By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
GOODYEAR, Arizona – Professional baseball has been a different experience for J.D. Williams.
Coming from the Ontario Blue Jays and Canadian Junior National Team programs, the infielder felt more than ready for the transition to pro ball after being selected in the 17th round of last year’s draft by Cincinnati out of David Suzuki Secondary School.
With a few months of experience under his belt, difficult wouldn’t be the right word for the time Williams has spent with the Reds, but it hasn’t exactly been easy.
“It’s been hard,” he said, before rethinking his answer. “No, I lied. It hasn’t been hard. It’s been fun but it’s been a lot of hard work. I mean, the days are long and we’re out there every day, there’s no rest, so it’s kind of different. It’s different than high school or with OBJ, but at the same time it’s what I wanted and that’s why I’m here and I love it.”
After growing up in the Ontario Blue Jays program, the soon-to-be 19-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., believes that he was better prepared than most to deal with all of the aspects that accompany the professional baseball life, both on and off the field.
“OBJ helped the transition,” Williams said. “Because with the fall trip [across the States to face college competition] we’re gone for two months or however long it is, and then coming into here it’s the same thing. You’re away from your family, playing baseball every day, and that’s what it is…
“Spending five years with the OBJ program made a lot of difference for me because I got to face the best competition all the time. So when I got here, it wasn’t overwhelming. I faced players like this all the time, especially on the fall trip, so when I got here and played it was pretty easy to get into my rhythm.”
It didn’t hurt that Williams was drafted by the Reds and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski alongside three other Canucks either – Miles Gordon in the fourth round, Isaac Anesty selected in the 18th, and Darren Shred the team’s 22nd-round pick – all members of the Junior National Team and two of whom the second baseman played with for the Blue Jays.
“It was a lot easier,” Williams said. “I knew coming in that there were going to be a lot of people and I felt like if I came by myself – it wouldn’t be intimidating – but it would be a little bit harder to blend in. it would have been harder if I was by myself but knowing Anesty and Shred and Miles were coming down I knew it would be a little bit easier to get the flow going.”
Even with a number of other Canadian players – the four 2015 picks joining Morgan Lofstrom, who was taken in the 20th round two years earlier – always around, and a variety of experiences before joining the professional ranks, there was still a little bit of a culture shock for Williams when he first arrived at camp with the Reds.
“The biggest eye-opener has been how many different people there are,” he said. “Different ethnicities and the different languages I’ve heard. There are Latin players, there are people from Australia with accents, Curacao, the Bahamas, everywhere…and people actually think I’m from Texas. When I tell them Toronto, they’re surprised.”
Hailing from the Great White North, the biggest adjustment outside of the clubhouse for Williams so far with Cincinnati has just been in getting used to the amount of time out on the field.
“Three’s no real hard part,” he said. “You’ve just got to get used to playing every day and being on the field every day. That’s the most difficult part, because in Canada you’re not on the field every day. You have the winters off. Here, you’re on the field every day, hitting every day, ground balls every day. That’s the part that I have to get adjusted to.”
It has been slightly more difficult for the middle infielder since he arrived in Arizona at the end of January, just because he hasn’t been able to do what he wants to do most – hit – after breaking his glove hand swinging in the cages just days before he left home.
“I got here January 27th, which was a Thursday, and I broke my hand the Friday before I got down here,” Williams said. “It was disappointing because I could still do everything but I couldn’t hit, and that’s what I wanted to do, I just want to hit.
“It was a bad time and it was the best time because it was the off-season and I still will be ready for the end of spring training. So it’s okay but at the same time I’m disappointed.”
Almost ready to resume full activities, Williams is ready to get back into action and excited at the idea of being able to stay on the field for the rest of the year.
“Staying healthy, that’s what I’m looking forward to this season,” he said. “Getting healthy, staying healthy, and playing. I just want to be on the field.”