When Canadians think about the most decorated boys of summer to don the maple leaf the likes of Joey Votto, Brett Lawrie, Larry Walker and Justin Morneau instantly garner the most attention. However, I would like to introduce you to British Columbia native and Washington Nationals farmhand Jimmy Van Ostrand.
Van Ostrand was drafted in 2003 in the 29th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, but elected not to sign continuing his collegiate career at California Polytechnic State University.
“It wasn’t too hard a decision. I knew I wasn’t mature enough mentally for pro ball at the time and wanted to grow and develop more as a person and a player in college. I believe it was a great decision for me to stay.”
In 2006 the Houston Astros drafted Van Ostrand in the eighth round of the amateur draft and thus began his professional baseball career.
To this day Van Ostrand still credits the coaching staff from his college days for his development as a player.
“Coach Lee my head coach at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo is the person who has had the largest impact on my development. He helped me so much in my two years there at Cal Poly and has continued to help me to this day. I work out there every off-season and remain close with him and trust everything he teaches. Another person is Jesse Zepeda who was my assistant coach at Hancock College and then at Cal Poly. Jesse was huge in getting me the opportunity to earn a scholarship at Cal Poly and has spent countless hours with me on the field throughout the years.”
Van Ostrand would spend the next six years toiling in the minor leagues at various levels playing for Tri City, Lexington, Salem, Corpus Christi, Sugar and most recently Harrisburg the Double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Van Ostrand is a professional hitter sporting a career .285 batting average with a .784 OPS in 673 minor league games.
“I will always be doing whatever I can to help my team win every single day. I love playing the game and feel blessed with the opportunity to do it for a living and I hope that comes across to people.”
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However the legend of Jimmy Van Ostrand begins on the International stage when the maple leaf is worn proudly on his chest. Van Ostrand was instrumental in Team Canada’s victory over the United States in the 2011 Pan Am games securing the gold medal for the canucks driving in the only two Canadian runs of the game.
“The biggest thing I recall is the emotion and the intensity that our team played and competed with every day for that entire month between the World Cup and Pan Ams. It was a special group of guys and we were playing great baseball. The feeling of pride was indescribable after beating the USA knowing we had accomplished something that was a first for our country.”
Van Ostrand credits that performance as the highlight of his baseball career.
“Winning the gold medal at Pan Ams, to win a major tournament and be standing between Cuba and the USA on a podium was definitely the highlight for me so far. There are so many memories along the journey that I am so grateful for but that one is at the top of the list.”
It seems only fitting that Van Ostrand will be a member of the Team Canada entry that competes in the World Baseball Classic in the spring of 2013. He just participated in the tournament qualifier for Canada single handily destroying the completion with the lumber. Van Ostrand hit over .500 crushing four home runs in the three game qualifiers pacing an undefeated Canadian squad.
“I’ve had a couple runs like that before in my career but it was really special to be able to perform like that with Canada across my chest. Playing for the national team is always such an honor and something I take a lot of pride in. I’m hoping that I will get a chance to be on the team at the WBC in March but at the time I had no conversations with Ernie about any of that. We were just enjoying what we managed to accomplish.”
Van Ostrand grew up in Canada following the Cinderella Blue Jays teams of the early 90′s.
“I bounced around with favourite teams but probably the Blue Jays teams in the early 90′s were when I started to know players and follow baseball. I wouldn’t say I tried to emulate anybody growing up… once I was in college I would watch video on guys and try to pick up on certain things and continue to do that to this day. Pat Burrell was probably the first guy I watched a lot as far as his swing to pattern things after.”
Van Ostrand credits Roger Clemens as the major leaguer who has impressed him the most.
“I had the opportunity to play with his son Koby for several years in the Astros organization. His work ethic in all his training routines was absolutely incredible and the way he keeps his body together. He has so much knowledge about the game and has such a presence about him that it is always a great time to be in a room with him.”
Van Ostrand has over 2,500 minor league at bats so I was curious what pitcher has consistently had his number.
“Maybe Craig Italiano – He always gave me issues pitching for the Padres double-A team. I’m not sure what my stats are off him. I know I have a couple hits but they have been few and far between.”
Whether it is Joey Votto or Mike Trout; Jimmy Van Ostrand has knocked spikes with many of the greats.
“I got to play in the Futures Game with Joey Votto in 2007 so obviously he is a very special player. I also think Brett Lawrie has an incredible future ahead of him in this game. His desire to compete between the lines is second to none. Mike Trout was incredible to play against and the thing I noticed with him was every time that you’d see him he would have improved his game somehow from before.”
And what would be a minor league interview without a superstitious question.
“I’m not hugely superstitious unless I’m playing in Midland, TX where I would eat the onion rings from Clear Springs Café before every game… That included going there before 12 o’clock on some occasions. Drew Locke and I stumbled upon those rings in 2009 and have put up a lot of hits there since then.”
Van Ostrand concluded the 2012 season playing 80 games for the Nationals double-A affiliate Harrisburg Senators. Van Ostrand impressed with a .310 average, 10 home runs and a lofty .835 OPS to which the Nationals rewarded him with a new contract this offseason.
“I’m excited about the opportunity I have with the Nationals for this coming season. I also know that nothing will be given to me so I’m busy preparing to give myself every opportunity to succeed. I will not be going to big league camp and am hoping to start off the year at triple-A Syracuse.”
So sit back and enjoy the talents of the promising Canadian entry at the World Baseball Classic this spring but be sure to keep an eye out for the heroics of “Captain Canada” as the legend of Jimmy Van Ostrand continues to write its fairy-tale ending destined for the major leagues.