By: Alexis Brudnicki
AJAX, Ont. – Jen Gilroy was willing to do whatever it took.
Heading into her sixth year on the Canadian Women’s National Team, and into the program’s first-ever berth in a multi-sport event at the Pan Am Games in Ajax, Ont., the 25-year-old catcher knew she needed to make some changes if she wanted to see her name pencilled into the everyday lineup.
With the world’s best current female backstop on the Canadian squad in Steph Savoie (La Pocatiere, Que.) – who was named the catcher on the all-tournament teams at the last two World Cups – and Gilroy determined to take advantage of the opportunity to play at home in front of her family and friends on the sport’s biggest stage, the Mississauga, Ont., native completely changed her routine this off-season and has since made it impossible for manager Andre Lachance to keep her off the field.
“She’s a dedicated girl,” Lachance said. “She knows we have Steph behind, running the plate, and she wants to play. She’s done everything possible for me to write her name down on the lineup card every night and every day we play. All the credit to her, I tip my hat to her. Her attitude is outstanding. She’s positive all the time…and every time you have a positive attitude like she has, good things will happen.”
In the team’s two games to open the tournament, Gilroy has played first base for Canada. During their tour of exhibition matchups on the road to Pan Am, she also got some innings in at third base and as the designated hitter. As long as she’s in the lineup, she is happy to get an opportunity anywhere she might find herself.
“Knowing that Steph’s back there [catching], I think it makes all of us a lot more comfortable,” Gilroy said. “I mean, she’s an amazing athlete. Over the off-season that’s what I focused on, is just becoming an athlete so that I can be put at any position and be called upon for any role.
“The more versatile I am, the more places I can get into, helps the team. The more I’m in the game and the more I’m active, I think it contributes to defence but more offensively too, it gets my head focused.”
To get herself into top shape before the Games, Gilroy altered her off-season routine, changed her daily habits, and did a lot more work to get her body ready than she ever has before.
“I was just a lot more focused on just training and diet,” she said. “Really not eating myself out of a competition, really focusing on what I’m eating and why I’m eating and just conditioning.
“I’ve been playing baseball long enough that I have the basics down, and now it’s just conditioning, making sure my body’s ready for this long competition, and making sure that the basic technique can come through with my physique now.”
The backstop also spent more time working on her game this year than ever before, playing at various indoor facilities and taking swings multiple times a week to hone her skills before her all-women’s team in the Toronto Baseball Association got their season started.
“I did a lot more hitting,” Gilroy said. “I just committed to the team, committed to the Pan Am Games, getting on that higher calibre. I dedicated myself going to the cages at least three, maybe four times a week.
“I was lucky enough to have other teammates from Ontario, we have a great system in Ontario, and like I said, supporters like that. They wanted to help me, so they would take me to their cages, they would take me out for batting practice, just them hucking balls at me. So it was an all-around team effort in Ontario, but I got a lot of swings in in the off-season, and I think it’s finally starting to pay off.”
In Tuesday’s 9-3 win over Venezuela, Gilroy had the key hit in a five-run first inning, driving in three of her teammates with a standup triple to centre field. She was excited to see the work that she’s been putting in start to show on the field at the event.
“It feels amazing, [I have] goose bumps,” she said. “I don’t pride myself on being the quickest runner, but being able to stand up on third base feels pretty good. You know you hit the ball right if you’re standing on third base. But Andre has always stressed, there’s key moments in games and you have to capitalize and I wanted to capitalize for the team in that moment.”
With all of the outside work she’s done, Gilroy has found it easier to relax at the plate and stay confident in her abilities every time she steps into the batter’s box.
“I just walk up to the plate and remind myself, you’ve put in the work, you’ve put in the swings, you have the right mechanics, so go up there and do it,” she said. “So I kind of just clear everything out and just rely on everything that I’ve done in the off-season.
“The more I think, the more I hurt myself, so I just go up there with a clear mind, knowing that I’ve put in the work and knowing that I’ve hit balls before, and knowing that I’ve capitalized before, and doing it again.”
Team Canada has had less than a week at the Athletes’ Village so far, and the women have only been on the field for two games of their own – in the stands for both of the men’s games against the United States, watching them win gold on Sunday – but the experience already ranks atop Gilroy’s list.
“It has been the most amazing thing in my life,” she said. “Not only just looking forward to the Games, but to see the supporters come out of nowhere has really just made this experience even more for me. It’s not about baseball…
“The postal workers of Mississauga wrote me a letter; all my coworkers are supportive. We’ve had support before from our community, from our inner circle, but now it’s slowly reaching out to other people and it’s just so amazing for them to give us the support, to let us go out there and have the confidence that people are actually behind us and are actually recognizing just feels amazing to have people behind us.”