Shipping Up To Boston

By JOE McFARLAND

Every baseball fan has their stadium bucket list.

Many Canadian fans want to check out Rogers Centre in Toronto or head just south of the border for T-Mobile Park in Seattle. PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Oracle Park in San Francisco are lauded as two of the most beautiful stadiums in Major League Baseball (MLB). And for the history buffs, who would say “no” to a trip to see the ivy at Wrigley Field in Chicago or the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston?

Calgary’s Jackson Clemett has been able to scratch two off his list of stadiums not only to see, but to play in and he did it in the span of a year.

During the fall of 2019, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder made the trek to Toronto for the annual Tournament-12 (T-12).

A year later, Clemett was back on an MLB field, this time at Fenway Park for the New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series. The event pits some of the best high school talent from the United States against a team of teenagers from around the world. That squad included a handful of Canadians, including fellow Vauxhall Academy of Baseball pitcher Anson McGorman.

During a recent conversation on Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, Clemett admitted he received a call about a week before the series to come in after another player had to bow out. However, he was more than happy to jump on an airplane and take advantage of the opportunity to show what he can do.

“We are super-proud of Jackson and his accomplishment representing the World team,” Vauxhall coach Les McTavish said via text message. “From all reports, he performed great including a highlight-reel catch against the best players from the United States. What an honour to play at Fenway Park!”

McTavish is no stranger to the Future Stars Series, as he has been a coach for the World team at the event and has brought along some of his own players in the past, including Adam Macko.

READ MORE: Macko’s Mindset

He’s hoping the same kind of success will come to Clemett, who also announced earlier this year that he will be pursuing his post-secondary schooling at the University of Utah.

“Jackson is a big, strong athlete who can swing the bat,” McTavish continued. “He certainly is carving his own path. He’s a dedicated student who strives for excellence in every aspect of his life and is one of the top students in high school and has been a middle of the order type bat for us for a couple of years.”

McTavish went on to say that Clemett is always working on different aspects of his game and keeps getting better, which will suit him well in the PAC-12 conference.

Here is the full transcript of our conversation with Clemett.

Q: Let’s start off with this trip to Boston. Give us a sense as to how things went from your perspective and how it all came to be?

A: Well, yeah, I recently attended the Future Stars Series in Boston and I have to say it was an unbelievable experience. I’ll never forget it. I got to play against some of the best prospects in the world and see some arms I’ve never faced before. It was just unreal playing at Fenway. There’s nothing like it.

Q: I was going to ask about the Fenway part because there was a video of you making a tremendous catch out in centre field that went kind of viral here in Alberta. What was it like running out there, seeing the Green Monster live, not from the stands, but on the field?

A: Oh, honestly, it was intimidating. It was massive. It’s 37 feet tall I believe. You gotta really hit one to get it out of there.

Q: Did it feel kind of ominous having to patrol that outfield?

A: Yeah, I was playing centre field and dead-centre I believe is 420 (feet). So, lots of ground to cover, for sure.

Q: How do you prepare for something like that?

A: Well, we took batting practice before the game and I was making sure to get my reps in there, getting used to the field, the reads, what it’s like coming off the bat. There’s not much you can do, but you just have to prepare mentally.

Q: Walk us through the process in getting named to the World Team. How did that all come about?

A: It actually happened pretty quickly. It was about a week before it started. Coach (Les) McTavish at Vauxhall has coached there but couldn’t this time because of the virus. He actually set me up with it a week before because someone else couldn’t go because they were in quarantine. He gave me the opportunity and I took it right there, on the spot.

Q: Did you have any goals as far as things you wanted to accomplish while you were down there?

A: I knew I was a late addition, so I came in there with the mindset that I have nothing to lose. Just play my game, do my best and don’t be nervous.

Q: How do you think you did?

A: I think I did pretty good, actually. The first day was tough. I hadn’t seen many arms like that. But the second day, I actually started catching up to the ball and started making good contact. Some good pieces.

Q: What did you learn out of that experience?

A: I learned where I need to be if I want to get to the next level: get drafted. And I got to see my competition.

Q: Did you take the opportunity as well to mix and mingle to talk to other players and coaches to see where they are at, how they got there and where they want to be?

A: Yeah, I talked to almost everyone on the team. Lots of them spoke Spanish, so that was pretty hard to communicate with them. But yeah, they’re all committed to really good schools. They’re from all over the world. There were Dominicans, Mexicans and there were actually quite a few Canadians there as well.

Q: You’ve played in a couple of big league ballparks now. I know you were a part of the Tournament-12 in Toronto so getting to play at Rogers Centre and now Fenway Park. What’s it like from your perspective to get that opportunity to play in these parks you hope to play in every day?

A: I think it’s never going to get old. Stepping on a Major League ballpark is just something unbelievable. It’s just a totally different atmosphere than anything else.

Q: Has baseball always been the dream? You’re a Calgary kid where hockey and football always seem to take centre stage.

A: I used to play hockey and a bunch of different sports but baseball has always been my favourite by far. It’s a game of failure, right? I just like the challenge.

Q: Do you remember the moment where you realized it was about baseball and not about the other sports and this was the dream you wanted to chase?

A: Yeah, actually. I played on my little league team in Calgary called Bow Ridge Baseball. We always had a rivalry against the Lethbridge little league team. I believe they’re called South West Little League. I knew some guys on that team just from playing against them and we created a rivalry against them. That’s the moment I knew I loved baseball. I love making alliances and rivalries.

Q: How was it that you decided to go to Vauxhall Academy of Baseball?

A: I had played in Lethbridge a lot and I knew about Vauxhall. My dad was friends with Coach McTavish. It was always a dream of mine since I first found out about it and watched some of their games. Coach McTavish gave me the opportunity to go there in grade ten and I took it. I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Q: Tell us about some of your favourite memories at Vauxhall over the last couple of years.

A: Definitely my Grade 10 year when we went to Las Vegas for our tournament, the Bishop Gorman Classic, I believe. We ended up winning that tournament and that was something I’ll never forget. No Canadian team has ever won that and we were the first.

Q: I’ve talked to a lot of academy players as well and they talk a lot about the lifelong friends you make out of players and coaches. Tell us about some of those people you’ve connected with over the last couple of years.

A: Oh man. I came in there as a Grade 10, nervous. I actually came in there with a broken nose, which happened about a month before I came to Vauxhall. I was intimidated by everybody and then a player by the name of Dayton Peters took me by his side. He was kind of like my mentor. He was my best friend there. He was a grade twelve and I was a grade ten and the memories I made with him I’ll never forget. And other guys, too.

Q: You have to share the story of the broken nose. What happened there?

A: Oh, it was a showcase tournament in Calgary. I was hitting, it was a full count and I took a fastball to the face. I didn’t even get out of the way of it. I don’t even know what happened. I broke my nose and had a hyphema in my eye.

Q: Ouch is all I can say. What was the recuperation like for an injury like that?

A: Oh, it took me a while to be able to stand back in the batter’s box and not be scared. I actually wear a faceguard now. Yeah, it took me until the spring of Grade 10 for me to get over it.

Q: Unreal. And you’ve obviously been able to get over it and you’ve been able to accomplish a lot since then. Earlier this spring, you announced that you have committed to the University of Utah. What was it like signing on the dotted line with that school?

A: Utah is an unbelievable school. I went on a visit there and the campus was just amazing. The facilities they have and it’s a PAC-12 school so the schedule they play is just unreal. They play against Arizona State, UCLA, so that’s a major factor of why I chose them. Just the exposure you’ll get from playing in those games.

Q: Was that always what you had in mind was a Division 1 school or did you think you might have to start off in a junior college or something else first?

A: I’m always shooting for the stars, so I wanted to go D1. If I didn’t, I’d go to a JUCO and try to get into a D1. I want to get drafted and that’s my overall goal. I feel like this gives me the best chance to do that.

Q: How many other schools had you toured and what was it about Utah that made you think it had to be the place to go?

A: I was deciding between Utah and the University of Central Florida. They were both really nice schools but Utah stood out for me as it’s closer to home obviously. But the campus was great and I met some teammates there and they were just super-nice to me and it felt like I could fit in there.

Q: So now you have about a year to get ready to make that jump. What are you hoping to work on to make sure you make an impact at the next level?

A: The biggest thing for me is going to be this offseason. I’m going to try to put on some pounds and get way stronger to get ready for that college-like atmosphere. And just to learn to be more independent going into college.

Q: Are you leaning on anyone at Vauxhall or elsewhere to tell you more about the college experience so that you can make the most of it?

A: Yeah, I’ve talked to quite a few of my previous teammates at Vauxhall. I talk to them a lot and they always tell me about what it’s like, what you have to do and how to do things. So yeah, I rely on lots of my previous teammates for information.

Q: You mentioned you want to be more of a leader at Vauxhall in your senior season. What kinds of things do you want to focus on there?

A: I just want to finish with a good fall season. I’m not too worried about my stats right now in the fall. I’m just looking to get better as a person and as a player.

Q: You mentioned you want to get drafted as well. What kinds of things are you hoping to focus on so you get noticed by those scouts?

A: Just trusting the process. You have to be completely involved with it. As we say at Vauxhall, you have to be two feet in. If you’re one foot in and one foot out, you’re not going to get the results you want. But if you’re two feet in, you’re guaranteed to see improvements.

Q: What’s the coaching at Vauxhall meant to you?

A: Oh, it’s unbelievable. Coach McTavish, Coach K (Jim Kotkas) and Coach (Joel) Blake, they’ve been amazing to me. They’ve set me up with colleges, they’ve gotten me lots of exposure and, most importantly, they’ve made me a better person and better player.

Q: Who would you say has been instrumental in giving you that great advice or that inspiration to keep going as you’ve gone along your journey?

A: Definitely my parents. My dad used to play professional sports so he knows a lot about the atmosphere. They’ve driven me to baseball practices since I was young. They’re just very inspirational to me.

Q: As always, my final question is: what does the game of baseball mean to you?

A: It’s my life right now. It means everything to me. I love it.

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