Athlete’s Angle

I’m guessing most casual baseball fans in Canada are like me: during the regular season, I cheer for the Blue Jays and eagerly scan the league for Canadian talent. Once October arrives and the playoffs begin, I try to make up for 162 games of spotty attendance in one short month. This year treated me well. Several of the season’s best individual performances belonged to Canadians and the Blue Jays, while competing in the toughest division in baseball, put together a winning season.

The most notable Canadians of 2010 were Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) of the Cincinnati Reds and Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) of the Minnesota Twins. Joey Votto was just recently crowned the MVP of the National League, while Justin Morneau was having an MVP caliber season until a concussion in July brought an early end to his year.

Recently on UMFM’s Athlete’s Angle, we were joined by Andrew Tinnish, director of amateur scouting for the Toronto Blue Jays, to discuss Canadian players in the major leagues and, more specifically, the path young Canadian ball players take to get to the major leagues.

According to Tinnish the qualities one must look for in a prospect go beyond size, athleticism, arm strength and batting mechanics. Young athletes need to be competitive and that means more than simply wanting to win. This, says Tinnish, is what drives an athlete to constantly better their craft through extra workouts and practices, which can be difficult for ball players in the prairies. Beyond high school sports, exceptional athletes don’t just happen, they’re created through hard work.

Tinnish explained the path that most young Canadian ball players take to the major leagues. They must first get drafted out of high school baseball and then move to a pro career in the minor leagues. Often, young athletes leave home immediately after high school, or even during, to play for an organization or post-secondary school that has the facilities and coaching to take their game to a new level. Deciding to leave home for the opportunity to achieve one’s full athletic potential may seem like an obvious and easy decision, but many kids are not prepared for the sacrifices that are to come.

One of the first lessons a young athlete learns after leaving home to pursue a career in professional sports is that a new level of dedication is required. Expectations change drastically when an organization invests significant resources in an athlete. Understanding and meeting these expectations is often difficult for young athletes.

The demands of developing into a professional athlete extend well beyond games and practices. Coaches get the most out of their athletes by pushing them beyond their comfort zone, challenging them to achieve physical feats they never thought were possible. To put these kids in the best position to succeed, athletes are held to a high level of accountability in all aspects of their life. This includes school or professional responsibilities, diet and off-field behaviour. To succeed, young athletes must adapt to and manage the additional responsibilities associated with high level athletics.

Many athletes that go beyond high school athletics are able to adjust and succeed. The elite few that become professional athletes at the highest level not only adjust to the new lifestyle, they embrace it. Their love for the game grows from simply wanting to play to wanting to be the best. And that is what makes them so special.

Check out *Athlete’s Angle with Ryan Karhut every Monday at 2 p.m. on 101.5 UMFM or check us out at*