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Ashton Roy: Have bat, will travel

When it comes to his baseball career, Ashton Roy has pretty much lived by one consistently steadfast mantra: have bat, will travel.

And travel he has.

"If a guy is hitting, you need him in the lineup," said the 23 year-old Sudbury native, just into his second year with the New Mexico Highland Cowboys. "My dad has always told me that you don't want to give a coach a chance to take you out of the lineup because they can't put you somewhere."

"I've always been more of a hitter. Just put me anywhere in the field, so that I can get a chance to hit."

It sounds like teams from one end of the continent to the other have taken the words of the graduate of Foothills Composite in Alberta, having spent his first three years of high school at Lasalle Secondary, at face value. The road he has followed, since confirming his commitment to the Pratt Community College Beavers (in Kansas) back in December of 2015, has been nothing if not interesting - and perhaps a little lengthy.

"I know a lot of kids want to go NCAA Division I right away, but there are a lot of older guys ahead of you when you are coming in as a freshman," said Roy, the AAA hockey talent opting to pursue the junior college route, initially. "By going there (Pratt), I felt like I was going to get reps - and that's what I got, a chance to convert my practice skills into game situations for the next two years."

Though hockey was clearly his first choice right through to his draft year (Roy was not selected in the OHL draft), his baseball skills were such that he had expanded his training on the diamonds, beyond the local rep options and Baseball Academy workouts, heading to Toronto and even accepting a move to join Okotoks Dawgs (Alberta) of the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) the summer before he left for the States.

Ashton Roy was hardly naive - he knew that a change with baseball was coming.

"I think the adjustment for me was a little different, just because of the weather," he said. "In southern Kansas, it doesn't snow a whole lot. But it was more the mental grind of going out to the field. It's into November and we're still outside, we're still taking ground balls, and we're still throwing."

"That was more of the adjustment that I had to make."

That, and the shuffling of his positions, defensively. Groomed as a catcher in Sudbury, he was converted to an outfielder in the GTA. "When I move to Okotoks, I got moved to third base or second - and then at Pratt, I bounced between the corners (3B and 1B)."

The one constant would be his bat. In his second year at Pratt, Roy hit for an average of .360, leading the Beavers in home runs (10) and RBIs (48) and placing second on the team in hits (62) and doubles (14). "I knew that I had to show that year, in order to move somewhere else."

But when a move to an NAIA school in Kentucky in 2018-2019 did not work out as planned, Roy would return to the helpful guidance of Coach Eric Thompson at Pratt, joining him in mentoring that next wave of talent. "It gave me the opportunity to take ground balls, hit every day, to throw and be with the team," said the son of Olympic weightlifter Kevin Roy.

"I just wanted an opportunity where every day I could work on getting better."

That mindset was at the forefront of the Ashton Roy approach, returning to the WCBL, even if it meant a move from Okotoks to the Brooks Bombers. In the summer of 2017, he would top the offensive stats for the western squad in batting average (.333), hits (50), doubles (11), home runs (4) and RBIs (31).

His dedication was paying dividends, landing Roy conversations with schools in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas - "it was great that a lot of these coaches were open and willing to work with me". But none would equal the early contact which linked the northern Ontario lad to his current home. "The coach (at NM Highlands) had emailed me, back and forth, and asked me to call."

"I remember being in the parking lot at a Walmart in Kansas. It's late - and Shannon Hunt and I talked on the phone for five hours. It was the craziest phone call I ever had." The bench boss of the Cowboys had both played and managed in the minor leagues, with his NCAA Division II coaching staff also including former major leaguer Mike Marshall.

That kind of background resonated with Roy, who was sold immediately on uprooting to New Mexico.

Still, never wavering in his search for continuous development and added versatility, Roy signed on with the Lethbridge Bulls in the summer of 2019. And while he once again excelled at the plate, hitting .343, it was the work he would put in defensively, getting up to speed as a second baseman that set the stage for his current role at New Mexico Highlands.

"At Lethbridge, they needed to move me from third to second," he explained. "It's a little different. At second base, you have a lot more time (fielding balls), but you're also more involved with balls hit to the gap, working the relays and cutoffs. And at second base, I've got to sit a little lighter than I would like to be, because you've got more ground to cover."

Coach Hunt and company could not have been more excited with the end product. The only player in the Cowboys lineup to play in all 12 games of their COVID-abbreviated spring season earlier this year, Roy went 13/40 (.325 average) at the dish, scoring more runs (10) and drawing more walks (6) than anyone else on the team - all while still driving in eight runs, good for second at NMHU.

And though a recent surge in pandemic numbers has limited team practices to small groups of four players and a coach, Roy remains single-minded in his approach. "It really comes down to accountability," he says. "We're in groups from 45 minutes to an hour, but once that is done, we can still take live reps. The coaches are always willing to help you out, they want you to succeed."

If Ashton Roy is well travelled, these days, he is also more than appreciative of everything he is taking in. "When I fly here, I fly in to Albuquerque," he said. "The drive from there, through Sante Fe and on to Las Vegas is such a beautiful drive - I never get over it."

And when his year in New Mexico is done, the 5'10" left-handed slugger might, one more time, combine his passion for baseball and travel. "I'm leaning towards going to tryout somewhere professionally in the US," he said.

"Maybe I'll just pack up my truck and drive east to west, trying out for every single team."

Have bat, will travel, indeed.

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