I recently sat down with former Pro-player and Team Canada player, Mike Kusiewicz, to discuss his playing career, his thoughts on youth baseball and other things baseball.
This is the first in a series of interviews:
On Your Career Patch
Readers of my blog are interested in your career path from t-baller to Professional baseball player.
You played youth baseball in the Ottawa area. Can you tell me where it all began?
I began playing ball in Ottawa at the age of 7. I played with East Nepean.
Who was your greatest influence during your time playing in youth baseball?
I think that my 2 older brothers were my biggest influence. I would go and play with them and would try to keep up with them. This pushed me to get better so that I wouldn’t be left behind.
What major difference do you see between youth baseball today in Ottawa, and when you were playing?
When did you realize that you might have a future in baseball?
I went to an open scouting camp for the Atlanta Braves when I was 15 at Kinsmen. I threw 2nd hardest in the city- 79mph. They said they could not officially talk to me, but that they would be interested in talking to me the next year. That was when I thought it would be possible.
There are rotating scouting combines across the US, did you ever attend one of those?
I went to a Braves, Blue Jays and Expos camp when they came to Ottawa. I also went to Montreal for a MLB bureau camp.
How did you get scouted?
I had a great coach who had some connections. He would make some calls for me and would make sure that I pitched first so that scouts could get a look. I also made myself available for workouts if scouts ever wanted one.
Tell us about the day you were drafted. How did you find out?
I came home from school and there was no call, so I went to McDonalds with my brother and best friend. When I came home, my Mom was waiting at the top of the stairs at my house. She said that Rockies had called and drafted me in the 8th round. We all started screaming. It was a great day to say the least.
What happened after you were drafted? Where did you have to report and what was it like?
It was actually a long process. I did not sign right away. I wanted to play with Team Canada, and I also had a scholarship to the University of Houston that I was considering. I only signed late August, so I missed the season. I ended up going to instructional ball in Tuscon- basically 6 weeks of practice…everyday.
(In another segment to follow, I will discuss Mike's professional career)
On Your Camps
Did you attend camps as a youth?
I went to a Montreal Expos camp here in Ottawa. The headliner was Bill Mackenzie- a scout. Funny thing is, he ended up being the scout that signed me 8 years later.
Do you see the value in attending a 1 week sleep-away camp in the States?
Yes, and No. I attended one when Iwas 15. It was Bucky Dents baseball school in Florida. We never saw Bucky Dent, and I don’t remember much of the baseball, but as a life experience, it had value.
You've been running baseball camps for youth for how many years now?
We are going on 7 years now.
You offer camps at different periods of time throughout the year, not just during the summer?
Yes, we have a camp in the fall, a camp in the spring and a summer camp in July.
What do your camps offer that some of the other camps do not?
Two things = Credentials and Honesty. I take pride in my career and what I accomplished over my 14 years as a professional and Olympian. On top of my playing career, I have been coaching in Ottawa for the last 19 years. My coaches also have a tremendous amount of experience with most playing either professional or college baseball. We are also honest. We realize that baseball is a specialized sport, and we do not pretend to know everything. For example, if I have a player that has progressed above my knowledge level with regard to hitting, I’ll refer him to Cam Pelton. He played 4 years of Division 1 baseball and knows way more about hitting than I do. After all, he is the hitting coach, not me.
When is your next camp?
We are running our next camp July 2nd to the 6th at the Nepean Sportsplex.
How do people find out more information about your camps?
For the most part, we rely on word of mouth. Also, District 2 has been great getting the word out by putting up information on their website about baseball camps in the city. When people find us online, our website provides information about our camps and our personal training services as well.
Are you presently involved in coaching a team with any association?
I am currently working with multiple leagues including Kanata Little League, South Ottawa Little League and Perth Little League; I run skills camps for players and coaches in the spring and summer.
Would you consider coaching a youth competitive travel team (like the ONC or the Knights) in the future, if you were approached?
I admire the people that coach these teams. The amount of time that these individuals sacrifice is amazing. Unfortunately, given my personal life- a new little one at home and a change in professional career- I can’t supply the time needed to coach a successful program right now. In the future, I would love to get involved with a program that I truly believe in.
What sort of coaching philosophy to subscribe to with regards to development, game-play, making it fun (for youth players)?
Baseball is a simple game, keep it that way. It has been around for over 100 years yet people try to re-invent it all the time.
What advice do you give to young players who hope to play collegiate ball or beyond?
Play for fun. Do not expect anything from the game, it owes you nothing. If anything else comes from playing like a scholarship, then take it as it comes and enjoy it.
On Baseball in Ottawa
As you know, I'm a proponent of youth baseball and while I'm presently involved in Little League, I try to take a non-partisan approach to promoting baseball in Ottawa. You are familiar with all the associations and levels and you see the ground that the sport of baseball keeps losing to other non-winter sports like soccer, football and lacrosse.
What do you think needs to happen in Ottawa to baseball structurally or fundamentally in order for the sport to reverse this downward trend?
Take out the politics. Take out personal agendas. Everyone involved, from the coaches, to the trustees all the way to the league presidents are supposed to be there for the kids; we need to remember that. We have organizations dying because of changing community demographics, but our league boundaries are not changing to reflect this problem. Why have we not changed the boundaries to help organizations like Carlingwood Frank Ryan or Pinecrest? This is just one problem, but it serves as an example of issues that need to be addressed in order to reverse “the downward trend” you speak of.
I would like to thank you for your time and I look forward to our next sit down where we discuss your professional career and your involvement with AA baseball in Ottawa.