* LHP JP Stevenson (New Glasgow, PEI) left his island home to pitch for the Vauxhall Academy Jets and is now with the Canisius Griffs, coached by Mike McRae (Niagara Falls, Ont.). ....
By Alexis Brudnicki
BUFFALO, NY – It wasn’t exactly a picture-perfect start to the school year for J.P. Stevenson.
Before the freshman left-hander could make his way to Buffalo to start his post-secondary education at Canisius College, he and the rest of his Canadian Junior National Team teammates had to get out of Mexico, where Hurricane Odile stranded them just following their bronze-medal win at the 18U Pan American championship.
“The hardest part was not knowing how or when we would ever get out of Mexico, or if we would,” Stevenson said. “But Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] did a great job of finding us a way to get out and I’m glad we got back safe.”
Team Canada, along with Team USA, was eventually helped out of the country by the Mexican military, getting a lift on a cargo plane to Tijuana before taking a bus to Los Angeles, Calif., and then eventually returning to their respective destinations.
By that time, several members of the squad who were entering their first years of college had already missed significant time in the classroom. Though they had planned on being absent to start the school year, the extra time away left Stevenson feeling especially behind. At least for a little while.
“College has been a lot different than I’ve been used to in high school, especially on the school side,” the 18-year-old said. “I missed the first three weeks of my first semester in college and that didn’t help, but I bounced back and got on it and was pretty happy with what I ended up with.
“On the baseball side, it’s been a lot more intense. I didn’t really expect that but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far … It’s been exciting.”
Leading into the season, Stevenson has adjusted to the intensity and the expectations set by the Golden Griffins, and has gained a better understanding of how things work and what he needs to do on the diamond.
“I didn’t expect how serious everything is taken here,” the native of New Glasgow, PEI said. “No one is ever just going through the motions. Every practice you have goals set for yourself and goals as a team, and you work to achieve them.”
Majoring in physical education and health, Stevenson believes that what best prepared him for the college experience was both his time with the junior national squad and playing for two years at Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in Alberta.
“That was huge,” the young southpaw said. “I wouldn’t be here without Greg and the national team, or even Vauxhall and Les [McTavish]. I’m happy with everything I did with them, and the work they did with me got me to where I am today, and hopefully it will move me up onto bigger and better things yet.”
Even though Team Canada’s trip to Mexico didn’t end on an ideal note away from the field, Stevenson truly cherishes the last moments he got with the squad, and was sad to see his days as a member of the junior team come to an end.
“It was honestly upsetting,” he said. “Those were probably the best baseball years of my life so far, and knowing that was the last time I would ever put on the jersey [as a junior] was sad. But then again, I got my time and now it’s time for other people to get that chance too. I’m excited for them and happy I was a part of the team.”
At Canisius, Stevenson didn’t stray far from his fellow countrymen, joining 11 other Canucks. The freshmen class of Canadians for the Griffs also includes Curtis Senior (Kirkland, Que.) and Blake Weston (Oakville, Ont.).
Jake Lumley (Windsor, Ont.), Zachary Sloan (Brampton, Ont.) and Josh Shepley (Tecumseh, Ont.) round out the Canadian sophomores.
Iannick Remillard (Valleyfield, Que.) and Brett Siddall (Windsor, Ont.) make up the Canadian junior class for the Griffs.
And fellow Canadian and head coach Mike McRae (Niagara Falls, Ont.) will take Tyler Vavra (Calgary, Alta.), Connor Panas (Toronto, Ont.) and OF Mike Krische (Langley, BC) and Devon Stewart (Maple Ridge, BC) into their senior seasons.
The only islander has already learned a lot in just his first year with the Griffins, most specifically McRae, and is excited about continuing to progress on the hill as the season gets underway.
“I have learned a lot about mound presence and taking every time throwing seriously and not just playing catch,” Stevenson said. “We’re never just playing catch. We always have the purpose of working on something specific…
“I’m most looking forward to Day 1. I’m just hoping to get on that bus and show up in South Carolina [for the Caravelle Resort Tournament to open the season on Saturday] and to get to put that jersey.”