By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
A little over a month removed from helping his provincial squad strike gold as part of the 2017 Canada Games, Saskatoon's Ryan Olchoway will look to keep the winning ways going as he suits up for Prairies Purple at this year's installment of Tournament 12 in Toronto.
Appearing with Team Saskatchewan, his club's 3-1 victory over Manitoba in the Canada Games final secured a gold medal for his home province for the first time in the competition's history. It was also one of eight golds earned by the province in this year's games.
Having chipped in both on the mound and at the dish, Olchoway says the overall experience was something to remember and credits Saskatchewan's impressive dash for gold to the team's collective offensive approach throughout the Canadian showcase.
"We really trusted in one another," he explained when asked about what made his club so successful after going 3-3 during round robin play in advance of the tournament finale. "We all could go up to the plate knowing that someone was behind us that would get the job done."
Olchoway himself got the job done more than once.
As a batter, the 17-year-old product of the Saskatchewan Premier Baseball League's Saskatoon Diamondbacks reached base six times in nine games while posting an on-base percentage of .428 for the tournament.
In addition to his solid work at the dish, Olchoway also pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing only two of the 15 batters he faced to reach base.
In the championship game at Shaw Park on August 4, his two-out RBI single in the third plated what would go on to be the gold-clinching run. Three innings later, he would provide some breathing room after walking and going on to score Saskatchewan's third run on a two-out passed ball four batters later.
To most young ballplayers, entering a championship game against the host team in a professional stadium full of passionate sports fans is a daunting task. Olchoway, however, is used to playing in front of rowdy spectators.
After all, he still spends his winters playing double-A hockey with the Icehawks of the Centre Four Hockey League in Saskatoon.
"The crowd was kind of giving it to us," he admitted with a laugh. "Every time you would make a bad play, strikeout or anything they would make sure you could hear it. Everyone was pretty relaxed though. Going into that game, we kind of knew that was going to happen. We were prepared for it."
Aside from helping him stay focused in testy situations, playing hockey has also served as a benefit to his overall skills on the diamond.
"Something that helps me a lot going from hockey to baseball is my stamina from always skating," he admitted. "I develop a lot of strength from hockey, too."
That strength was on full display when he struck-out 16 batters over eight innings in a 15U tournament ahead of last fall's T12 selection period, a performance that helped secure his first trip to Toronto.
2017 represents Olchoway's second T12 appearance at Rogers Centre. Last September, the then 16-year-old utility man appeared in four games with Prairies Purple, reaching base four times across seven trips to the plate and tossing a pair of shutout frames.
When asked about his initial invite to Roberto Alomar's namesake showcase, Olchoway says his biggest takeaway from last year's event was having the opportunity to work with some of the Blue Jays homegrown alumni, including Canadians such as Rob Butler, Paul Spoljaric, and Denis Boucher.
"The alumni, ex Blue Jay players... They were very helpful," he said. "During batting practice, they would help you with your swing if they saw something. They helped me adjust my grip and get loose in the box."
Aside from having a chance to gain some insight from former major leaguers and an impressive cast of prominent Baseball Canada luminaries, Olchoway said he is most appreciative of the scouting coverage the tournament receives from the big league organizations and college programs who choose to attend the annual showcase.
"There are more scouts coming out to (T12) than your regular summer league games," he said. "You definitely get way more exposure."
Look for Olchoway both on the hill and at shortstop at this year's tournament.