Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School graduate Yojairo Juan grew up in a small village in his home country of the Dominican Republic.
At just 10 years old, he was forced into being the man of the house, taking care of his younger brother while his single mother went to work from 5 a.m. until sometimes 7 or 8 p.m.
Juan spent his days playing sandlot-style baseball with his cousins. He could only dream about one day having the chance to be part of a team and playing organized baseball.
“Life down there is tough, so I never got the chance to play on an actual team, which is why I’m really grateful that I got to move here and show people what I got,” Juan said.
In 2014, when Juan was 13, his family decided to immigrate to Canada, where Juan would get his first crack at living out his dreams of being a baseball player. That summer, Juan’s mother registered him for Orillia Legion Minor Baseball and he tried out for the Royals rep program.
Juan still remembers his first tryout.
“I knew not one word of English. My mom had to be there to translate for me,” he explained.
Juan wasn’t sure how he would be perceived by the other players and coaches, being from another country.
“They accepted me. They made me feel like I was just like anyone else and like I was a part of the team. No one made fun of me. Everyone here is a nice person,” Juan said.
Despite having never played baseball in a real organized game, Juan’s skill set was up to par and earned him a spot on the Royals’ roster.
Before his first game, he felt pressured to perform. He wanted to show his teammates and coaches he belonged.
“I was nervous until my mom said to me, ‘You’ve waited for this your whole life. Just go out there and have fun.’ That got me through the first game,” he said.
During his first at-bat, Juan ripped a single through the infield, scoring two runs. His teammates erupted in cheers.
“Everybody was really happy for me. I was really happy, too. It was a really great moment,” he recalled.
Juan’s three years spent with the Orillia Royals as a shortstop and pitcher helped build his confidence on and off the field.
“My coaches and teammates always had my back and it really helped me keep my confidence up no matter what the situation was,” he said.
He rapidly improved and developed a competitive drive. The Royals, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to get past the first round of the playoffs. It was time for Juan to move on, and he went to coach Chris Woodman’s front door to deliver the news.
“It was a hard decision and I have a lot of love for my coach in Orillia,” he said. “When I told him I was going to be moving on to a different team, he said it was tough for him.”
At 16 years old, Juan joined the Georgina Bulldogs. During his first year with the squad, Georgina went all the way to the Ontario Baseball Championships, falling just short, losing 3-2 in the final game.
The now 17-year-old Juan said the decision to join the Bulldogs has helped him elevate his game to the next level.
“The fundamentals and the way the coach taught us was just different. It’s helped me slow down the game,” Juan said, giving credit to coach Doug Waldron.
While the baseball season is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Juan continues to train with Jaspreet Shergill, a former pitcher for the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Shergill also played in the Australian Baseball League.
“I’ve been putting in the work and learning a lot from him. He makes it easier for me to go through my mechanics without it being uncomfortable,” Juan said.
After taking the upcoming year off from his studies, Juan’s goal was to play college-level baseball in the United States next year. Because of the current social unrest, as a young Black man, he’s a little hesitant to chase that dream.
“I was planning on going to school in the States. I’m low-key scared now, but I’m still trying to pursue playing baseball down there, which would give me a better chance to make it,” he said.
After post-secondary school, Juan said he will turn his attention to the big leagues, but for now, he’s taking things one step at a time.