By Bob Elliott
Coaching a son in baseball isn’t easy.
The bad hops, an umpire’s call that goes the wrong way or the stress of a tight game can make for some long drives home.
Chris Naylor was coaching his son Josh Naylor with the Mississauga North Tigers minor peewees in 2008 at Rivergrove Park in a game against the Brampton Royals.
“He knew it drove me wacko when he went to a different delivery in an effort to throw strikes,” the father said. “I sent my brother-in-law (John Berney) to the mound to tell him to go back to his regular way ... if I’d have gone out, it might have been two out of three falls.
“He changed back but he still wasn’t throwing strikes.”
So, Chris Naylor, the coach, removed his son Josh Naylor, the pitcher, in the first inning.
“He didn’t talk to me for two days,” laughed the father.
There is plenty of laughter around the Naylors Mississauga house after Josh was selected 12th over-all by the Miami Marlins in the first round earlier this month.
That’s 12th of the 1,215 high schoolers and collegians drafted from North America.
He was the highest Canadian position player ever selected in the draft.
And now that school is finished he has agreed to terms with the Marlins and will be paid a $2.25 million US signing bonus, the third largest bonus ever given a Canadian. He'll be off on the next chapter as soon as he has his work visa.
When did mom Jenice and dad Chris Naylor realize that their son was good?
We mean that he was a really, really good player?
* * *
Was it playing for Mississauga North in senior rookie ball against the North York Blues?
A left-handed hitter, Josh was a dead pull hitter even at age seven in 2004.
Stepping into the batter’s box against the North York Blues Josh looked up to see the right fielder playing deep, the centre fielder moved over to right centre, the second baseman in shallow right and the shortstop behind second base.
Young Josh was hitting into the gloves of a David Ortiz-like shift.
“There was definite frustration ... he tried to hit it through them, he could only do it some of the time,” the father remembers. “He wore his heart of his sleeve.”
Chris recalls how some games Josh would have three hits in his first three at-bats and then make an out. Josh was sometimes Josh’s own worst critic. That fourth at-bat would wind up being the one he took home with him.
Chris said it would “bug him to the point he’d forget about the three previous hits.”
“He was tough on himself, but this drove him to do better the next day out,” Chris said.
Yet, Chris didn’t know then.
* * *
Did he realize in the fall of 2005 at Smythe Park in Etobicoke?
To combat the Ortiz-like shift, father and son had worked diligently on hitting the ball the other way.
Attending a camp held by Denny Berni of Pro Teach Baseball, Josh lined a ball over the third baseman’s head in his first at-bat.
Running to first Josh yelled over his shoulder, across the diamond to his father, who wasn’t coaching but watching from behind the screen: “hey I hit one the opposite way!”
No, it wasn’t then.
* * *
Did they know how good he was when Mississauga North went to the Field of Dreams Park in Cooperstown three times?
He competed as an 11-year-old in 2008 against 12-year-olds and hit one homer.
The next year facing hitters his own age he hit four out.
And the year after -- he was eligible to compete because of his late birthday (June 22) -- he hit four more.
On that trip, pitching for coach Karl Bent he worked six innings against the powerhouse Germantown (Tenn.) Giants as Mississauga North reached the field of 16 in the 104-team tourney. Josh was lifted after striking out 16 and having thrown over 100 pitches after six innings. Germantown won 6-5 on a walk-off homer on the first pitch of the inning
Not then either.
* * *
By 2010, when Josh was named Ontario Baseball’s junior player of the year at age 13 Chris knew.
That put him in the same category as future pros to win either the junior or senior OBA honors like Mike Kusiewicz, Shawn Pearson, Doug Vandecaveye, Jason Mandryk, Chris Emanuele, Tanner Watson, Chris Robinson, Jamie Romak, Larry Balkwill and Scott Thorman, the first-ever Canadian high school position player to go in the first round when he was selected by the Atlanta Braves in 2000.
He knew before the banquet and the presentation.
* * *
And Chris knew in 2012, when Josh was 15 and asked to play for the Canadian Junior National Team after his grade 9 year.
Walt Burrows of the Major League Scouting Bureau invited him to play in an exhibition game.
He joined Canada the next day and by the end of the under-18 World Cup in Seoul, South Korea, was hitting clean up helping Greg Hamilton’s Canada squad win a silver medal.
* * *
The father new before Josh headed to the seventh annual POWER Showcase in Miami in January of 2013 at Marlins Park at age 15.
Competing as an underclassman he won the division. He hit four home runs with a wood bat and 15 using metal, including one 453 feet smashing off a TOYOTA sign in right. His longest drive travelled 457 feet.
He paired in Home Runs that Help with Chase Galea, born almost four months premature. Chase spent 101 days in the London Ont. hospital Neonatal ward under intensive care. He was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy along with moderate to severe hearing loss.
* * *
And Chris was well aware as his son accompanied Team Canada on its May trip to the Dominican with Josh age 15 playing against first and second-year rookie-class pros from the Dominican Summer League.
He hit two bombs including a mammoth shot against the DSL Reds at Baseball City in Boca Chica as one of the only two hitters to bat over .300 on the trip.
Josh hit .351 (13-for-37) carrying the team in spots.
* * *
Playing for Sean Travers and Dan Bleiwas, Josh helped the Ontario Blue Jays reach the 2013 Mickey Mantle World Series in McKinny, Tex.
Chris remembers games in 100-degree weather and “kids from the California teams passing out.”
The Ontario Jays kept rolling on and won the title, with Josh hitting .528 to win the batting title hitting a couple of home runs and earning the Big Stick honor for being the top hitter.
Chris knew then.
* * *
The next January Josh was back in Miami for the eighth annual POWER showcase.
In this edition of Homers That Help he decided to partner with Lena Ricketts, 98, his great-grandmother, a woman Josh called “his hero.” A woman who at age 94 underwent a double mastectomy and a stroke. And at age 96 suffered a broken hip and survived surgery. When the Naylors flew to Miami Lena was battling pneumonia.
He hit two homers, the longest 444 feet.
Lena passed while they were in Miami.
Babe Ruth’s grand daughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, presented Josh with the Spirit of Babe Ruth award.
* * *
Chris already knew at Target Field last July.
Luken Baker of Conroe, Tex. and Josh won the right to compete in the Gillette Home Run Derby festivities at Target Field, the best of the eight competitors from the day before. Each went deep six times using metal on Sunday.
Despite the fact he had contend with a 23-foot wall in right field, while the right-handed hitters had to clear an eight-foot wall in left, Josh homered three straight times to finish the first round.
During the commercial breaks Baker and Naylor squared off in the Junior Home Run Derby before more than 41,000. And while the big boys swung for the fences and the flash bulbs popped Josh sat with the likes of derby combatants like Colorado Rockies’ Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C., Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki and Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton.
Baker won 7-4 and both took the elevator up to the third level where Naylor was interviewed by the Toronto media at the game. On the field he was interviewed by Sportsnet’s Barry Davis.
Over in the corner stood Baker all by his lonesome. Baker described Josh as as “rock star.”
Josh was selected 12th over-all, while Baker, who has signed a letter of intent to TCU Horned Fogs, went in the 37th round (1099th) to the Houston Astros.
Jenice remembers seeing her son’s eyes light up when he said “mom this is where I need to be.”
“It could have been the crowd or being so close to the players he idolized ... but he was in his comfort zone,” said the mom.
* * *
Chris knew last August when Team Canada headed to Houston and then on to Mexico for the 18U Pan Am championships.
Josh went 5-for-13 against Team USA in Houston and at one point Jamey Shouppe, pitching coach of Team USA said “I don’t know how we get that guy out.”
Josh hit .378 (14-for-37) with five doubles and an epic opposite field homer against Mexico as home town fans tossed beer cans at him.
* * *
And Chris knew for sure on this July’s trip to the Dominican. He batted .340 (14-for-37) with five homers and 17 RBIs.
And during a five-hour layover from Santo Domingo to Toronto in Miami, he visited the same Marlins Park where he had been before for the POWER Showcase in front of Marlins scouts.
Like the showcase he filled right field with long-distance drives.
* * *
When did mom Jenice know.
“I can’t say that there was on defining moment, he’s always been a consistently hard worker and he’s been goal oriented, whatever he decided to do, I knew he would be a success,” said the mom this week. “His passion from the start was baseball. I don’t know if it’s a mother talking, but everything he did, he succeeded.
“Whether it was at a showcase, trying to beat his last time running or hitting more home runs.”
* * *
So, when did Chris really know how good a ball player his son was?
“Probably when Josh was around 12 ... Sean Travers told me ‘your son is going to play in the big leagues,” said Chris.
The father’s reaction to such a bold pronouncement about his son from the Ontario Blue Jays coach who was still not a teenager?
“I try not to over think stuff, see where it takes us,” said Chris.
Jenice remember Travers telling her son he should hit at least 25 homers one year.
“He got to 22 and the season was drawing to a close,” Jenice said. “Josh said ‘Sean expects 25 from me this year.’ He got the additional three. The next year the boys moved to the bigger diamonds changed and Sean told him he should get 10.
“Coaches see things that you as a parent don’t.”
That day Travers told Chris that his son was a good enough 12-year-old that he foresaw a big-league future he also told Chris to take his kids to the upcoming Major League Scouting Bureau camp.
So, there they sat at Connorvale Park in 2009: father Chris with sons Josh, 12 and Noah, then nine, watching the prospective pros audition.
The father and his sons watched:
How they were timed in the 60-yard dash.
How outfielders threw to third and the plate and the infielders showed off their arms from shortstop.
And then batting practice with the best hitters being asked to stay and face the best pitchers.
It won’t be the last camp for Chris Naylor.
Ontario Blue Jays coach Kyle DeGrace asked this winter “getting tired of typing Naylor’s name yet?”
Before I could answer he said Noah might be as better than big brother.
Josh went to two bureau camps each year starting in grade 10 and his final workout was at the same Marlins Park.
Auditions are over.
Josh Naylor is a officially a Marlins prospect.
Everyone now knows how good a ball player Josh Naylor is.