Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League
RBC Training Ground
Paul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Comfort is found on the mound for Josh MacNeil

There is still some trepidation when Josh MacNeil is asked to man third base, some nervousness about tackling the defensive challenges of the hot corner.

In the batter's box, the 6'2" 225 pound 17 year old local baseball prospect is not yet completely at ease.

On the mound, however, it's a whole other story.

"Every single time I go out there, I am looking to dominate off the mound," stated MacNeil, as the Laurentian Voyageurs and the Baseball Academy welcomed their latest Sudbury recruit to the university program, participating in their first ever on-line virtual media reception on Friday.

"Pitching is something that I've always loved to do, because it feels that you are always part of the action, every single second of the game," added the soon-to-be graduate of Bishop Alexander Carter Catholic Secondary School.

"Our pitching coach, Greg (Johnson), has worked with me and helped me develop my pitching a lot."

It is this kind of confidence that those involved with the Voyageurs are looking to harness and expand, as MacNeil brings aboard an intriguing pitcher's profile, in search of success at the next level. "I would say that I don't particularly excel, like really off the charts, at anything, but I have a good balance of every aspect of pitching," he said.

"I can consistently throw strikes, I've got a decent breaking ball, but I don't have ridiculous velocity or anything like that."

The man who first introduced MacNeil to the more competitive side of the sport suggested that truthfully, his talent lies much deeper than that. "We gave him the ball in some very competitive and important games for us last year," noted Sudbury Voyageurs' 18U head coach Jean-Gilles Larocque.

"These were key situations where he was able to go 5 2/3, 6 1/3 big innings for us. His velocity may be in the low eighties right now, but because of his height and his size, that ball gets on you a lot quicker than maybe someone who is 5'9", 5'10". You can have some pitchers who throw 83 (MPH), 84, and it feels kind of soft hitting it."

"You face a guy like Josh, because of his physical makeup, and hitting his fastball is like hitting a bowling ball."

While MacNeil had enjoyed summers of house league baseball throughout his youth, it wasn't until his grade nine year at BAC that he was approached by Larocque, asked to fill in on the roster of the Gators high-school team. "When I first started, playing my first high school game, that was super nerve-wracking," said MacNeil.

"In grade nine and grade ten, I got into my own head a lot. But in grade 11 and 12, just through playing the game a lot more, and the mental conditioning that we do at the academy, it's helped exponentially."

"I don't get nervous stepping on the field anymore; it's more of an excitement."

In fact, for as much as he might have been an athletic but raw talent early on, gradually putting together the pieces required to truly understand and execute the game of baseball, MacNeil is among those who believe that his greatest growth likely came from the shoulders up.

"They've obviously taught me to be a better athlete, a better baseball player by working the fundamental parts of the game, but I think the thing that sets their coaching apart is just how much we focus on the mental game," he said. "It's so important not to get down on yourself."

"It doesn't just help you on the field; it helps you become a better person, looking at things differently, through a different light."

The truth is that the arrival of MacNeil is likely well-timed, given the current state of the options at the disposal of Laurentian head coach Brodie Jeffery this coming fall. "A couple of guys graduated, one transferred, so that kind of hurt our pitching staff," said Jeffery. "There is definitely the possibility for him to get some innings, right away."

"But honestly, I am just so excited to have him join our program. He's such a good kid, with a good family."

Enrolled in Mechanical Engineering at L.U., MacNeil has enjoyed the chance to take in some of the Voyageur games these past two years, since the sport was first unveiled at a varsity level on the Sudbury campus. "I will say that the part that probably makes me most nervous is just seeing the amount of people that come out to those games," he said.

"It's a ridiculous difference, compared to what I am used to."

Thankfully, within the refuge that is the pitcher's mound, that nervousness tends to dissipate quickly for Josh MacNeil, standing on a place that he can call home.

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