By Alexis Brudnicki
Behind every successful big leaguer, there’s an incredible and equally-dedicated support system.
When Dalton Pompey got his call to the big leagues at the beginning of September, after a rapid rise through the Toronto Blue Jays system this season, the ultimate accomplishment was one he shared with his family, meaning as much to his parents Valerie and Ken and his brother Tristan as it does to him.
“It definitely makes it all worth it,” Val said. “Even the one game he got in to hit it was like we made it. Just to see him here, because this was his dream.
“I remember we came here just after he got drafted and he was shagging balls with the Blue Jays. [His signing scout] Jamie Lehman got him in and he was hitting some [batting practice] and Vernon Wells – he was my favourite player on the Blue Jays when we were watching – and he was shagging balls with Dalton out in centre and Dalton said, ‘I’m going to be taking your job one day. He said, ‘I’ll move over to left.’ It was pretty cool.
“Then when he moved up to Triple-A we thought now it’s a reality that one day he might be in centre field.”
After the first few weeks of having her oldest son on the Blue Jays roster and even seeing him getting to start in centre with the team out of contention, the feeling is still one of disbelief for Dalton’s mom.
“It is strange,” Valerie said. “It’s so surreal. I just realized my kid is one of those major league players. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, all these emotions build up. Sometimes I remember him as a little kid at two or three years old in the park with his little curly hair, and then I’m thinking, that’s my kid out there coming up to bat.”
Tristan shares his mom’s sentiment.
“I never really thought about it before but it really is weird,” the 17-year-old Pompey said. “I have only been able to come to one game here [at Rogers Centre] but watching him on TV it is weird seeing that highlighted bar across the bottom of the screen that says ‘Dalton Pompey’.”
The family of four has spent a lot of time away from their home in Milton – in the Greater Toronto Area – dedicating hours upon hours to the development and growth of Dalton and Tristan’s careers, along with heading to countless games and practices. Together they share Dalton and Tristan’s latest achievements.
“In a sense, yes we do,” Valerie said at Rogers Centre. “But Dalton’s put in the work and Tristan has put in the work. This has been our home for the last three weeks with Tristan coming here [for Tournament 12] and Dalton being home and coming back next week.
“We drive them, but it’s up to them to put in the work. We drive them and pay the money and it’s nice now that Dalton is getting paid because usually we’re forking out the money.”
The younger Pompey was invited to take part in the Blue Jays-hosted event to showcase his skills for a large number of college recruiters and professional scouts. He knows it might help him to share a surname with Toronto’s 21-year-old September call-up, not to mention having a similar profile as a 6-foot-3, 180-pound switch-hitting outfielder, but heading into his draft year he was excited to be able to take the stage on his own.
“I’ve felt really good,” Tristan said. “I’ve played really well so far. I feel like I’ve been doing well for myself and I’m one of the ones showing well at this tournament … I wanted to come out and show people where I’m at right now as opposed to where I was last year and how much I’ve improved since then because I’ve improved a lot.”
Watching from the dugout as alumni coaches for the duration of the event, former Blue Jays Devon White and George Bell have been impressed with what they’ve seen.
“Pompey is going to be a good player,” White said.
Bell added: “He’s different from Dalton. When Dalton started, he started at zero. Tristan is starting at 70%. He knows more about the game now than when his brother started playing.”
“I haven’t seen Dalton play,” White said. “But Tristan puts the ball in play solidly for a 17-year-old and like George is saying, the younger ones always learn from the older ones and that’s a big advantage.”
A popular player around the Blue Jays building, with many Toronto alumni and staff often stopping throughout each day to chat with Tristan and his parents, the young Pompey is thriving on and off the big-league field. And though he used to want to separate himself on the field from his big brother, he doesn’t mind anymore when people come asking about Dalton.
“I like playing in front of [all the scouts and recruiters],” Pompey said. “It’s a good motivator and it puts pressure on you, but it’s the good kind of pressure … More people know my name now and I get a lot more attention. A lot of people are saying, ‘You’re Pompey’s little brother, right?’ It’s cool because he’s on the Blue Jays and I’m proud that I’m his brother so I embrace it.”
Lehman, Toronto’s Canada scout, had the opportunity to talk to the Pompey family a little more while they were in the building for Tournament 12, sharing in their special moment and expressing his own excitement for the young man who quickly became the first he ever drafted to make it to the majors.
“Dalton has made everyone proud with his rapid ascent through our system this year, but just as impressive has been his growth and maturity as a person,” Lehman said. “My role in his accomplishments is incredibly small; all I did was give him the opportunity.
“His hard work and dedication, and the countless hours by our player development have helped him reach the potential we knew he had when we drafted him. I’m excited for him and his success should show young Canadian players what is possible when you work hard and never stop believing in yourself.”
With Dalton in the big leagues, the ultimate goal is accompanied by a more realistic chance for the rest of the Pompey family, changing their perspective on what the future might hold.
“Definitely,” Valerie said. “Dalton being there is definitely an advantage for Tristan. Dalton wasn’t a high draft pick, in the 16th round, and he proved himself at every level, went up a little bit and a little bit, and this past year of course he blew up …
“Tristan can see the process Dalton went through to get there. And he knows if he was drafted in the 16th round he can still be there.
He’s very similar to where Dalton was at this level, same body type, not like some boys like a Josh Naylor who is fully grown and hitting it out of the park, but he still has skills.”
Added Tristan: “To see all the work he put in to get drafted was enough for me to know how much work I have to do to get drafted and be where he is right now.”
The Pompeys are hoping to someday share in the feelings that Justin and BJ Upton have been able to have, playing together and manning the same big-league outfield for the Atlanta Braves.
“It’s funny because when they were little we used to talk about it, Dalton making it and then Tristan coming and being on the same team, like the Upton brothers,” Val said. “How awesome would that be? When we see those Upton brothers we think wow that could happen to us one day. The ball is totally in Tristan’s court. He’s got the skills and he’s just got to put them all together.”
But until that dream can become a reality, and even perhaps when it does, Dalton will still be the same guy he’s always been to his family at home.
“Like Tristan always says, ‘He’s just my brother,’” Val said. “Yeah, he’s just my kid, but he’s alongside [Jose] Bautista and [Jose] Reyes.
Tristan is a fan of Jose Reyes and now he might be able to meet him … it’s crazy to think stuff like that. This whole year has been a whirlwind for us.”
The season has been hectic for the Pompeys, but incredibly rewarding and they’ve felt the love from all over along the way. And the family never stops checking in on one another.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Valerie said. “The support Tristan gets, too, from family and friends, they want him to do as well as Dalton does. His brother does too. Dalton is always asking about him. He texts me after every day and asks me what’s going on with Tristan.”
– Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis