Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
ORLANDO, Fla. – It didn’t take long for Ben Onyshko to realize that he had taken his last tour with the Canadian Junior National Team.
Just a few weeks after winning bronze with Team Canada in Mexico at the Pan Am Games to help qualify the squad for next year’s world championships in Japan, the young left-hander was already sitting on the other side of the field, suiting up for Stetson University in the opposing dugout as the Hatters took on Team Canada during their fall trip.
“Obviously it was a lot different than the last couple of years,” Onyshko said after Stetson’s blowout win over the juniors. “But it was still fun to see all the guys and talk to the coaches before and after the game. It was different, but a cool experience…
“On the inside I was kind of hoping that Canada was going to fight back a little bit. I caught myself cheering for Canada under my breath a couple of times, so I tried to restrain myself.”
Even with one game from the opposition side under his belt, Onyshko still isn’t really sure that he’s fully grasped the concept that his time with the junior squad has come to an end.
“I don’t know if it’s really sunk in that I’m not on the team,” the native of Winnipeg, MB said. “It’s almost like I’m still kind of waiting to go on the next trip in the next month. But I think I’ll still be able to follow the team for years to come and obviously the last couple of years were a really cool experience for me.”
Onyshko cherishes the time he got to spend with Team Canada and he believes the experience helped land him where he is now, a member of the Stetson Hatters, who are getting ready to face Atlantic Sun Conference competition.
“Being on the junior team was huge from pretty much every aspect,” the 18-year-old southpaw said. “As far as exposure, development, facing high-level competition – I mean pretty much every part of the game it’s helped me. It’s been huge.”
Drafted in the 16th round by Canadian scout Jay Lapp and the Milwaukee Brewers, Onyshko opted to fulfill his commitment to Stetson, getting his first glimpse at the school when he was on Team Canada’s fall trip last year.
So far, the young lefty is happy with the choice to pursue his education instead of entering the pro ball, though he hopes to get a chance at going pro again in the not-so-distant future.
“It was a good decision to come to Stetson,” Onyshko said. “I think I’ll spend a couple years in school to get better at baseball and get at least part of a college degree in the first three or four years. So it’s a good decision and I really like it here. I like all the guys, I like the coaches. All the practices and lifts and everything this fall have gone really smoothly, so I couldn’t ask for anything more right now.”
The hurler is looking forward to the upcoming season but he hasn’t set many expectations for what lies ahead, hoping his performance will find him an ideal position on the staff.
“I know they recruited me as a starter, so at this point I’m not sure where I’ll really fit into the rotation,” Onyshko said. “Obviously I’m going to do my best to try to earn the spot that I deserve. The team is looking pretty good as a whole – we’ve got a strong pitching staff and strong bats as well – so it will be a good season. It will be fun with all the guys.”
Taking in an additional Team Canada game at the Wide World of Sports during the squad’s fall trip after finishing up class one day, Onyshko was excited to see a large number of new faces and even had words of wisdom for the new crop of players.
“As far as playing this competition, which a lot of the guys are probably a little bit afraid of, especially if it’s their first time, [my advice] is to just relax,” he said. “As pitchers, just trust your stuff and attack the strike zone. If you can throw strikes and stay low in the zone, you’ll be fine.
“And as hitters, obviously you’re facing a lot more velocity and maybe some better stuff than before, but Greg [Hamilton, head coach] talks a lot about playing to your strengths rather than worrying about your weaknesses, so it’s just doing your best.”
– Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis