By ZACH WORDEN
Special to Alberta Dugout Stories
As Eric Machej lined up at shortstop Friday at the Canadian Futures Showcase, there was a little more fanfare in the building than there had been throughout the week at Rogers Centre.
Jose Bautista was in Machej’s Team New Blue’s dugout.
While the 18-year-old went about his business, smacking an RBI double in a 9-2 win in front of the Toronto Blue Jays legend, it was hard to ignore the moment.
“I was out there at short, and you’re like, ‘holy cow, this is where Bo [Bichette] plays,’” Machej said after the game. “It’s truly special. Bautista’s also in the dugout, and you get to be around elite, top-of-the-world guys. It’s special to get this experience.”
Earning a spot in the tournament’s ‘Prospects Game,’ made up of the top performers from the week, the St. Albert Minor Baseball Association product swung the bat like Bichette this week in Toronto, too.
The Okotoks Dawgs infielder hit .400 over three games played, posting a 1.100 OPS and helping his team to a 3-0-1 record. He also picked up two RBI, three stolen bases and, of course, the double in front of Jose.
Machej came into the tournament after helping the Dawgs to a WCBL championship, where he hit .438 in five playoff games. That, combined with his presence at the 2022 Futures Showcase in Ottawa, had him primed for a standout weekend.
“The WCBL is a very competitive atmosphere. As opposed to this, which is more of a take it all in atmosphere,” Machej said. “Back home in Okotoks, you have all the fans, you grind all summer and it’s lots of fun.
“Here, it’s more of a once-in-a-lifetime thing that you have to really sit back and take it all in.”
A 2024 graduate, Machej is committed to Illinois State University, where he will join the Redbirds.
For some, coming into a tournament like the Futures Showcase with a college commitment already locked down may remove some of the pressure that comes with playing in front of so many coaches and scouts, but for Machej, it pushed him to be even better.
“You still gotta hold yourself to a high standard, and being committed to a Division One school, it pushes me to be a Division One player. Not only on the field but in the classroom. I want to be a coachable kid and put my best foot forward to help me in the future,” he said.
With multiple Dawgs alumni suiting up at Illinois State — including Tyrelle Chadwick, a close friend of Machej’s — there was a level of familiarity and comfort for him to commit to the Redbirds.
But with a year before he’ll set foot on campus, Dawgs Academy head coach Jeff Duda says Machej is emerging as a leader in Okotoks.
“At this time of year, we have 14 and 15-year-olds playing with [our older guys], and it’s so cool to see him helping them along because he was in their shoes too and had some older leader help him along,” Duda said.
“I just can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a great student. He helps guys out in study hall with their homework.
“He just does all the little things that you want your leaders to do, and he keeps our guys accountable … He’s that first guy in and last guy out, and he’s going to help all of his teammates be as good as they can be, both on and off the field.”
The right-handed swinging infielder agrees that he holds his teammates to a high standard because “if you do the little things right, the situations where you will succeed will come to you.”
Many of those situations have been popping up recently for Machej, who stands at six-foot-three, 185 pounds. Duda says, “there’s a lot to dream on” for the type of player he can be at the next level. With a well-rounded game, it’s the little things Machej is hoping to bring to the table at ISU.
“I’d like to get a lot quicker. I already feel like I’m an above-average runner, but to be able to impact the Division One level on the basepaths and with my glove would be great,” he said. “I’d also like to get a little bigger in the weight room. I pride myself in hitting for average, but everyone loves the long ball now and then.”
Growing up, Machej was “like every other Western Canadian kid,” playing hockey, just like his dad Scott, who was a fifth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 1982. But after being invited to visit the Okotoks facilities by program general manager Tyler Hollick and making the jump to join the Dawgs, he has been “falling in love with baseball more and more.”
Machej gives a lot of credit to his family for helping him get to where he is today. When he decided to move to Okotoks from Edmonton, his entire family moved with him.
“It’s kind of a pressure you put on yourself, like ‘my family’s here. I have to make [the move] worthwhile, perform and bust my butt,’” he said. “I don’t take it for granted, and I can’t tell you how much they’ve meant to me along this journey.”
As his journey continues back to Okotoks after a week of playing amongst Canada’s best, Machej is just thankful for everything that’s gotten him to this point.
“I’m just grateful for the Dawgs, the Blue Jays organization and my family. This has truly been one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I couldn’t have done it without any of them.”