By: Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
If you were to skim over the roster for the University of Kentucky baseball team two names might catch your eye.
Tristan Pompey (Brampton, Ont.) and Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.) have helped the Wildcats to a No. 6 national ranking in 2017.
Not familiar? How about James Paxton (Richmond, BC) of the Seattle Mariners? Or Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) who is currently pitching for the Gwinnett Braves, the Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves and once pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays. Both donned the UK blue and white.
What you may not know, at least without a little research, is that there is a third Canadian trying to help Kentucky to their first College World Series championship.
The case of Kole Cottam’s Canadian background is not nearly as hard to trace as it may seem considering his Knoxville, TN birthplace.
“I have been to Canada many times,” he said. “My family is from there so I am there a few times a year, if not more.”
Cottam isn't the only baseball player in his family and that is where the story begins. His father Jeff, who hails from Burlington, Ontario played at the University of Memphis and his uncle Danny was also a member of the Tigers.
The older of two Cottam boys has played ever since he was little. He played at Knoxville Catholic High School and made it to the State championship in his junior and senior seasons. In 2015 he was awarded Mr. Tennessee Baseball and made his way to Kentucky that summer.
Jeff met Kole’s mother Kori while at Memphis. Kori played on the basketball team and found a job in Knoxville, TN.
“My mom is from Nashville,” he said. “My mom got a job in Knoxville so we moved there.”
The strapping 6’3" 230 pound catcher, who always puts his left shin guard on before his right, loves going to Toronto Blue Jays games whenever he comes north of the 49th parallel. Baseball runs in the young mans blood.
“They have always had a big influence on my career,” he said of his Canadian family. “My uncle played with my dad and all of my cousins have played at some point in their life. My grandparents have always been supportive and come watched me play no matter where it is.”
Cottam is also a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan, something a lot of people in Kentucky probably can’t understand other than maybe Pompey and Pop.
Despite the Memphis Tiger background, Cottam chose Kentucky for a simple reason.
“I chose Kentucky because of where I could see us going,” he said. “I could see us winning the Southeastern Conference and making it to Omaha. I wanted to do that on the biggest stage.”
There is little doubt if Kentucky wants to accomplish their goals they are going to need all three of their Canadians to be at the top of their game, something Cottam is not worried about when talking about Pompey and Pop.
“It’s great playing with them. They are such great players in their own way,” he said of his Canadian teammates. “Pop has an incredible arm and has been working hard. Tristan is a great player and will only get better. His raw talent is there but he just keeps getting better. They're both great guys off the field too.”
Cottam is currently hitting .296 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 37 games, 36 starts, while Pompey sits second on the team in average at a .373 mark. Pop has used his live arm, with a fastball that reaches the mid to upper 90’s, to help lock down the late innings in 21 games. He owns a 1-1 record and a 3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 innings.
The Wildcats are 31-14 overall and 14-7 in conference play, good enough for first in the SEC East division. They have three key SEC conference series remaining, hosting the University of Georgia and then the Volunteers of Tennessee before heading to Gainesville, FL for a showdown with the Florida Gators, a series that very well could decide first in the SEC East.
No matter where this season and his baseball journey takes him, Canada will always be ingrained in the fabric of Cottam’s life.
“Going back there to visit family and growing up loving the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs, it will always hold a special place in my heart.”