Many kids playing Orillia Legion Minor Baseball (OLMB) have a dream of one day being drafted by a major league team.
For 16-year-old Caleb Clark, that dream may not be far from becoming a reality.
Clark, a lanky left-handed pitcher, currently plays for the Great Lakes Canadians out of London in the Canadian Premier Baseball League at the U-17 level. The league is referred to as the ‘Elite League’ and features the fiercest competition in the province.
Clark realized his love for playing and watching baseball at three years old and just two years later, Orillia coaches began to realize he had a special talent.
“The coaches brought me up to the tyke team to face seven-year-olds, and it was my first time ever facing pitching,” Clark explains.
“They wanted to give me a shot. They knew I was pretty good at baseball at that point. They trusted me and that game we were facing the fastest pitcher at the time and I got a base hit through the middle,” Clark recalled. “That was an exciting moment for me.”
Clark would go on to have plenty more exciting moments in youth baseball.
Clark played in Orillia for the Royals rep team until he was 9-years-old. At that point, Clark decided to take his bat and ball to Barrie for a new challenge, and his talent and physical stature impressed Barrie coaches.
“I wanted to give Barrie a shot because I knew it was a good organization, so I tried out for the team and I remember when I showed up, the coach thought I was too old to be on the team,” he recalls with a laugh.
Clark played in Barrie for four years where he won a provincial championship, and made it to a national championship.
He found himself with the Canadians after attending prospect camps in London and making some connections with the coaches who asked him to join the program. He has been playing with the London squad for four years now.
When Clark was 11, he played at the Toronto Blue Jays super camp and met former Jays' second baseman Orlando Hudson who recognized Clark’s talents and offered him a special opportunity.
“He actually invited me to come play for his team in South Carolina, so I played twice with his team, and that’s when I realized I might be really good at baseball because when you have a coach like Orlando Hudson who was up for the Hall of Fame and he invites you to his team, it’s a pretty special honour,” said Clark.
Clark also played himself into an invite to Tournament 12 (T12) which is held at Rogers Centre each September. It is hosted by the Blue Jays Baseball Academy; former Jays star and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar serves as tournament commissioner.
T12 provides a showcase opportunity for the top 150 amateur baseball players born in Canada, with college eligibility.
“It was a really special honour,” Clark said of his selection to the team.
“Last year I didn’t even try out for it, I didn’t really think I was ready for it because I was only 14 and it is for 14- to 19-year olds, so I didn’t even think I really had a shot at it,” Clark explains.
“One of my coaches who is a scout for the Blue Jays now, Adam Arnold, asked me to come to the final tryout,” Clark recalled. “So, I went and had a bullpen session and a week later I found out that I had made it, and I was so excited.”
The opportunity to play under the bright lights and step onto the green turf at the Rogers Centre was a dream come true for Clark.
“When I got there the first year, I went into the Rogers Centre and I was on the field and in the bullpens ... it was an incredible feeling and so surreal,” Clark said.
Clark pitched well in the tournament and made the all-star team in his first year at the prestigious event.
He returned to the tournament last month where he played in one game, pitching three innings, giving up only a couple of hits, allowed no runs and earned player of the game honours.
Clark is ready to take his game to the next level and is eager to take the next step in his baseball career.
So far, Clark has had contact with scouts from Virginia Commonwealth University, Niagara University, Akron University, St. John’s University and Purdue University.
He said he is thrilled that scouts are keeping tabs on him. However, he isn’t letting it produce any pressure.
“I try not to think about it. I just focus on the game and not worry about the scouting part,” he said.
“If you get caught up on ‘this team is watching me’ and ‘that team is watching me’, then you stop focusing on your own play and start thinking about if you make a mistake you might not get picked up,” said Clark.
Even though Clark doesn’t let the pressure get to him, he does have future goals past playing with the Canadians, and his aspirations are massive.
“The end goal for me right now is to get prepared for the (Major League Baseball) draft. My draft year is next year, so I’m really looking forward to hopefully being drafted.”
Beyond the dream of the big leagues, Clark is also focused on his academic career as well.
“I also really want to look for the right school for me, whether it’s division one, two or three, I just want to find the right fit for me,” Clark said.
“If I don’t get drafted next year and I don’t sign with a team, then I’ll go to school and hopefully win a college world series … get drafted in my third year and go on from there.”
To be considered for the major league draft next summer, Clark felt he needed to improve his arm strength, and to do that, he had to make a massive sacrifice.
In September, Clark moved to London from Orillia, leaving all his friends at Orillia Secondary School behind to focus on baseball.
“I moved so I could be in the facility at all times doing weights and getting prepared with all the coaches,” said Clark of the difficult decision. “When I lived three hours away I couldn’t come down on a school night, so being here is preparing me better.”
When Clark first made the move, he didn’t expect it to be a challenging time for him.
“I had time to prepare for it, but after the first couple of weeks I started to really miss home and I was missing my friends, and the little things about Orillia.”
Clark has since settled into his new home, living with a billet family. The move has been beneficial for him on and off the field; he doesn’t miss those long, late night drives between Orillia and London.
“I was always so tired. I would get home at around 1, 2 in the morning from baseball and then have to be at school for around 8 and would have to try to write a math test or something like that, and it was really affecting me,” he says.
“I talked with my coaches and they thought it was the best decision for me to move here, so I made the move and now I get to train after school every day at the facility, and now I can keep up with my school work, too,” said Clark, whose parents are teachers.
Clark will continue to train all winter long and will be back on the field in the spring, continuing to pursue his lifelong dream.