Simon Lusignan admits he used to be a thrower.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-hander came to Dawgs Academy in Okotoks from his home in Varennes, Quebec, knowing he could throw a baseball. But in the two short seasons he spent in Alberta, Lusignan admits he is finally becoming a pitcher.
He has worked hard on his location and his off-speed pitches, garnering praise from scouts and opening up opportunities to pitch in some high-profile events for Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team. He also made the Perfect Game All-Tournament Team in 2018.
His accomplishments have also captured the attention of his coaches at Dawgs Academy.
“Simon is a highly-motivated and incredibly coachable kid,” Academy coach and pitching coordinator Jeff Duda said via email. “He has been a great addition to our academy, not only because of his abilities, but his leadership, both vocally and by example.”
Duda agrees that when Lusignan first showed up in the Foothills, he was a thrower that had good effort but was “stiff and out of sync.”
“Lou (Pote) and I loosened him up, sequenced his movements better and cut his arsenal down to a legitimate three-pitch mix with his fastball, slider and split,” Duda continued. “He has increased his strength significantly and is now pitching 89-94 miles per hour with much better command.”
He also believes the 17-year-old has the chance to play the game for a long time, something Lusignan is hoping to do. Not only is he eligible for the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft, but he is also committed to Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.
“Simon is a 10-out-of-10 kid and is going to be successful in whatever he chooses to do,” Dawgs Academy general manager Tyler Hollick added. “He’s a true ambassador for our program and we are so excited to see him get to the next level.”
We talked about that and much more with Lusignan in a recent episode of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
Q: What made you land on Stetson as the place you wanted to keep the baseball dream alive?
A: Yes, of course. So they first approached me when I was in Grade 9 and I really wanted a good school with a good academic program. That part is very important for me because you really need a second plan in life if baseball doesn’t work. So school is very important to me and I was talking to schools and I actually had a great connection with the coach from Stetson. Then on my birthday in March, I committed and then I signed my letter of intent in November. I’m pretty excited about it and about heading down to Florida in July 2021. It’ll be nice!
Q: It has to be quite the experience. You’re from Quebec originally and now you’re heading to Florida. That has to be an exciting process, not just because of the baseball but the weather has to be a big plus, too.
A: I mainly chose Florida because I loved the weather there. I mean, it’s humid and I love humidity for a pitcher because the ball gets sticky. I find it easier to throw and, I mean, it’s just great compared to Canada, which is cold and you have winter. Yeah, it’s definitely great weather.
Q: How many schools had you been looking into and talk about the education part as well and what field you are hoping to chase?
A: Yeah, so I talked to a lot of schools actually. The schools I was kind of debating between were Oregon State, Oregon, Vanderbilt, UNC, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. They were probably the biggest schools I was looking into. One program that I am pretty interested in is medicine because I want to be an orthopedic surgeon. That’s a program that I’m leaning towards and if everything goes great with my grades, that will be what I study.
Q: And obviously, front-and-centre for you has to be the baseball side. You have had a lot of success on the field and it shows in some of the draft rankings. I know Canadian Baseball Network has had you consistently in the top-ten of Canadians available in 2021. Do you pay attention to those kinds of things or do you allow your play to dictate how good you’re feeling?
A: Yeah, for me, rankings don’t mean anything. They do give me an idea on where different players are at. But for me, I don’t take a look at it. Sometimes, I have a friend that tells me that I might be third in the rankings or whatever. But it doesn’t dictate how you play on the field, how you work out, what your work ethic is, are you warrior on the field, are you a bulldog, what’s your attitude? That doesn’t dictate that for me. No, I don’t take a look at it. I think I’m the best pitcher in Canada and that’s from my perspective. I don’t care what people think of it, as I’m pretty confident in myself. Confidence is key for me, especially as a pitcher. So, no I don’t take a look at those rankings.
Q: Where does that confidence come from?
A: I would say I built it. I didn’t have any confidence before when I was in Quebec. Going to Alberta kind of made me mature a lot because you tend to live by yourself without family. Just getting to know myself more and having teammates that tell you that you’re good. But sometimes, your performance might be off. Since I’ve been in Alberta, my performance has been very good and my confidence went up. Thinking about it, confidence is key. I’m just very confident. I’m not cocky, just confidence.
Q: Talk to us about coming to Alberta. What was it that made you decide this is an opportunity I can’t pass up and I’m going to move away from home?
A: Very good question. I actually moved away from Quebec because we have 12th grade and 13th grade there, which is outside of high school as high school stops in 11th grade. I didn’t want to do that 13th grade so I was looking to move either to the States or somewhere else in Canada. The Dawgs actually came up to me and they asked if I wanted to come to Alberta for Grade 12, so I thought about it and saw the program was great, the pitching coaches were super-good and the education was actually very good in Alberta, too. Everything just added up.
Moving away, my parents were totally good with it. They thought it was a good decision, that it was my decision because I would be a man soon and I could just billet here. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life because of the progress I’ve made, especially to learn English. If you want to go to university and, I was only speaking French in Quebec and now I’m bilingual, I knew this would help.
Q: What has that experience been like for you personally to see all those leaps and bounds you’ve made?
A: It’s been great. To be honest, it kind of made me how adult life is. Sometimes, you’re here by yourself at home. You have to cook, you have to get groceries, you have to do everything on your own now. My parents are home in Quebec so I manage my own bank account, I do my own appointments. I think it’s just getting me to become a better person and maturing a lot. I’m very thankful for that experience.
Q: Did anyone take you under their wing to help with that transition from life in Quebec to life in Alberta?
A: A lot of my friends here have helped me for sure. Just the little things, like people not laughing about your accent or when you make mistakes when you’re speaking in English makes such a big difference. Just that confidence booster of not having to worry about if its okay or bad. I would say I’m a guy who thinks a lot and wonders about almost everything, so I think about a lot of stuff, so I helped myself out a lot as well.
Q: I suppose a big part of it too is that sports can be a great equalizer. If you can play, you can play. You can gain that camaraderie and friendship through the sport, then you suddenly have a bunch of people in your corner, cheering you on.
A: Yeah, exactly. You can relate a lot of things from sports to life. I do that often. If you don’t feel great one day and you have to start, you still have to pitch. In life, if you have to go to school and you don’t feel great, you still have to go to school and perform either way.
Q: Let’s talk a bit about what got you into the game of baseball in the first place. What was it that captured your attention?
A: It’s pretty funny, actually. I was playing soccer and really liked the sport. I was walking in the park with my dad and saw some kids playing baseball. I told my dad that I wanted to try playing baseball, so I started playing at low level when I was seven. When I turned ten or something, that’s when people started to say that I was pretty good and maybe had potential. Then I really started liking baseball. It’s now my favourite sport and I can see myself going pretty far with it.
Both of my parents are athletes, so I had to choose between swimming, volleyball and baseball. My parents told me that I could do whatever I wanted and I chose baseball. My dad played softball so he really influenced me in playing baseball. So yeah, there’s a passion there about baseball.
Q: It’s great to hear that you have that multi-sport background. So often you hear that athletes should play one sport and be dedicated to it, yet you hear from athletes who play different sports have way more confidence in what they do because they can think outside the box and that kind of thing. How important was it to have your parents in your corner for that, even if they are a few provinces away?
A: It has been great. Just having them to cheer you up about whatever you do in life is always amazing. Just like you said about other sports, sports can bring a lot to life and sports can bring a lot to other sports. It’s a plus having other sports in your background and I think everyone should be athletes. Not just focusing on one sport and doing everything they can to be an athlete. I know PO’s, or pitchers only, are usually called non-athletes because we only pitch. But if you can be an athlete on the mound, it’s a plus.
Q: You talked a lot about your confidence. I’m wondering where you see your potential in the game and how far do you see yourself going?
A: I can see myself going to the big leagues. I see myself going to the MLB. I also see it as a mountain. If you look at the top of a mountain, you will see it’s a long way and you might quit because it always seems far. So I set some little goals for myself to slowly make my way up that mountain. Kind of like I want to climb that hill before I climb that mountain. You climb that then you climb another one. At the end of the day, maybe you’re at the top of the mountain but you barely saw it because you have set yourself some goals. So I definitely see myself going to the big leagues but I would say the smaller goals are more important than the big ones.
Q: Speaking of those smaller goals, going back to Stetson, what kinds of things are you hoping to work on over the next little while to make sure you can hit the ground running once you get there?
A: Yeah, I would say keeping my grades up. Then on the baseball side, before I would say I was a thrower. I didn’t know how to pitch. Now, I’m kind of starting to become a pitcher, which is locating pitches, throwing off-speed for strikes. You’re never a perfect pitcher so I always have to focus on getting my off-speed better and focusing on locating my pitches because you’re never perfect. Even the best pitchers throw 70% strikes and those are the best of the best. So, yeah, I would say basic stuff like pitching and keeping my grades up. And keep getting better at English. My English isn’t perfect but it would be nice to get better. Just small goals.
Q: You have gone a long way in your baseball journey at such a young age. So I’m curious if you have any favourite memories or highlights that will always stick with you?
A: Yeah, I actually remember a lot. One was about two years ago when I was still in Quebec. We went down to Texas and played in the Perfect Game tournament. I threw in the finals with another pitcher and we combined to throw a no-hitter. So, that was super-nice.
And then just the Team Canada experience, it’s just amazing. How you get treated when you play against some exceptional players is just amazing. I loved that experience and it’s my last year on Team Canada and I just hope it can be my best year because I loved that team.
One other thing was in 2019 when I went to the Future Games in Indianapolis and I still remember starting a game, seeing 200 scouts behind the plate, staring at me. That was amazing, it was a great experience and I wasn’t even that nervous because I was focusing solely on the game. Those few experiences have been my best so far.
Q: You talk about that experience the Junior Team experience and I know even with the Dawgs, you get that opportunity to play with or against guys who have been drafted or who have played college baseball. What does it mean to you to be able to pick the brains of those athletes and be able to understand where they came from, how they got to where they are and use some of what they learned to throw into your own game?
A: I love talking to people. I love sharing experiences. I love knowing their backgrounds. The question I usually ask players is “what would you change in your career, if you could?” And they always say different answers, so by their answers, I try to change in my life what could make me better. If you talk to a lot of people, sometimes they have done some bad things and sometimes they have done some great things. If you talk to a lot, you can relate those good things and those bad things to your own life. But just experience overall. Experience cannot be taught, it is learned. And that’s why I love talking to other players.
Q: One day, you might be one of those players who comes back to Dawgs Academy to talk to those younger players. If you were to do that now with the players who are just getting to the academy, what advice would you give to them as they try to take a journey similar to yours?
A: I would say that there’s always someone working harder than you. So, even if you work out and go super-hard for two hours, there’s definitely someone in the United States that is working out for three hours. So go all in. There’s always going to be someone in front of you and you just have to get over them all the time. You have to work hard all the time, even in school. You might be equal to someone on the field, but they might not have good grades. And if you have good grades, that’s how you can get ahead of them. School is very important. I would say to always think that there’s someone working harder than you and if you want to get better, just work harder.
Q: And finally, what does the game of baseball mean to you?
A: The game of baseball is garnering experience for life. Just like I did, it’s a passion. I definitely want it to be my job one day. The game of baseball is just a game but at the same time it’s a great experience and I just love the game. It teaches a lot about life, about how failing 70% of the time for good hitters is actually good. You have to learn and deal with it because this is hard. Failing is hard, but sometimes you have to deal with it. And failing can actually make you better. Sometimes you win when you don’t play good and sometimes you play good and lose. So losing can teach you a lot. I think it’s a great game and I’m very fortunate to be playing that game.