By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
After Andrew Yerzy’s first season of professional baseball and his final tour with Team Canada, the former Toronto Mets catcher was recognized for his success in the red-and-white uniform in January, receiving the Junior National Team Most Valuable Player Award at Baseball Canada’s National Teams Awards Banquet and Fundraiser.
“It’s pretty unbelievable, just considering some of the past winners when you think about it,” Yerzy said of the honour. “[Josh] Naylor won it last year, Tyler O’Neill’s won it, I know Gareth [Morgan] has won it. So just being considered on the same level as those guys is pretty amazing. And [program infield coordinator for the Mets Hyung] Cho told me he won it in 1998, so I thought that was pretty funny.”
The 18-year-old backstop spent three years with the Canadian junior squad before he was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round – 52nd overall – in June, signing for $1,214,100 during the inaugural Canadian Premier Baseball League season. Right after his selection and the signing process, the young catcher starting thinking about the Canadian players who had come before him, been chosen in high rounds of the draft, and who had received bonuses in the neighbourhood of his own.
“It’s pretty crazy to think about because I played with Naylor and I played with Gareth and I played with [Mike] Soroka,” Yerzy said last summer. “So to think that I’m even on the same level as those guys, knowing how good they are, is pretty crazy…I’ve watched them since I was young, so maybe the younger guys when they watch me, they’re thinking the same thing. But I definitely feel like I can compete at the pro level [and] I always wanted to get drafted and I always wanted to play pro baseball.”
Not long after his mid-summer signing, Yerzy joined the Diamondbacks organization and spent his first professional season between the rookie class Arizona League D-Backs and the advanced rookie league Missoula Osprey squad, ending the year on a strong note and heading home with plenty to work on before spring training. When he was presented with the Baseball Canada accolade, Yerzy had similar thoughts to that of last year.
“I’d like to consider myself on that level too,” he said. “It was big for me, because I played with all those guys growing up. When I was 15, I saw Gareth get drafted [in the second round], and when I was in 11th grade, I saw Soroka and Naylor [both taken in the first round]. So hopefully I set a good example for whoever is getting drafted this year and in 2018, so they can say, ‘I was on the same level as Yerzy,’ which would be pretty cool.”
Overjoyed to spend some time with his Baseball Canada family during the annual banquet and fundraiser, Yerzy not only got to catch up with his friends but he also received a little bit of an eye opener to just how much professional competition he had matched up against before becoming a pro himself.
“It’s irreplaceable, really,” Yerzy said of his Baseball Canada family. “I mean, I saw Mike [Soroka] for the first time in pretty much a year over the banquet weekend, and it’s like we saw each other last week. It was just really easy to pick up with those guys. They share the same interests as you, they’re playing pro baseball like you, and the development that Baseball Canada does is second to none.
“They talked about it at the banquet and I didn’t even realize it – I had over 100 professional games throughout my high school career. I didn’t really take it in until after they said it, and I thought yeah, that makes sense. I had three full years on the team, 10 games a trip, and four trips a year.”
Better prepared for what he was heading into in the professional realm because of his time with the Canadian Junior National Team and the Mets, even with that experience Yerzy still had to do some fine-tuning in order to get used to the everyday routine.
“Starting off in pro ball was like a Team Canada trip for two-and-a-half months instead of two weeks,” he said. “That was the biggest difference for me. I had seen that same stuff, but I wasn’t used to seeing it every day, night in and night out, for those two-plus months straight. I was used to seeing it for two weeks. So it was a bit of an adjustment period seeing it every day, but I’d like to say I adjusted well…
“It was definitely different. There’s no time off pretty much. You’re never going to see a bad arm in pro ball. You’re going to see at least 88-92 [mile per hour pitches] every single day, you’re going to see that coming out of the bullpen, you’re going to see it starting and when you do see someone who throws slower, they’re just going to carve. It’s kind of relentless, and that’s what pro ball is.”
Heading into his first full season of pro ball, Yerzy has spent much of his winter back at home in North York, with plenty of hours at Out of the Park Sports, the home of the Toronto Mets, where he is grateful to have the support of the staff and the program as he continues to try to get better.
“I’m at the Mets facility most days,” Yerzy said. “I’ll have days where I’ll just work out, and I’ll have days when I do baseball stuff, so it keeps me in there all the time. I’ve been working super hard…The Mets helped in giving me the place to train in the off-season, and being the supportive family they are. The coaches have helped me a lot. Without those guys, like [Mets instructors Chris] Kemlo, Greg Densem, Honsing [Leung], and other guys being there and being supportive 100 per cent of the time, coming in whenever I need them and giving me a lot of reps that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, I couldn’t do what I’ve been doing.”
Some of his time spent in familiar territory has become a new experience for the backstop. Without even knowing it he went from being an observer of the professional players who would spend their off-seasons around him to become the player everyone is watching.
“It’s pretty funny, because I used to do that when I was a kid too,” Yerzy said. “If, say [Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Maxx] Tissenbaum came home I would be watching him the entire time. And I’ll get maybe a crowd of five to 10 people standing around the cage while I hit now, just watching me. It’s funny. I helped out with a youth camp and apparently a bunch of the kids would talk about me hitting on their way home, so that was pretty cool. It makes me feel good, and hopefully I don’t let them down.”
Not letting anyone down with the progress he’s made, Yerzy couldn’t be more proud of the latest honour bestowed up on him, as he continues to find ways to feel like he fits in with the players who came before him.
“It’s surreal almost, considering that two years ago when I was 15 I thought I would have no shot at winning any of those awards,” Yerzy said. “Those guys were the greatest guys on the planet, in Canada at least, and just to be considered on the same level and to share that stage with them is an honour.”