The Bull-Dawg

By JOE McFARLAND

You can’t help but smile watching a puppy play.

They make a few mistakes but they will smile through it all, knowing they will get another opportunity to wrestle with their new playmate or grab hold of the ball that bounced just out of their reach. They don’t quit.

So goes the story for Calgary’s Tyrese Johnson. The speedy outfielder has spent the last few summers with Dawgs Academy, excelling on some great teams. But when it came to getting offers to play junior college (JUCO) stateside, he struck out at first.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound right-handed hitter was able to take another swing this past summer, turning heads at the Tournament-12 in Toronto. He eventually landed an offer from South Suburban College near Chicago and recently signed his Letter of Intent to join the Bulldogs.

“Ty is a phenomenal kid and always has been a leader in our program,” Dawgs Academy general manager and 18U bench coach Tyler Hollick said. “He is a tremendous outfielder that we think will have tremendous success at the next level and beyond.”

The Bulldogs are coached by 33-year veteran Steve Ruzick, who has a combined record of 1153-650 and was inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2014.

Johnson will be leaning on that experience to get him further in the game.

“We are sad to see Ty go but so proud of all he has accomplished as a Dawg and are extremely excited for all his future successes,” Hollick concluded. “South Suburban College got a real good one.”

Johnson recently took some time to talk about the letter, his future plans and what he’s been up to in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in a recent episode of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.

Q: Walk us through the process in getting to sign your Letter of Intent?

A: It all started with my coach, who has been my coach for the last four years with Dawgs Academy, Lou Pote. He was born in Chicago and had a contact down there and he said it would be a great fit. He contacted them and they ended up contacting me.

Q: What was your first impression when you finally got to see what they had to offer?

A: I was thrilled because it’s a great program and a great fit for me. It’s a place I could hopefully play next year and really develop as a player.

Q: What are you hoping to develop into?

A: Hopefully a Division 1 athlete. Coming from a JUCO, my goal is to, of course, move onto a four-year school after that and get my degree while playing the highest level of baseball I can.

Q: What was the recruiting process like for you because I know every player sees different levels of interest and that kind of thing?

A: Yeah, I’ve been contacted by a couple of schools. I went on a visit last year down into Louisiana that didn’t work out. It’s been a long process but happy, glad and thankful for where I’m at now.

Q: Was there anything specifically that stood out to you for South Suburban?

A: Their coach (Steve Ruzick). He’s definitely a very passionate individual. I’ve looked up his history and he’s a very respected coach within the junior colleges. He just loves what he does and that stuck out to me.

Q: Was it difficult for you to make a decision to go somewhere not necessarily known for attracting Alberta-based talent or to go to a school that isn’t super-close to your hometown?

A: I really have no fear of leaving home. Like I said, I was planning on going to Louisiana. I just wanted a place to play down in the States where I would be facing the top competition and give myself the best chance to become a next-level athlete.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your baseball past here and what got you into the game in the first place?

A: Honestly, I have no clue. My dad ran track, played football and basketball and not once did he touch a baseball field. But ever since I was about five, the game has just drawn me in and I’ve loved it ever since.

Q: Were you always a baseball guy or did you play other sports growing up?

A: Growing up, I played baseball, ran track, played basketball and did all sorts of things.

READ MORE: 7th Inning Stretch – Tyrese Johnson

Q: How different was it from your perspective to be trying to play something different like baseball when everyone else seems bent on playing hockey or football?

A: Yeah, I did try hockey but it just wasn’t for me. I was lucky and fortunate enough to find the game that I love and have such a passion for at such a young age.

Q: Who do you like to model yourself after?

A: Derek Jeter, I’d say. The way he plays the game, the way he treats the game. He plays the game with respect, plays it hard and his approach to hitting and his mindset towards the game, I really like to take to my game as well.

Q: What has the Dawgs Academy program meant to you over the years?

A: It’s honestly my whole life. I never really imagined having the friendships and opportunities that the Dawgs have provided me with. It’s really been life-changing.

Q: Talk about some of those teammates because I know that’s a pretty tight-knit group that have come together over the years.

A: For sure. Probably four out of my five best friends are within Dawgs Academy. I transferred from my school in north Calgary just to go to school down there with them, just because they mean so much to me. We’re such a close group.

Q: Not to make you pick favourites here, want to give a shout-out to them?

A: Yeah, I’d probably say my best bud, Kaden Zarowny. He’s an outfielder who I’ve played with since Grade 10. Another one of my best friends, Derek Palmiere, who I’ve played with since Grade 9. Alejandro Cazorla, who I also played with since Grade 10. And Nash Crowell as well.

Q: Talk about some of the experiences you’ve all had together. There have been some pretty special moments that the program has had while you were there.

A: Yeah, for sure. Probably one of my favourite ones would have been bantam provincial finals in grade nine where I led off the game with a home run on the first pitch. Yeah, I was doing it next to my best friends and teammates. It was a really special moment.

Q: And you also got to play in a little tournament called the T12 in Toronto. What was it like suiting up at Rogers Centre?

A: It’s just a completely different ball game. It really puts into perspective how big this game is and how lucky those who get to play in such large stadiums and against such great opponents, how special it is.

Q: Talk about that experience and what you took away from it for yourself?

A: It really just put into perspective where I’m at within my competition from across Canada. It really gave me a chance to reflect on myself as a ball player and where I need to be and where I need to develop.

Q: What kinds of things have you been doing to keep on top of your game during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: I have a little net down in my basement and in my garage that I can hit into. And I have a bucket of balls that I throw with as well. I also have a couple of weights so I’m trying my best to stay active, to work out, and maintain my strength as much as I can.

Q: We don’t get much of a summer here in Alberta to begin with, so is it difficult having to twiddle your thumbs and wait for the green light to be given to head back to a diamond?

A: Yeah, for sure. There are days where you don’t want to do anything but you have to remember what motivates you, what motivates myself to keep going forward.

Q: How much have you leaned on your Dawgs Academy coaches over the last little while to make sure you’re staying on top of your game?

A: Oh, a whole bunch. We actually do live video-streams pretty much every single day where we go over hitting drills or some strength stuff we can do at home. They’ve been on top of it and doing a great job with it.

Q: What would you say is your main goal with the game of baseball?

A: Probably to play at as high of a level as I can and for as long as I can.

Q: Final question, as always, is: what does the game of baseball mean to you?

A: Really, it’s just my whole life. I love this game more than I’ve loved anything else in the world. I’ve put my heart, sweat, blood and tears into this game. Really, I’m just hoping to get out of it what I can.

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