Every little league ballplayer in Canada dreams of being the next Joey Votto or Larry Walker.
But how many 15-year-olds on local ball diamonds are taking dead aim at the 2015 Major League Baseball draft as though it were a hanging breaking ball out over the plate?
Just one that we know of: His name is Demi Orimoloye. Clip and save. You are likely to see and hear the name again soon.
|Photograph by : Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen|
A heady goal for any Canadian, let alone one who doesn’t turn 16 until January. Demi spent this past season with the Ottawa Nepean Canadians 16U team, competing in the Premier Baseball League of Ontario. In September, it was back to the books, grade 11 at St. Matthew High School, but last week he had to excuse himself from classes for the best possible reason: He was invited to Baseball Canada’s junior national camp in Orlando from Oct. 11-21.
Oh, and sorry, teachers, but Demi has a second note of absence. He will be in Jupiter, Florida, from Oct. 22-29, joining some of British Columbia’s top players on the DBacks Team B.C. at the Perfect Game WWBA world championship tournament, a renowned event for hardball prospects.
Demi calls those two invitations, “the best phone calls I’ve ever gotten.”
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, there is little he can’t do as a ballplayer. Frighteningly fast — he ran the 60-yard dash in 6.62 seconds and 6.59 seconds at an MLB camp in Montreal in August, both times better than the MLB average — Demi also hits, and hits for power. A former little league pitcher, his outfield throws have been clocked at 86 mph.
Walt Burrows, of Brentwood, B.C. is supervisor of the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, and was in Florida this week watching Orimoloye and the junior Canadian team playing exhibition games against prospects from the Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves organizations.
On Tuesday, Demi delivered an RBI triple in a 13-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday. A day later, the national juniors bounced back to beat the Jays 5-0.
Burrows says that Orimoloye is “holding his own” against players two years older.
“For young players — and he’s really young, three years away from the draft — normally kids take a trip or two down here with this level of competition to fit in,” Burrows says, “but he’s done really well.
“In Ottawa, I would think he’s probably facing pitchers throwing 75 to 80 miles an hour, down here it’s 90 and 95 and he hasn’t had a problem at least getting the bat around to catch up to it.”
According to Burrows, Orimoloye is blessed with what scouts call “the rare combination of size, speed and athleticism.
“Normally (the athleticism) is in smaller people,” Burrows says. “He’s six-foot-four and 215 pounds, and he can run. He’s a Josh Hamilton size, that type of player, but can play in centre field (due to his range). That type of player is usually in left, sometimes in right, but rarely in centre.”
Burrows cautions that Orimoloye is “raw” and has plenty to learn, but adds that Baseball Canada has a history of developing such talent. A former Canadian junior national team member by the name of Brett Lawrie comes to mind.
“That’s what the national program is for — they develop players like Demi,” Burrows says. “With a lot of work, a lot of repetition and some good competition, hopefully he’ll figure it out and be a real special player. He certainly has all the physical attributes.”
Don Campbell, director of operations for the Ottawa Nepean Canadians (and a Citizen sportswriter), has known special players in the program. Lefty Mike Kusiewicz was once the best prospect in the Colorado Rockies organization, until arm surgery derailed his pro career. Infielder Chris Bisson was a fourth-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2010.
“I guess it’s safe to say Demi is that next one,” Campbell says. “He, too, is special, but for different reasons. Mike was a pitcher, well advanced beyond his years. Same with Bisson as an infielder and offensive threat.
“Demi has that great arm and great power and can run. Really, there’s nothing he can’t do, and it’s going to be fun watching him the next two or three seasons when the junior national team is nice enough to loan him back to us.”
In few respects is Orimoloye your typical Orléans ballplayer. Demi’s parents, mother Adenike and father Segun are from Nigeria, where Demi was born; Segun and Adenike both worked for the Nigerian government at the time.
Segun, an architect by profession, was advised by a colleague that the Canadian embassy in Nigeria was accepting applications for permanent residency in Canada. On a bit of a lark, the Orimoloyes applied — roughly two and a half years later, their application approved, the family sold off its worldly possessions and packed up for Canada.
“It was just like an adventure,” Adenike says. “I remember on the plane, saying to my husband, are we sure we want to do this?”
Demi was 18 months old when they landed in Toronto. The Orimoloyes were aware of a Nigerian family there, but otherwise didn’t know a soul in the country. After three weeks or so in Toronto, the other Nigerian family asked Adenike and Segun if they wanted to visit Ottawa. Off they went. And it was love at first sight. That very day, the Orimoloyes rented an apartment in Nepean. Within three years they had bought a house in Orléans.
“I didn’t want to live in a big city,” Adenike says, of their brief stay in Toronto.
Demi played little league baseball beginning at age 8, although he balked at first. His mother was determined he wasn’t going to play hockey, and Demi showed little interest in soccer, a sport far more familiar to his Nigerian parents. In fact, Adenike’s brother had been a competitive soccer player.
Baseball? “We had heard of the New York Yankees,” Adenike says, regarding the extent of the family’s baseball knowledge.
Adenike first saw a sign advertising little league baseball when Demi was 5 or 6, but only a couple of years later when Demi’s friend, Justin, was signing up did he agree to go.
“I just wanted him to have fun, enjoy himself, get moving,” Adenike says.
Demi’s brother, Temi, is 12 and also plays in Orléans. When they aren’t watching baseball on TV, both boys are running outside to catch or hit, their mother teasing them about their “obsession” with baseball.
Instantly the biggest player of his peer group, Demi’s physical tools were imposing, but he didn’t think of himself as a gifted player until he hit his first home run, on a big stage, while representing the Orléans Red Sox in the provincial championships. Demi was 10. And growing — including in confidence.
“It kind of took off from there,” he says.
In his second straight trip to the Canadian little league championships, in 2011, Orimoloye pretty much crushed everything. As the tournament batting leader, he hit .629 with four home runs and 14 RBI in seven games. In his spare time, he won the tournament home run derby. Though he also pitched, and pitched well, in the nationals, his future was fixed as an every day player, in the outfield.
Demi needs “polish,” to use the scout’s word, but Orimiloye’s attitude suggests it will come.
“He’s always got a smile on his face, and that’s a good thing,” Burrows says. “He’s enjoying his time down here (in Florida) and never hangs his head and that’s really an attribute. It’s a game of failure and if you let that get in the way it can wear you out in a hurry.”
The word demi is french for “half,” but there is little he does in half measure.
“What Demi has that Mike and Chris had was a tremendous love and appreciation of the game and a work ethic to get better,” Campbell says. “And all three of them never cared who we were playing or who was in the other team’s lineup. They don’t scare.”