The ChangeUp: Ontario Blue Jays
As published in Inside Pitch Magazine - March/April 2020.
The Ontario Blue Jays offer their players one of the most elite and unique travel baseball experience in the world. Director of Baseball Operations Joe Ellison, who has been with the organization since 2005, shares a behind-the-scenes look:
OBJ was started in 1996 in the Hamilton, Ontario area to provide players with an opportunity to play above the regular "rep" level in Ontario. At the time the program was small, but remained focused on recruiting and placing players at colleges and universities in the United States (or to sign professionally). As the program grew in the early 2000's the goals remained the same, but the need for our own facility was apparent. Eventually, the first OBJ Clubhouse was created in Mississauga, Ontario.
Over the passing years, we moved twice and are now in what will likely be our home for the next decade or two. It's in Central Mississauga and called The Athlete Matrix, which is a 56,000 square foot baseball-first athletic facility.
The mission of the Ontario Blue Jays is to provide a safe, competitive, structured environment for elite level baseball players to train, improve and graduate from into their baseball and academic aspirations.
A typical year for us would vary slightly by age group but the general/basic layout would be as follows:
September and October: Local and/or Collegiate Fall Schedules
November and December: Strength & Conditioning Focus + Individual Small Position Work Groups
January to March: Full Off-Season Training (Practices include all baseball skills, strength and conditioning, etc.)
March Break: Spring Training at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
March and April: Full Off-Season Training resumes in preparation for Spring/Summer
May and June: Gameplay in Canadian Premier Baseball League (CPBL) - Some showcase tournaments attend by age as well
July: Travel Season - Teams attend Perfect Game National Championships, Future Stars Series National Trials and the Marucci World Series. All teams travel via Coach Canada with their teammates and coaches over the course o 25-29 day trips.
August: Evaluation Camps/Selection Process & Time Off
In addition to the facilities we utilize, we implement a variety of technologies based on a player's position and the time of the year. For our pitching staff, we utilize Rapsodo and Diamond Kinetics Baseballs along with Core Velocity Belts and the Driveline Weighted Ball Program to give them every tool to excel. These tools are prescribed specifically to address every age group and individual player.
Beginning this past year, our position players are using Blast Motion sensors to help develop offensively. This is one of our more exciting new additions, as we are the rest Canadian program to partner with Blast. This will give players and coaches alike an opportunity to get immediate feedback on their swings and improvements swing-to-swing. The other big advantage for our Hitting Coordinator and his coaches is the ability to go back through swings post practice, lessons, etc. to check data for improvements/weaknesses. In addition, our staff utilizes a Fungoman, Hack Attacks, Auto-mated D-Bat Pitching Machines, Zinger Weighted Bats and other video technologies to work with our players. It's certainly not the only possible way to develop players, but considering we spend a lot of time indoors, we are always looking for creative, effective ways to use technology to benefit our guys.
Observations on Recruiting:
It's getting pretty intense at earlier ages, that almost goes without saying. Seeing kids in the U.S. committing at young, young ages is definitely something that you very rarely see in our program or really anywhere in Canada for that matter. We've had our fair share of players commit after their 16 & Under Summer, such as Cooper Davis (Vanderbilt), Jaden Brown (Kentucky) and David Calabrese (Arkansas).
But for our organization in particular, our process has remained the same. Typically, our players are being recruited after their 17 & Under Summer, which is usually the first time they will attend our College Tour in the Fall. So the majority of our guys will sign between November and May of their graduating season.
Advice to other who are considering starting a summer/travel organization:
I'm lucky enough to have been around the Ontario Blue Jays for 15 years now, having played in the program beginning in 2005, and then joining the coaching staff part-time in 2010 while in college. I have been full-time here since 2013. So I've been able to see (and do) the amount fo work that is required to operate something of this magnitude. There are constant challenges that you face - new situations you are put into each day, week and month. If you're passionate about travel baseball and are looking to provide incredible opportunities for players and their families, there is no more rewarding feeling than seeing them learn how to win, graduate into collegiate baseball or sign a professional contract.
Advice to those players who want to get recruited:
Be ready to be seen. It's something that we go through constantly with players in our organization - there is good exposure and bad exposure. If you want to get recruited or "seen", you need to be noticeable. Playing for the Ontario Blue Jays, Evoshield Canes, Orlando Scorpions or any other high level travel team is a start, but how will you stand out from there? A fancy travel ball uniform does not make you a recruitable player.
I think at the end of the day, my biggest piece of advice is control the controllable. You may get rung up by an umpire on a bad pitch, or an opposing player dives to rob you of a base hit, but you can control how you respond to the adversity. I won't be too specific here, but a very high-level Division 1 Recruiting Coordinator was watching one of our finals games this past Fall in Jupiter at the WWBA 18U National Championship. The player of ours he was there to see hit a line drive that was nabbed on a spectacular diving play by the defender. That's when the Recruiting Coordinator started eventuating this player - not base on the recognition or swing - he cared very little about the outcome of the at-bat. He wanted to see the player's reaction, both on the field in that moment and then how he responded on the bench. He was paying attention to his character, the controllable aspects of his game, the talentless aspects. To me, that's the best piece of advice any high school player can get.