Poole Party

By JOE McFARLAND

The Cloud County Community College baseball record books already had a strong Alberta presence before Tom Poole arrived on campus.

Players like Erik Sabrowski, Matt Bondarchuk, Tauren Langley and Clayton Loranger all have their names enshrined for various accomplishments.

As the 2021-2022 season came to an end for the Thunderbirds, Poole wrapped up a memorable and record-breaking campaign that, by his own admission, came as a bit of a surprise.

The Calgary product finished the year with a .366 batting average with 23 home runs, 71 runs batted in, 67 hits, 72 runs scored and 18 stolen bases.

His home run total smashed the former single-season school record of 20 – set by Rico Gholston in 1990 – while Poole secured second in RBI and runs, and 10th in hits.

For his efforts, Poole earned second-team All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) honours, alongside several teammates including Lethbridge’s Ty Wevers.

Not bad for an athlete who considers himself a late-bloomer and was initially recruited as a pitcher.

“Just believing in myself has been pretty key,” Poole told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “I’m not really having any doubt and I just know that no matter what happens, I’m going to be able to perform.”

That confidence hasn’t always been a part of his game, but with his freshman season behind him, Poole believes the sky is the limit.

THE LITTLE RUNT

Under the watchful eyes of coaches Phil Curtis and Neil Gidney at Absolute Baseball Academy and the Calgary Junior Dinos (later Calgary Bucks) program, it wasn’t until high school when Poole thought he might be able to chase a college career.

He says his coaches approached him about possible school placements pretty early on.

“If I’m being honest, I thought it was a little premature,” Poole said. “I thought I was a little runt going into high school.”

He was a little smaller growing up, but hit his growth spurt going into his senior year, putting on some weight while hitting the gym more frequently.

“It definitely showed in the numbers I was putting up,” Poole said. “I gained a couple miles an hour on my fastball and I definitely saw balls jumping off my bat a little more, which put me more on the map for schools to reach out.”

IN THE CLOUDS

After graduation, Poole took a year off from his studies to focus on baseball, landing with the Langley Blaze under coach Jamie Bodaly.

That’s where he was first noticed by Cloud coach Eric Gilliland, who saw him as a pitcher with an upper-80s fastball.

“As we followed his season at Langley, we found out there was some offensive upside as well,” Gilliland said. “Once he got to us in the fall, we saw the power and skillset, and quickly realized he had a chance to be special as a hitter.”

Not only was he able to hit with power to all fields, Poole was a fast runner, leading the Cloud skipper to believe the focus should be on offense.

A hamstring injury in the fall also allowed Poole to zero in on his hitting, leading him to believe he could attain a season of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

While he admits the goals were lofty, even he was impressed with how his season unfolded.

“I wasn’t much of a home run hitter when I was younger,” Poole laughed. “So that has definitely taken me by surprise.”

He credits the Cloud coaching staff for helping him with his approach, helping him stay calm and confident in the batter’s box.

Gilliland says Poole put together one of the most impressive statistical seasons in school history.

“The power numbers certainly jump off the page, but he also had 61 walks and hit-by-pitches, and was on-base over half the time,” he said. “That’s a pretty impressive number in itself and made him a really dynamic and productive player for us.”

TRUST THE PROCESS

While Cloud’s season ended earlier than everyone had hoped, Poole will be back at work in short order.

He’s primed to join the expansion Edmonton Riverhawks of the West Coast League this summer, where he hopes to continue building on his success.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound utilityman also sees an opportunity to give back to the baseball community in his home province by speaking with kids looking to follow in his footsteps.

“Trust the process over everything,” Poole responded when asked about his top piece of advice.

“One thing I’ve learned over this winter is to do things that no one else is doing, as it definitely puts you ahead of everyone else, because you have that extra edge.”

His JUCO coach is excited about what lies ahead for the bearded athlete, who puts many to mind of Charlie Blackmon and Brandon Marsh.

“Tom is just a fantastic kid,” Gilliland said. “He is a baseball rat and one of the more intelligent players we have had. He understands the game thoroughly and, like many of the Canadians we’ve had, has been a diamond in the rough and pleasure to have in our program.”

Poole would love to eventually get recruited to a Division 1 school and get a shot at professional baseball.

“I’m still taking it a day at a time,” he said. “I have a couple of people looking at me here and there, but I’m not too worried about it.”

Right now, Poole’s focus is on winning baseball games and, whenever possible, soaking in those moments that are putting him in the record books.

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