Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
March 16, 2016, Casa Grande, AZ (ISN) – The Central Arizona Junior College Vaqueros are the #3 ranked Junior College baseball program in the United States and they can thank, in small part, a pair of Bristish Columbia Premier Baseball League (BCPBL) grads – Brendan Turcotte and Mitchell Robinson – for that status.
BCPBL grads Brendan Turcotte (left) and Mitchell Robinson (right) are enjoying life in the desert with the Central Arizona College Vaqueros in Casa Grande, Arizona (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Turcotte, a Victoria BC native and former Victoria Eagle, and Robinson, a Cloverdale BC native and former member of the Langley Blaze, have joined the esteemed Central Arizona college program this year, albeit both by vastly different methods.
Turcotte had a number of offers from various other colleges following his final year with the Eagles, but chose instead to roll the dice and head to Central Arizona, his dream school, where he effectively had to earn his way on to the team as a walk on.
Defensively, Turcotte has spent a fair bit of time patrolling left field this season for the Vaqueros and has pitched a few innings of relief (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
To his credit, his work ethic and attitude caught the eye of head coach Anthony Gilich and Turcotte joined the likes of other Victoria natives and former Vaqueros that included Rich Harden, Jason Gibson, Christian Winstanley and former Victoria Eagle Nic Cuckovich, on the Vaquero’s roster.
Turcotte’s role is that of a reserve player and it is one that he understands and relishes. “Coach Gilich made it pretty clear to me what my role would be and that I would have a chance to play various positions, a chance to pitch, get a few starts here and there and that was all I could ask,” said Turcotte when he was home back at Christmas.
In Wednesday’s game Turcotte was kept busy, as Dakota College sent a couple of hits deep to the wall in left-centre field (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
“I’m really happy so far down here,” said Turcotte when ISN caught up with him on Wednesday. “Our team is ranked third in the country and as to my role, I just make sure I am ready to go in at any time, whether as a runner, defensive sub, bullpen pitcher or as a position player starter. I keep working hard in practice so that when I get in the game, I put myself in a position to succeed and contribute to the team.”
Turcotte is keeping up his work ethic at Central Arizona, working hard on the field and here in the cage to get better each day and “to put myself in a position to succeed when I get into a game.” (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Turcotte IS contributing to the team and despite his limited appearances, is putting up good numbers. Heading into a Wednesday double header against Dakota County Technical College in Casa Grande, Turcotte was hitting .285 with 4 hits in 14 at bats. While his average dipped to .250 after a frustrating 0-for-3 outing at the plate in a start in game one on Wednesday, he is making the most of his chances on the bases and has scored 14 runs, despite only 17 official at bats. He also has a home run, dramatically coming in his first ever college at bat and has five RBIs. Turcotte has also seen a few innings on the mound, throwing 5.1 innings of relief so far this season.
Turcotte credits his run production to the Vaquero catchers. “We have a pinch run for the catcher rule in our league and Coach Gilich uses me as that runner a fair bit. Our catchers get on base quite a bit, so I have benefitted from other batters bringing me around to score.”
Despite only 17 at bats, Turcotte is hitting .250 with a home run and five RBIs and thanks to his speed as a pinch-runner, has scored 14 runs (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
And score they do. Despite the loss Wednesday, which they followed up with a 10-0 mercy-rule thumping of Dakota County in game two, the Vaqueros now sport a 27-4 overall record, are 10-2 and in first place in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC) and are ranked third in the national Junior College polls.
They have scored 287 runs in 31 games (a 9.2 run per game average), have a team batting average of .346 and a team slugging percentage of .512.
Playing a big role in that offensive attack is Cloverdale’s Robinson, who sits third in team batting with a .398 average, four home runs and 37 RBIs, including three that came in that 10-0 win in game two on Wednesday.
Cloverdale’s Mitchell Robinson had a pair of hits on Wednesday and sits third in Central Arizona batting with a .398 average and 37 RBIs (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Robinson came to the Vaqueros after a good year at Florida International University in Miami, but decided to make a change and come to Central Arizona. “Coach Gilich knew a little about me because he scouted me a bit in high school,” said Robinson, “and then he called my former coach with the Blaze, Doug Mathieson to talk and it all worked out. I am here and having a great time.”
Robinson has been patrolling right field regularly for the Vaqueros – ironically the position that fellow Canadian Turcotte had in his sights – and is the usual number four hitter in the lineup. “It is great to play every day here and I think I am getting into the groove and finding my swing. Our team has been playing some great baseball and I am happy to be contributing to that.”
Ironically, Robinson has been spending regular amounts of time in right field, a spot that fellow Canadian Brendan Turcotte patrolled regularly with the Eagles in Victoria (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
As to the future for both of these young men, Robinson has already commited to the University of Portland, a four-year Division I program, for his Junior season and is hoping to continue his strong work in Casa Grande to set himself up well for that.
Turcotte will of course have the option to return to Central Arizona next season and in the meantime, he will continue to work hard to earn more playing time this season and continue contributing to the team in whatever way he can.
With March break upon us, Turcotte’s parents John and Kathy and sisters Regan and Allison were able to head to Casa Grande this week to see Brendan in action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
“I am here to play baseball and be on the field as much as I can,” said Turcotte. “We get to play out here in this beautiful weather every day and I just come to practice every day to try and get better, to prepare, so that it translates into success on the field when I get into a game.”
ISN’s Christian J. Stewart will be in Phoenix for spring training through Tuesday March 22nd. Watch for his exclusive ISN updates over the next week.