Great Lakes Canadians 16U catcher/third baseman Connor Gaitens ‘announced his presence with authority’ in a one-game return to Tillsonburg’s Sam Lamb Field on July 28.
Gaitens hit a home run against the Ontario Nationals in his first at-bat.
“First pitch,” Gaitens nodded. “Fastball, high inside.
“I’m not trying to hit home runs. As soon as you think of trying to put it over, you won’t put it over. You learn that the hard way. I have the same approach every time or mostly every time. If I see a fastball early I’m just driving, I’m barrelling the fastball. I don’t really think about the home runs, they kind of just happen here and there.
“I like to think of myself as a gap-to-gap hitter. I barrel the ball consistently – that’s my goal. I think of myself as an RBI guy.”
Recalling his last year playing peewee in Tillsonburg, Gaitens, who lives in Courtland, remembers putting one over the Optimist fence.
“It was a 2-0 fastball – that was second-year peewee. I think I had five total that year. At OBAs there was a shorter fence and I had like three home runs there.”
In the field, Gaitens said he does not have a preference between catcher and third base.
“Even in Tillsonburg I played both, but I just kind of keep loving it every time I play it. It’s not like I like one better than the other, I like both.”
Gaitens played both positions on the 28th, starting at third.
“Usually we don’t switch in the middle of a game,” he said, noting the Canadians usually have double-headers so he’ll switch for the second game. “I don’t really have a preference for it.”
Pitching, however, was something he left behind in Tillsonburg.
“I was pitching for a bit when I first went there (GLC), and I was a good pitcher in Tillsonburg, but I guess I wasn’t the best pitcher when I moved there. And now we have ‘pitcher only’ which means they only pitch. Some only pitch 2-3 innings on a weekend. There aren’t too many two-position players.”
Wednesday’s 16U Canadian Premier Baseball League game, a 12-11 Ontario Nationals victory (Gaitens was stranded on 3rd in the ninth inning) was a makeup from a rainout in Dorchester – and a homecoming for Gaitens, who played his minor ball in Tillsonburg starting at the age of 3-4.
Gaitens has played for the London-based GL Canadians from 14U (first-year bantam) to 16U.
“In Tillsonburg the coaching is awesome, we had a really good connection with all of them. But I think the coaching at Great Lakes is a little more advanced, they’ve got a little more experience than most coaches. And the competition is a lot better, playing different teams like Toronto and Windsor and going to the States when you can.”
Gaitens’ 14U team had tournaments in Michigan and Indianapolis. COVID-19 interrupted their plans in 2020, a mini-season with bubble exhibition games, and 2021.
“Hopefully next year.”
The CPBL season had a late start (July 3) and will continue until August 29, followed by Labour Day weekend playoffs.
“It was tough to keep getting pushed back and pushed back. You just want to get out and play with all the guys. But everybody here, they still put their work in on their own time. So it’s not like we’re behind anybody or any teams.
“During the lockdown we couldn’t go to Centrefield (Sports Indoor Facility), but we were doing Zoom calls. We would keep in touch with our coaches. I went to a gym in Tillsonburg here and there, or worked out at a friend’s house during the lockdown because we couldn’t go to our facility in London.”
His offseason workouts included working on his running speed.
“I always want to keep working on everything, but probably my weakness is my speed,” admitted Gaitens, who is listed as 5’11” and 185 pounds on the GLC website. “I’ll keep working on my speed and keep working on everything and try to get better at every single thing possible.”
Gaitens has two more seasons with GLC (17U and 18U), then plans to pursue a NCAA college opportunity.
“My goal is to go to a Division 1 school and see how I play there, and honestly just go as far as I can. It’s like a dream just to keep working at it and go as far as I can.”
The recruiting process won’t begin until he is 17.
“After this season, in the winter, I can start sending film to schools. Probably some game film. We have a camera playing the whole game so I get all my good hits from there.
“Even the experience talking to schools will be pretty awesome.”
GLC’s Matt Evans, another former Tillsonburg player, listed as a 5’11” 145 pound centre fielder and pitcher, did not play in the Tillsonburg game.