Framing Up in Florida

It’s one thing to forget about Alberta’s winter by turning on the television and watching some Spring Training baseball.

It’s another to actually be a part of the action.

That is the dream Airdrie’s Ayden Makarus is living as the 17-year-old has joined Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team’s Spring Training roster for its annual pilgrimage to Florida.

The trek gives some of the country’s young talent a chance to showcase their skills in front of Major League Baseball teams as they scout possible talent for upcoming drafts. Previous Albertans to have joined the team in Florida include Mike Soroka, Matt Lloyd, Clayton Keyes, Will Undershute, Jackson Wark and Nick Vickers.

This year, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Makarus is joined by fellow Dawgs Academy product Cesar Valero as the Alberta contingent on the squad.

We caught up with Makarus for Episode #21 of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. Here is that discussion in written form.

Q: Talk us through the process of how you found out about being named to Baseball Canada’s Junior National Spring Training roster. Were you expecting that phone call?

A: Well, I found out when I saw the roster was posted on Twitter actually is how I saw the original update and then I found the link on the website and scrolled down to my name, hoping and praying that it would be there. And then I talked it over with my parents and let them know. I gave them a call, told them everything that was happening and that’s kind of how it went.

Q: Where do you go from here with Team Canada? Do you go on to a camp? What are the next steps in that progression?

A: We leave Wednesday morning actually for everyone flying out of the Alberta area. We fly down to and go through Toronto and then into Tampa Bay, Florida. Then we’re there for about 10 days or so and the final will be on the 25th. We have a bunch of games against a couple pro teams. There’s a couple against an university as well. The biggest game, I think, will be playing against the Blue Jays. That will be the most exciting for me anyways with them being my favorite team. It will be great to play against a minor league team, their split squad. That’ll be an awesome game.

Q: What does it mean to you to be named the team Canada and to be able to represent your country and where the maple leaf on the front of the jersey?

A: It’s an extreme accomplishment and an honor, I would have to say to be representing my country and play not even tournament play but just games, going around traveling, getting to wear the red and white. It’s the biggest honor by far in my career so far.

Q: No doubt. You’re a young lad and yet you’ve still been able to make some pretty good hay so far in your baseball career. Take us back to the very beginning and how did you get into baseball of all sports here in Alberta?

A: Well, I was born in Edmonton and played until I was about ten or eleven there. My uncles and grandpa, they all played baseball and my great-grandpa played professional baseball. So it’s been in the family for generations. Everyone loves being around the diamond so I grew into that and hockey and then ended up moving to Airdrie. I’ve played for the Dawgs for seven years and moved out of hockey more and more so into baseball because it was my sport. It’s what I love to do is being around everyone. I love the atmosphere moreso than hockey. You gotta be a lot tighter, a lot more team play has to be had versus individual.

(Editor’s note: In a later conversation with Ayden’s family, we were informed that his great-grandfather was expected to be picked up by the Brooklyn Dodgers but didn’t end up going as his father wouldn’t let him and he ended up staying at the family farm.)

Q: Talk us through the process of picking positions. I know you’ve made a name for yourself as a catcher but was that always the dream or were you hoping to be a pitcher one day or or how did that all transpire?

A: Well, when I was playing both sports, baseball and hockey, I had a deal with my dad when I was really young. I said I wanted to be a goalie but he didn’t like the idea. He actually said “I’ll make you a deal, you can be a catcher in baseball.” So I grew up loving being behind there. You have total control of the field, so you’re like the quarterback on the diamond. You know what’s going on, tell guys where to go, what’s going on, what’s happened and you’re in total control of the entire game.

Q: Talk a little bit about that mindset of being in control and how much pride you take in being able to make the calls and build that camaraderie with a pitcher which is a pretty unique spot to be in defensively. Especially as you don’t necessarily have that camaraderie elsewhere around the field.

A: Very true, because being catcher and knowing your pitcher is all about trust. They have to trust that you know what you’re doing and you have to have that faith in them that they’ll execute what you’re asking them to do on the diamond.

Q: Talk a little bit more to your your favourite aspect of being that field captain and being able to communicate and in such a special way with a pitcher and calling the shots.

A: That’s one of my favorite parts because you are the building block of a team. I think that’s what it comes down to. Without someone who’s mentally strong behind the plate or have the baseball IQ to go along with it, then your whole team could potentially fall apart.

Q: You’ve gone through the Dawgs Academy in Okotoks and worked some pretty phenomenal coaches. You have also worked with some high-profile players as well, like Jordan Procyshen. Walk us through some of the coaching that you’ve taken in there.

A: I have to say working with Pro over the winter and last winter, it has been something very special because he takes all the stuff that he’s learned through his minor league coaches and he helps us, he’ll bring it back and will teach us everything that’s going on up higher. As for the knowledge of all the coaches and the coaching staff put together is something that you just can’t put a price on. They don’t get enough credit, I think, for the amount of work they do behind the scenes and extra work that they do with guys trying to get them to the next level because that’s also what they love to do. It’s about helping guys, pushing them and getting them to the highest level that they see set for them.

READ MORE: Catching Up with Jordan Procyshen

Q: Have you learned anything about yourself through all this coaching in terms of your abilities and your potential in the sport?

A: I have actually. I think that I learned that I love to be a leader on and off the field. I take a lot of pride in that and I love being able to help people whenever I can. The coaches really helped open my eyes to that and worked me into that role. It about trying to help our team succeed in the long run over the season. It’s been a really big factor in them helping me see who I am as a person as well. So it’s not just baseball as they teach life skills here as well. They build young men through baseball players and young men.

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Q: You talked a little bit about who has helped you in the last couple of years but I wonder do you mold yourself after anyone? You mentioned that the Blue Jays are a favourite of yours but are there any players that you look up to or do you take bits and pieces from different players.

A: I always take bits and pieces of each guy. I like (Buster) Posey’s game and how vocal he is. He’s been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. How he is on and off the field and his game style. I also like Russell Martin. With the similarities between me, him and and Posey, I try to develop my game around them. I’ve seen all that they’ve done and accomplished in their lives. Even with Russell Martin, I know he played on our junior national team as well. So I see quite a few similarities among us.

Q: You mentioned that you figure that over the next couple of months you may make your favourite new memory in terms of baseball to this point. But up until now, what would be your favourite memory in baseball?

A: I would have to say going to T12 and playing in Rogers Centre. Because I grew up watching the Jays on TV and supporting them entirely and then when I got to go and tryout and I got invited to go play at Rogers Centre, their home field, and then to watch a game there. (Marcus) Stroman started. I remember all the details and watching all the guys warming up, how they were on the field before the game and during. Yeah, it’s gotta be T12, being around all the guys as well because you are performing with the highest-level athletes in your sport.

Q: Was that somewhat of an eye-opener for you, playing in that tournament and realizing you’re one of the best in this country, let alone in your home province?

Yeah, that was definitely a wakeup call for sure. It showed me all the potential that I have and everything I can do.

Q: Talk a little about what’s next for you. What would you like to see and how would you like to see your game develop?

A: I’d have to say that obviously I’m hoping to get drafted. Not really sure, round-wise. It would just be an honour to be picked honestly. And if that doesn’t happen, then I can go to school and develop my game even further. If I perform well, hopefully I have chance to get drafted again and then eventually go do what I’ve always wanted to do and dreamed about doing is playing professional baseball somewhere warm.

Q: Is that something that you keep in the back of your mind is the idea is the idea of playing post-secondary baseball somewhere. I know you’ve committed to LSU-Eunice, so walk us through that process and how that factors into your plans.

A: Last fall, we had a showcase down here with the Dawgs and there was a school there, LSU-Eunice. They are a feeder school into LSU and I had a really good tournament performed well there. Afterwards, they told me that if I was interested in going to school there, go fill out the questionnaire and get everything done on my end that I needed to and they’d be ready for their end. So then I end up going down for a visit in November or December. Me and my dad flew down and took a tour of the school. It’s a really nice school with great fields. While we were there, I made my verbal commitment and then this past November, I signed my national letter of intent.

Q: How excited are you for that potential move?

A: It’s been eye-opening the last couple of months for sure, since I signed my national letter of intent because they are an unreal program. The track record of players that have been produced or moved on to higher levels of baseball or education. Even winning their World Series this past year was unbelievable. So it was great seeing them have that success in the past and even now in the present.

Q: At the end of this year, what will you define as success? What do you hope you accomplish or what’s on your bucket list?

A: On my bucket list, I would have to say getting drafted and going to play professional baseball somewhere. But for me as a person and my game, I’d have to say continuing to develop all the finer points and continuing to improve mentally and physically on the field to accomplish the best I can.

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