Pro athletes know that success doesn’t get handed to them on a silver platter. What does it take to make it the big leagues? What can a young player do differently to increase his or her chances of reaching the pinnacle of their sport? If only it were as simple as eating more Wheaties.
The process can be long, but the rewards substantial. Two young competitors from Peel Region are near the peak of that process today, on the cusp of entering the world known to few players. Zach Pope is a right-handed pitcher, drafted this past spring with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Cooper Davis is an outfielder who was also drafted this spring by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Pope is a graduate of Notre Dame Secondary School in Brampton and currently pitches for the AZL Dodgers, an affiliate which is part of the Arizona League. Before being assigned to the Dodgers’ affiliate, he was enrolled at the University of Kentucky at Lexington.
18-year-old Davis attended St. Aloysius Gonzaga SS in Mississauga and is currently enrolled in his first year on a scholarship at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Davis played for the Mississauga North Tigers, Ontario Blue Jays and later the Canadian junior national team. Greg Hamilton, coach and director of Baseball Canada’s national teams, and who prepared Davis with the junior national program, said Davis made the right decision to develop further while at university.
“His attributes are speed and strength. He’s a catalyst-type player and that’s where he’s going to have to define himself as he moves into the professional game. His game needs to evolve a bit more and he needs time.”
When Davis was 14, an Ontario Blue Jays road trip across the border against multiple US colleges and universities provided Davis exposure to post-secondary institutions. In the two years following, his coaches provided advice and guidance which resulted in a relationship with Vanderbilt. But as Davis notes, he tries not to think too far ahead in his career.
“One thing I’ve learned about being down for the first month and a bit here is you can’t think about too much. You have to take it day by day. All I’m focused on right now is trying to become a better baseball player and help the team win in any way I can. As of right now I’m not trying to get ahead of myself and just establish myself in the program.”
Each year, baseball teams with the NCAA change their rosters with new players coming in and others graduating. Davis advises young players, “You can’t control everything. The one thing you can control is how much energy you bring. Scouts want to see kids who hustle, want to be there, and have a great attitude.”
Two other Mississauga residents are also moving up in the MLB. Josh Naylor is with the San Antonio Mission, an affiliate of the San Diego Padres, and a graduate of St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS. Dalton Pompey, who graduated from John Fraser SS, is a fielder with the Toronto Blue Jays affiliate Buffalo Bisons and is recuperating from a head injury suffered this summer at the World Baseball Classic. His brother Tristan, who attended Jean Vanier Catholic SS, currently plays for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
Hamilton encourages the national junior team members and other aspiring youngsters to take a step back from baseball in the fall through to the end of December. “You want to get away from the game to recharge mentally and physically.” An off-season strength and conditioning program can be of value too.
“It’s important to not be in a hurry,” Hamilton stresses. The game comes at a different pace for different players. They mature at different levels. There are lots of opportunities that come after 17 years of age.”
During off-seasons, young aspiring players will want to exercise, have a careful diet, work on their agility, and visualize making their dream a reality. But they must always remember to have fun.