “Getting drafted was a fortunate result from that approach.”
Coach Stewart one word to describe Graham: “unbelievable.”
Stewart said “it’s another good story about a kid coming into the program and finding success. He loves Northeast, the faculty, his teachers and the community. Tristan and I are the same way in that he loves Northeast as much as I do.”
It is apparent to his former coaches that Graham’s fortune will not only affect his life, but the Northeast baseball program that gave him a chance.
“Coming to NTCC was a great fit for me. My teammates shared a similar experience being away from home, focused on baseball, working on our skills and taking advantage of everything the program offers us as players and people,” Graham said. “I will be forever grateful to the NTCC coaching staff and community.”
And in other Orioles news ... INF Sammie Starr (Toronto, Ont.) coached at rookie-class GCL Sarasota and class-A Aberdeen this year. Likely he will coach at class-A Delmarva next season.
Starr was a 34th round draft choice of the Orioles from the British Columbia Thunderbirds in 2010. He played at class-A Aberdeen in 2010, moved on to class-A Delmarva, class-A Frederick and Aberdeen the next year.
In 2012, he split the season between Delmarva, Frederick and triple-A Norfolk, spent 2013 at Frederick and in 2014 he was at Frederick and double-A Bowie.
Over his five-season career, Starr played in 343 games batting .232 with 58 doubles, five triples, 17 homers and 130 RBIs. He was 30-for-39 stealing bases and had a .639 OPS. .