The Book on Jonah

By JOE McFARLAND

November 2020 will forever be a month to remember for Jonah Arseneau.

The 6-foot-2, 165-pound pitcher and outfielder saw the fruits of his labour come in the form of a pair of major announcements.

After looking at a few options, the Calgary Bucks product made his verbal commitment to Minot State University to continue his baseball journey in the long-term.

In the short-term, Arseneau was recruited by Baseball New Zealand for their 18U National Team, which will take part in the 2021 Oceania Qualifier in Guam in April. If successful, the team will head to the WBSC World Championships in Sarasota, Florida.

Arseneau is able to play for New Zealand as he was actually born there and spent the first nine months of his life there before his family moved to Canada.

And much like his personal life, his baseball life has included a lot of travel as well. After playing in Calgary’s Little League system, he made the trek south to Dawgs Academy in Okotoks. But he admits he wasn’t ready for it, and pitched with the Calgary Redbirds program before landing with the Dinos program, which is now known as the Calgary Bucks.

His coaches have been impressed with his talent, but more importantly, his attitude.

“Jonah has developed a lot in the last couple of years and has improved in every area,” Bucks 18U Black head coach Phil Curtis said. “He brought a great work ethic to our program as well as turning into one of our top hitters and pitchers.”

In his coach’s eyes, the sky is the limit for the righthander.

“Minot is getting a good kid that will do whatever it takes to be a great talent for them,” Curtis concluded.

We chatted with Arseneau in Episode #113 of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast and here is what he had to say about all of the opportunities that are coming his way.

Q: A couple of big pieces of news from you over the last few days. Let’s start with the college commitment announcement. How did that all come to be and why Minot State?

A: Yeah, well they made a really good offer and they had the programs I wanted to take. I think academically that incentivized me to go to that school. They also have a really good baseball program. My coaches really pushed that narrative that they had a good program and they could develop me to the potential they see me being at.

Q: What is it academically that you’re looking forward to there?

A: Personally, I think my overall goal is to go into politics somehow. I kind of want go that route but I think that I will go the lawyer route, so pre-law or maybe journalism. Something like that.

Q: A little bit of everything there. Talk a little bit about what’s driving you towards that. It’s not every day that you hear a baseball player talk about a future in politics or law or journalism, we’ll see what happens.

A: Hahaha! Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve always been fascinated with the polls and all that stuff. Either working on a campaign or something like that is probably my end goal. Or even just be a running mate for a party. For me, the best way to get there would be a lawyer, so that’s when I decided to go into in university.

Q: So are you nerding out a little bit as you watch what’s going on stateside?

A: Yeah, a little bit. A little bit too much. I kind of annoy everyone about it. My baseball teammates are kind of tired of hearing about it.

Q: I can only imagine. Speaking of your baseball teammates, you have some with the Bucks program in Calgary. Talk us through your decision to go there and the experience you have had.

A: Yeah, they really do develop players. For me anyways, I’ve gotten ten times better since I’ve been there. It’s honestly just the culture there. It’s really uplifting. I’ve been in a lot of programs in my life and I found this one brought the best out in me personally, socially and baseball-wise.

Q: Anyone you’d like to single out that has really helped you develop as a player or a person?

A: I don’t think I could single anyone out. I think just everyone, all the coaches, everyone is just so positive.

Q: Tell us about some of the things you hope to take away from that experience as you go to the next level and some of the things you’d like to improve upon as a player and a person.

A: Yeah, I think, as a player, I think I just have to get stronger. The coaches are pushing me to eat a lot more and workout. And as a person, I just always want to keep growing.

Q: Now before we got going here, you were explaining to me that you were born in New Zealand and spent the first nine months of your life there before moving to Canada with your family. You don’t have an accent or anything like that. So how did it come to be that you ended up trying out for and ultimately making that country’s U18 team?

A: Yeah, obviously I don’t have the accent. The team there has been really nice to me. They have really adopted me into their team. That’s what I felt like when I went down there for the tryout. Just their culture is totally different. It’s more brother-like than friendships. I don’t think anyone sees each other as friends, they see each other as brothers. They adopted me really quickly and I didn’t really get the impression that they saw me as an outsider. They just quickly brought me in and it was just fun. We just had a lot of fun together.

Q: Talk us through how you managed to be named to that team despite being in Canada most of your life.

A: Oh yeah. Actually, I got my New Zealand citizenship first and we actually had to fight for my Canadian citizenship. I don’t know all the legal stuff behind that. But it was pretty interesting. Then to get on the actual team, I think my parents saw something on Twitter about trying out for the New Zealand national team and it really expressed its interest in foreign players born in New Zealand. And it just opened our eyes to an opportunity and we saw it and took it.

Q: Now, you were born there, not raised there and I know it’s been a bit of an adventure for you getting to jetset around the world. And for the first time in a long time, you got to go back to your home country. What was that like?

A: It was pretty awesome, really. Everything was completely different down there. The coaches, the players, and it was just so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was completely different from what I thought it was going to look like. The pictures don’t do it justice really. The people are amazing, just how they integrated their native culture into everything. It all just comes together and it’s just so awesome.

Q: I was going to ask about that. I assume you do your research and look at pictures and get some background information from your parents to get a sense as to what you’re walking into. Did you have a certain set of expectations when you went back and how did that mesh up with what you actually did end up seeing?

A: Well, I expected it to be nice, but I didn’t expect it to be that nice. I never really thought of the people, I just thought it would be no different than here. But it’s way different. Just the culture really. It was just amazing. Aboriginals are extremely respected in New Zealand, where their cultures are completely merged together. When you talk about Aboriginals down there, it’s just people. It’s not “Aboriginals”, it’s just another person. There’s no real distinct line between anyone.

Q: I know in talking to different athletes who have played baseball in different parts of the world, they say that sometimes there’s a difference in style of baseball that is being played. Did you notice anything different between the Canadian/American way of playing the game versus the New Zealand way?

A: I didn’t really notice anything different baseball-wise. But people-wise, they’re pretty big Maoris. They’re really big and strong and you can definitely notice the difference in me versus them. I just thought that the size difference was kind of cool.

Q: How excited are you about that opportunity to be able to travel the world with a ball team that you don’t necessarily have a lot of familiarity with?

A: Yeah, like I said, I already feel like I’m part of the team. I know some of them from the tryouts and they definitely tried their best to accommodate me. Travelling the world with them is going to be a completely new experience for me as I haven’t really travelled that much. I’ve done some travelling but I think it will be an awesome experience with a new team. I’m excited to get to know them all even more.

Q: Fantastic! I want to switch gears and talk a bit about your beginnings in baseball. Do you remember the moment when you said “I really like this game”? Especially when you consider, as I sometimes say, that hockey and football always seem to get all the attention and baseball never seems to be top of mind.

A: Yeah, I remember it actually pretty well. I was in Little League, I think I was playing down because I was a little bit too old. I think I started playing baseball when I was 11. So I was in minors with my team and I just had so much fun that year. The coach was awesome. It wasn’t about the results and it was just about having fun. I learned a lot that year and I just kept with it. I played another year of Little League and then went to Dawgs Academy and then I played for the Redbirds before heading over to the Bucks. It’s been an amazing journey from then to now.

Q: Talk a little bit about that journey. It sounds like it wasn’t one of those situations where you weren’t born with a baseball bat in your hand. Has the fun always reigned supreme over the career expectations? How have you been able to climb up the ranks so quickly?

A: Yeah, I don’t know. Honestly, it went by so quick. I just fell in love with the game and I just worked really hard. The year I went to the Dawgs, I don’t think I was ready for it. So I left the Dawgs because I was mentally ready for it, the program, the Academy. I wasn’t ready for all that stuff.

Q: Do you remember the moment when you thought maybe this is something you could do longer-term? By that I mean, hey, let’s chase after a post-secondary education, let’s see if we can do something stateside, let’s see if we can further our horizons. Do you remember that moment?

A: I think it’s always been in the back of my mind, but I never really pursued it until I got to the Bucks, really. I think they were the ones who motivated me to achieve that goal because they really developed me into the player I am now. I don’t remember a specific point where I turned it on, I just know it was turned on and I started working really hard.

Q: What has that Bucks coaching staff meant to you on a personal level to be able to get to the point where you’re at now?

A: Yeah, I’ve gotten to the point with them where they’re all extremely good at baseball. They know everything about the game and I could go to every single one of them and ask them anything. It’s been really easy for me to develop with them. I know a lot of them really well and they’re really good people. I just feel like I can ask them anything, whether it’s about baseball or school or personal problems or anything like that, I’ve developed good relationships with the coaches. They really know their stuff.

Q: Talk about your future expectations and what you hope to achieve as you head towards the next step with Minot State.

A: Right now, I’m just concentrating on getting better. From now until I go, I don’t have to worry about committing. So I’m just going to keep getting better and I don’t have to worry about anything else other than improving. Makes it easier on me with less stress.

Q: I wanted to ask about that, because of what’s going on in the world around us with COVID-19. It’s not like you can have a pickup game or anything. But it’s not like you can stop working either, right?

A: Yeah, fortunately for me, the New Zealand qualifier is in January, so that will help me get ready for Minot, which is pretty awesome really. I get to play baseball over the winter. And then, honestly, now until then, is just getting stronger and throwing faster. For me, it’s about building muscle and getting bigger.

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

A: For me, it’s really just another goal I have. It drives me to get better every day. It’s taught me a lot, really. Baseball has literally built me up from the ground. I wouldn’t be the person I am right now if it wasn’t for baseball. It’s taught me so much socially, just making new friends through baseball. Just the mindset that it brings you and how much joy it brings me. I don’t really know how to describe it, but for me, it’s really important and it’s really close to my heart. It’s really been the foundation that I’m built on. All my values are built on what baseball has brought me.

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