By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
GOODYEAR, Arizona – Somewhere along the line, the game lost its simplicity for Miles Gordon.
In a whirlwind couple of years, going from playing for both the Oakville Royals and Great Lake Canadians, to earning a spot on the Canadian Junior National Team, to completing his high school baseball career before being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the fourth round last year, and jumping into professional baseball as a 17-year-old, baseball became a little bit more complicated.
Everything seemed to be happening at once, and Gordon was learning and evolving at an incredible pace.
With a little bit of breathing room through the winter, the left-handed hitting outfielder is back in Arizona with the Reds, returning for his second season of pro ball with a better understanding of how things work, what he needs to do, and the ability to relax a little bit more in his now-familiar surroundings.
“Last year it was kind of nerve-wracking,” Gordon said. “Even though I got 31 games and had 118 at-bats I still wasn’t comfortable. But this time around, and [arriving early for] strength camp, all the young guys are in the same boat. You start making more friends, talking to guys, and you go out there and just play.
“That’s what the coaches really want us to do this year, just go out there and play – don’t worry so much about your swing because if it isn’t good, they’re going to work with you on it. They’ve referenced back to little league – ‘What did you do back then? You weren’t thinking about this, that, and the next thing. Just go out there and play.’”
Though his transition to the professional realm was assisted in a big way by the time the now-18-year-old had with Great Lake and the Canadian junior squad, the environment was entirely different and required some getting used to.
“You come from GLC and Team Canada being one of the go-to guys, and then you get thrown into a big pond,” Gordon said. “Everyone’s good. It doesn’t really matter where you come from, if you’re a first-rounder, if you’re a 40th-rounder, no one cares because at the same time everyone is fighting for the same position.”
With a new perspective on the game at various levels, the native of Oakville, Ont., saw the newest crop of GLC players with a different set of eyes this off-season.
Moving a couple of hours down the road to London, where his former program is based out of the Centrefield Sports facility, Gordon worked individually with part-time instructor Jamie Romak – who can only be there while he’s not playing, currently in Japan with the Yokohama BayStars in the Nippon Professional Baseball League – and gained a lot from the experience as well as seeing the younger players in their development.
“Honestly I learned more this off-season than I did the whole season I spent with [the GLC] because I was working with Jamie one-on-one,” Gordon said. “I even worked out with the kids [currently in the program] because I was there on some weekends and stayed for practice and it was cool. They’re looking up to you and I was thinking, ‘You guys have no idea.’
“To the 14-year-olds I said, ‘I put a half a year into this and if you put three years into this, you have no idea where you can go. You think I’m just saying this, but it’s true.’ You get those 14-year-old kids who can really swing and throw and look at them and think about if I was 14 and that good at that position. It’s like a crystal ball.”
Romak worked not only with Gordon but with another Canadians graduate-turned-professional in Nick Hamilton, who is in the Boston Red Sox system, and with Milwaukee Brewers prospect and longtime Junior National Team member Demi Orimoloye. The two young players moved from the Buffalo area and Ottawa, respectively, to train at Centrefield during the off-season.
“It was good living up there because Jamie – I love him, man – he’s a really hard worker,” Gordon said. “So he didn’t let us slack off at all. If it was 10 o’clock we were to be at the facility, it was 10 o’clock, not 10:01. We were running at 10 o’clock. It was good to follow that schedule. I told my parents, if I was working by myself in the off-season I don’t know how much work I would really do.
“And it was cool working with Nick and Demi because you’re essentially competing against them even though they’re on other teams. You put yourself beside them and we’re all pushing each other, which was cool.”
Another huge help for Gordon while he’s further away from home has been a few of the friends he knew he would have when last year’s selection process came to an end.
After the outfielder was selected in the fourth round in June, Cincinnati and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski took infielder Jade Williams in the 17th, southpaw Isaac Anesty in the 18th, and used the team’s 22nd-round pick to select Darren Shred. All four Canucks had suited up together in red-and-white uniforms previously for the Junior National Team.
“At the end of the day you can go 0-for-4 with four Ks and there’s still someone to talk to who you’re comfortable with,” Gordon said. “You know they’re not going to be judging you because they know you’re a good player.
“The same thing goes for them – if one of them had a bad outing on the mound or Jade doesn’t have a good day, they can come to us instead of talking to a Dominican guy or an American guy for example, who you don’t really have a good connection with. It’s easier to be able to fall back and get some comfort from the Canadian guys.”
Eager to get the season underway, Gordon is excited to take everything he’s learned and see what he can do with it.
“Just playing, getting the first couple games under the belt, is what I’m looking forward to,” he said. “Facing live [pitching for the first time] was kind of ugly, but…I’m excited to play some games. I’ve been out here for a while practicing so that will be fun.”