By Alexis Brudnicki
GOODYEAR, Az – Things just keep getting better at home.
Though J.D. Williams and Miles Gordon have graduated from the Ontario Blue Jays and Great Lake Canadians programs, respectively, the two Cincinnati Reds farmhands are excited at the idea of the Canadian Premier Baseball League and what it means for baseball in their home province moving forward.
The CPBL – including not only teams from the OBJ and GLC programs, but also the Toronto Mets, Fieldhouse Pirates, Ontario Nationals and Team Ontario – will allow more of an opportunity than ever before for the top talent in the province to compete, and to do so in their own backyard.
“That will help,” Gordon said. “When I was with the [Oakville] Royals we went down to Florida and played the London Badgers twice. I thought why are we coming to Florida to play London?
“So that will help and it will be cool because you get to compare yourself on a smaller scale to the other teams and the other players, instead of having to compare yourself to the American guys for example. The talent will be a little bit better because there are fewer teams and probably the better teams, which will hopefully get more Canadians drafted out of there.”
After the outfielder was selected by the Reds in the fourth round in June, Cincinnati and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski took Williams in the 17th, southpaw Isaac Anesty in the 18th, and used the team’s 22nd-round pick to select right-hander Darren Shred. All four Canucks had suited up together in red-and-white uniforms previously for the Canadian Junior National Team, and the latter trio all came through the Ontario Blue Jays program.
“OBJ helped the transition,” Williams said. “Because with the fall trip [matching up against American 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.”
Williams is looking forward to watching some of the younger players from his program and others within the CPBL as they progress, and is excited at the idea of the continued growth of the game north of the border.
“There’s a lot of talent coming up in Canada,” the 19-year-old second baseman said. “I mean, I’m not too familiar with everybody but I know with the OBJ guys like Cooper Davis and those kinds of players, they’re really stepping it up.
“It would be nice to get more baseball at home but everyone has to be together and on the same page to do it, not just one organization or two organizations. We’ve all got to come together to get it really going.”
With the top teams from around the province working together to play a tougher, longer schedule at home, the programs’ former players are hoping to see success follow, knowing how much they got out of what was offered to them and what it could mean to have more of the same.
“I was [with the Great Lake Canadians at Centrefield Sports during the off-season] on some weekends and stayed for practice and it was cool,” Gordon said. “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 do. 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.”