Wilson a Difference Maker for Baycats
BARRIE - Over the last decade, when you think of players in the Intercounty Baseball League [IBL] that are five-tool players, you would think of the likes of Ryan Spataro, Justin Gideon, Tanner Nivins, and Dre Celestijn, among others.
You can now include Barrie Baycats centre fielder Jake Wilson in that group.
Wilson, 23, joined the Baycats on the eve of their regular season after finishing up a successful senior season at Liberty University and his impact has been significant, to say the least.
He's currently batting .317-.417-.595 (.929 OPS) with one home run, with that home run being an inside-the-park home run against the Hamilton Cardinals in the Baycats' home opener in early July.
For Wilson, his hot start cannot be considered a surprise.
After all, he can say he is one of a select few Canadians that have not only been drafted by a Major League Baseball team, but drafted while in high school.
The New Lowell, Ontario native said being drafted was one of the more special moments of his life.
"Getting drafted was definitely a surreal moment," said the speedy left-handed bat. "I will always get to say I was drafted and not a lot of baseball players get to say that.
"I remember being down in Cincinnati for a tournament and I didn't have an American phone, so no one was able to contact me when it happened, so how I found out was, I was in a Wallmart parking lot with my family -- just finishing up shopping -- when my Dad was looking at his phone since he had a roaming plan and saw my name on the draft tracker list.
"He said to me 'guess what,' and I said 'what', not thinking any of it, and he said 'you just got drafted by the Boston Red Sox.' I was in disbelief and when I got back to the hotel, my phone started to blow up when I connected to the wifi. It took a few days for it to sink it that it actually happened and it's funny, because my brother was out west somewhere and was at a movie when his phone started to blow up. He finally left the theatre to answer his phone and it was his girlfriend, who is his wife now, telling him 'your brother just got drafted.'
"It was just so cool. There are still some days that I still don't believe it."
Wilson, however, decided not to sign with the Red Sox, instead of opting for college.
He said his decision to not sign with the Red Sox and instead commit to Bowling Green State University is a decision he would absolutely do over again if given the chance to.
"I was drafted so late, so the better situation for me, both financially and athletically, was for me to go to school, more so because Bowling Green was a great school.
"I met a lot of great dudes and while we didn't have the seasons we wanted to as a unit, I still experienced a lot of great learning opportunities there. To this day, I absolutely stand by my decision to go there. The facilities were fantastic, my coaches were amazing, and the town was beautiful. I fell in love with it all the second I stepped onto campus.
"I am going to go back at some point to visit my former coaches and teammates because they are really starting to pick it up now. They did a lot of damage this past season and I am looking forward to seeing what they can do this upcoming season."
After spending his first three years (plus his COVID-19 year) at Bowling Green, Wilson committed to Liberty for his senior season.
He said he had the time of his life at Liberty this past school year.
"Bowling Green didn't have my grad program," explained Wilson as to why he left Bowling Green in the first place. "I had to explore different avenues, so I told my coach 'hey, I'm sorry, I wish I could stay but y'all don't have my grad program' and he completely understood. So I went into the [transfer] portal and as soon as my name got into the portal my phone started blowing up with all these schools messaging me.
"It was flattering having all these coaches wanting me so badly and as soon as I started talking to Liberty coaches, I got a really good vibe from them, and from there, they took me on a virtual tour. It was unbelievable, as I had never seen facilities like that before. I phoned up their coaches and told them I decided to go there and right as I got there, I was surrounded by even better dudes. I learned a lot from these guys and made new lifelong friends, so it was an unreal season. I didn't have the season I would have liked to but I was still able to produce for my team and we were able to make it to regionals.
"That was an unbelievable experience. I will have that memory until the day I die."
Liberty was knocked out by Duke University in the regionals, one of the best schools in the country.
While Wilson would have loved to make it further, he said he will forever appreciate how his college career came to a close.
"If you told me in my freshman year at Bowling Green that my last game would be against a top-five team in the regionals, I would have said 'I hope so' but in the back of my mind I would have been like 'eh, I don't know', laughed Wilson.
Drafted in high school by a historic franchise and a mainstay in the outfield on a team that made it to regionals, there is no denying Wilson stands out from 99% of baseball players in Ontario.
And it all starts with his defence.
From his range, route running, and throwing arm, Wilson is not only one of the best outfielders in the IBL, but one of the best outfielders in his age group in North America.
Wilson said he has always prided himself on his defence.
"As a kid, we had a long and narrow backyard, so one of my favourite things to do was to soft toss baseballs with my brother. We would hit fly balls to each other and that was my favourite thing to do, so I was exposed to fly balls very early in my life and it is something we did repetitively.
"To this day, I think that is why I fell in love with the centre field position and why I am the outfielder I have become. I also knew that if I want to advance in baseball, I have to be defensively sound, because if you aren't, you have to be the best hitter known to man, so I made it a priority to become a solid defender."
Anyone that watches Wilson knows he has no business being in the IBL and that he could easily be playing in independent ball as early as next season.
For now, though, he said he loves playing baseball in his hometown, with the team that helped him fall in love with the sport.
"As a kid, I would always watch the Baycats. My dad knew a few of the players -- he worked with Spataro -- and I remember always getting autographs from him.
"I always thought this was a very cool place to play -- right in my backyard. I never thought we would have something like this in Canada.
"So, I have always been a Baycats fan and early in my career, [former Baycats manager] Angus [Roy] would always ask me if I want to play but I was always like 'I'm sorry, but I'm in the States for summer ball, so I can't, but thank you for thinking of me as a player good enough to play in the IBL.'
"But this year, when I came back from Liberty, [Baycats pitching coach] Brad Grieveson contacted me asking what I was doing this summer and I said 'nothing, just trying to find work.'
"He asked me if I wanted to come out and I said 'sure, why not' and I am very happy with my decision so far. I have met a lot of great dudes and I am playing some great baseball, so I am having a great time."
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Photo: Bob Hurley/Bob Hurley Photography