Zero In

By JOE McFARLAND & IAN WILSON

“He’s a coach’s dream,” is a phrase that gets thrown around when people discuss hard-working athletes.

But when you hear Kaden Zarowny’s coaches discuss the aspiring professional baseball player, it’s clear that such a description carries zero hyperbole in reference to the Dawgs Academy outfielder.

“Kaden is one of the best overall kids I have met and have had the pleasure of coaching. He’s got room-changing energy, is a tenacious worker, extremely competitive, tough and an outstanding leader,” said Tyler Hollick, the general manager of Dawgs Academy.

“The staff is so proud of him, as he has worked for absolutely everything he has got and now gets to attend a top junior college. Kaden has certainly developed into one of our top players in our program, but also in the country. The best baseball is certainly ahead of him and I am so excited to see him take his next step in his journey.”

Zarowny, who has signed on to play for the Crowder College Roughriders in Missouri, was a recent guest on ADS: The Podcast. Here’s what the 5-foot-10, 160-pound product from Strathmore, Alberta had to say during that discussion:

Q: You recently signed on the dotted line with Crowder College. How did that all come to be?

This summer I just started getting more videos of myself and the coaches started getting me out there a little more. So, I reclassed this year. I was originally a 2020 grad and now I’m a 2021, obviously, but that kind of got me a little bit more exposure. They started talking to me in, probably June, and then I got in a close relationship with them and they offered me around August and then I thought about it for a little bit, talked with my family, and decided to make the decision and committed there for the 2021 year.

Q: What was it that stood out for you when it came to Crowder College?

Basically, just how good they are. That’s really the main thing … they’re really good and have a couple other Dawgs there. Ricky Sanchez and Bryce Libke are going there. Dryden Howse is going there with me and Alejandro (Cazorla Granados) now.

Q: You beat me to the punch there. There’s so many of you from Dawgs Academy who are going down there. Does that make the transition a little bit easier, because you’re going to have some familiar faces, not only in the classes, but in the dugout as well?

Oh yeah, for sure. It’s definitely going to be a lot easier. Hopefully, I will room with one of them. I’m already living with Alejandro, that’s who I’m billeting with now, so maybe we’ll get to room with each other when we get there. It’s a pretty easy transition.

Q: Speaking of Alejandro, when it was first announced that you had committed to Crowder, he tweeted at you saying: “From wearing fastballs straight off the chest in our first game four years ago to now, I’m proud of you Zero.” I wanted to hear the story about taking a fastball straight off the chest. Tell us that story.

It’s like extra funny, because the guy who hit me in the chest is on the team. He’s also at Crowder. It was my first game as a Dawg. We were in our fall league and I was a catcher back then, so I was catching and I hadn’t seen anything over like … in bantam, I was the hardest thrower on our team and I was throwing 72 (miles per hour). And this year, I go up and I was catching for Bryce Libke. He’s throwing like 86, 87 (mph) – probably around there. My little 150-pound self, back then behind the plate, go to catch the first fastball and it missed my glove and smacked me in the chest. It was so funny. It was pretty embarrassing, but I’ve come a long way since then.

Q: Did it teach you a little something about keeping your head up and that kind of thing?

Oh yeah. That was a big eye opener for what I was getting myself into.

Q: You did make that transition from catcher to outfielder, do you still have that in your back pocket as you go down to Crowder, that, “Hey, I can catch, too.”?

Not really. The last game I caught was in the Canada Cup in August last year … I’m not going to try and catch, I don’t think.

Q: Tell us about your time with Dawgs Academy, because you came out of Strathmore and you were doing really well with the Reds program over there and you came over to Okotoks. What was that transition like and what’s the experience been like?

It’s been absolutely amazing, best decision I’ve ever made in my life so far. I was in Strathmore and my first year of bantam I was thinking of going somewhere else, didn’t really know where, didn’t know what I was going to do. Second year of bantam, I stayed in Strathmore and decided that my midget year was definitely the time when I was going to move, so we decided on the Dawgs. I was either going to go there or the (Calgary) Redbirds or maybe the (Vauxhall) Jets, but decided on Okotoks and first time there it was absolutely amazing. The atmosphere is crazy. I remember walking in for the first time into the fieldhouse and Cesar (Valero) and LaRon (Smith) are in there and the music is blasting and there’s dancing everywhere. It was awesome, immediately, and the practices were so good. How they push us so hard, it’s so awesome.

Q: What’s it been like to be able to learn from guys who have been able to make it to the next level?

It’s like nowhere else. It’s crazy when guys come back for Christmas and, even this summer when all the guys were back home. It’s so awesome how you can learn from those guys who have been playing D1 (NCAA Division 1) baseball now for a year, they know what they’re doing. LaRon is already a professional, he’s back now coaching and it’s really good to learn from those guys. It’s awesome.

LaRon Smith is one of the Dawgs graduates that Kaden Zarowny has learned from in Okotoks … photo by Ian Wilson

Q: Do you find yourself being a bit of a sponge because each day can go by pretty quick?

For sure, you’ve got to try to take as much as you can from those guys, because they’ve got to teach a lot of guys, as well. There’s 75 kids in the academy, so you’ve got to take what you can get.

Q: Between the baseball side and the education side, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Hard work has just basically been my main thing. I pride myself in it and it’s hard. It’s really hard because you’ve got a lot of stuff to do. When I’m not in school, I’m working and we’ve got to work all day when we go to practice and workout, as well, and then you’ve basically got to go to bed. You’ve got to find time to do extra work, and you’ve got to find the time to get even better than everybody else. You’ve got to find ways – it’s tough.

Q: I know you’ve got an older brother, Tyson, who played in the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) for the Lethbridge Bulls. There’s a baseball lineage there. What did you learn from him and his experience playing the game in this province, which is well known for hockey and football but is not necessarily considered a powerhouse baseball-wise?

He was a big inspiration for me going as far as I have. He kind of showed me that I can go on to play college baseball and do things from a little town like Strathmore and actually make a name for myself. It was really awesome that he showed me the way a bit.

Q: Growing up in Alberta, was it difficult from your standpoint to try to blaze a path in the baseball sphere?

I’ve been wanting to play baseball my whole life. I used to play hockey. I played hockey up until like Grade 7, but baseball has definitely always been it. I used to go to my soccer practices when I was like five years old and my brothers would have baseball practice at the same time and I would just cry until I could go to the baseball practice and watch them play instead of going to play soccer. That was pretty funny. I never really wanted to do anything else.

Q: Where did your love of baseball come from?

My older brothers, they just started playing and I watched them travel all over and I watched them go down to the (United) States. My dad and I would just play catch while they were playing and that was it. It’s been my sport since then.

Q: You’ve been able to do a lot in the game so far. Any favourite memories, any tournaments or events that you took part in that stand out?

When we won last year in Florida, that was … getting that ring, that was a great feeling. That was the big, “Whoa man, this is legit.” … no words even, it’s just crazy.

Q: What was it about that team? Why did it do so well and why was it so special?

We were so tight that year, like, so tight. There were no grudges on that team, at all. Everybody was for each other. You’re playing for the team. It was amazing, loved it.

Q: Are you hoping the group that’s going to Crowder can recapture some of that magic and be a leadership group with that team?

That was another thing about all of us going there together. It’s going to be just like that, so hopefully we can win a couple more championships there.

Q: What kind of things do you hope to work on, game wise, to make sure that you are ready to rock-and-roll when you do get down to Crowder?

I’m hopefully going to start running a little bit faster and hopefully get down to a 6.4-6.5ish (seconds) per 60 (yards), keep my contact up and less strikeouts every year, and put the ball in play and try to beat stuff out.

Q: How challenging has it been to gain experience and improve during the pandemic?

It was definitely harder early in the year. When we first started I was just working out at home. We built a gym in my shop, me and my dad, we just got some metal weights together and I was thankful enough to have that because lots of other guys couldn’t work out at all. I just found some ways to do it, hitting in my garage, hitting in my basement, stuff like that.

Once the snow kind of went away it was a little bit better. We could go out into a field with three or four other guys, go hit on the field. But now with the academy back up and running it’s been better, but still smaller groups and we’ve got to wear masks at all times. We’ve got this circuit coming up and it’s already hard enough with people throwing up all the time and we’ve got to wear masks now during it, so it’s going to be pretty tough with the masks.

Q: Did the break the pandemic forced on people provide an opportunity for improvement?

Nobody here was like, “Oh nice, we’ve got a three-month break until we can practice again.” There was nobody like that. It was go, go, go, go. You’ve got to find a way to do something, and everybody wanted to – it wasn’t forced upon each other. Our coaches gave us throwing programs and workouts without weights and stuff like that. Everyone wanted to do it, you wanted to get better so you could eventually make it to that next level. If you’re not doing anything for six months, it’s going to be pretty tough to come back.

Q: Who would you single out as being inspirational and motivational to help you get to where you’re at right now?

It’s got to be my older brother. I’ve always wanted to pass him at everything. We always have competitions. I always want to be better than him. That’s probably been my main motivation. Who’s running faster? Who’s hitting the ball further?

Q: What’s the game plan for after Crowder and the next three or four years from now?

The main goal since I’ve started playing baseball is to be drafted, so that’s always up there and then go on and play D1 after the two years.

Q: Final question for you: what does the game of baseball mean to you?

It means my life, I don’t know, it’s everything for me. It’s everything, it’s awesome. I love it. I never want to stop playing.

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