Coach Jean-Gilles Larocque and the Baseball Academy have done a nice job, in recent years, of moving local baseball talent along to the next step in their journey. Their base of prospective talent development however, appears to be expanding.
Seventeen year-old third baseman Zack Reid, a native of Mount Pearl (Newfoundland), confirmed his decision to accept a scholarship to attend West Virginia University Institute of Technology in September just last week, after spending the past two years in Sudbury, a student of Bishop Alexander Carter Catholic Secondary School from September to June, and suiting up with the Sudbury Voyageurs in the summer.
"I played in the 15U nationals with Team Newfoundland, then played the Canada Summer Games as an underager," said Reid. "I was kind of at the pinnacle of baseball in Newfoundland, about as high as you can go. I just wanted more."
"I had a few friends that went away and did the same thing, and I really looked up to them." The question, at the end of his grade 10 year, wasn't so much if Reid would be leaving the east coast to pursue baseball, but where exactly he would land.
Though the various options provided benefits that were simply unavailable in his home province, the fact remained that Reid had choices at his disposal. "We don't have a whole lot of indoor facilities back home," he said.
"But every academy has their hitting cage, their pitching set-up, the weights, every academy has that. The biggest thing about here is the coaching. The coaching has been absolutely incredible."
It was certainly the hope of Larocque to potentially attract talent from Newfoundland to Northern Ontario when he travelled to Moncton some four years ago to run a baseball camp and establish some credibility.
Still, when the likes of Reid first committed, the responsibility really hit home, especially given that Larocque also teaches at Bishop Carter, allowing for several points of contact with the young baseball prospect.
"This is definitely a different kind of arrangement," said Larocque. "The parents were entrusting our program, but even more me as a person, to oversee their kid at school, because they can't be here."
"Zack was always good, keeping up his grades, working his butt off. He was here to get his work done." While the classroom setting is important, the reality was doors would not open unless his baseball skills developed.
"I've improved in hitting, fielding, my arm strength, a lot," said Reid. "All of that stuff has improved. But the mental game is something that we never really practiced at all in Newfoundland, and J-G is a big advocate for that."
"I'm a very emotional kid," stated Reid. "I'm the first one to cheer, but also to get angry at myself when I don't do a job. J-G has really helped me with that, everything with the mental game that makes a bigger difference than you could imagine."
For his part, Larocque would boomerang the praise right back in the direction of his pupil, acknowledging the effort that was made by Reid to reach his current goal. "We made a couple of mechanical changes, but most of this is him being willing to put in the time and work," said Larocque.
"When I first saw him at that camp (four years ago), he was a first baseman, a bigger kid. He was kind of that guy who could hit up the middle and would push the ball the other way. Now, he's a gap to gap hitter with some power, some good exit velocity, which is what Tech saw in him."
"He was like four for four when we were there," added Larocque. "He was squaring up the ball hard." If the Baseball Academy provided the opportunity for Zack Reid, it would be Reid who would take full advantage.
"I started working out in the gym when I decided that this was something I really wanted to do, pursuing baseball," he said. "When I became more athletic, I kind of transitioned over to their base, and a little bit of middle infield."
Reid becomes the second graduate of the Baseball Academy program to commit to WVU in as many years, following in the footsteps of Valley East native Rilley Dubé. "I was here last year too, so Rilley and I played together," said Reid.
"He's helped out a lot with the process of exactly what to do when you actually get to college or university. Obviously, it's a big step from high school, everything from meal plans to dorm rooms. The baseball aspect, he said, will all fit in. You'll find your role when you get there."
Because as Zack Reid well knows, following his baseball dreams is well worth the travel.