It’s rare that any pro athlete gets the opportunity to win a championship in his or her hometown, but for Brayden Bouchey, such a feat became a reality Tuesday, when the former White Rock Tritons pitcher helped the Vancouver Canadians to a Northwest Baseball League title.
The Canadians – the single-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays – defeated the Eugene Emeralds 2-1 at Nat Bailey Stadium to win the best-of-five series three games to one.
Bouchey – who was drafted by the Jays in the 33rd round in 2016 – pitched two innings in Tuesday’s victory, and allowed no hits while striking out three.
It was Bouchey’s second stellar pitching performance in the series, having pitched three innings of perfect relief – no hits, no walks, and four strikeouts – in Vancouver’s 7-5 win in Game 1 Saturday.
“Woke up and it’s still real. Championships are fun, hometown championships are better!” he tweeted Wednesday morning.
In a short phone conversation later that afternoon, he told Peace Arch News that the outcome of the game had yet to truly sink in.
“You win, and you’re (excited), but the next morning you wake up, and you’re like, ‘Did that actually happen?’” he said. “It’s pretty cool… and a pretty special group in that locker room.”
Bouchey – whose pro career started at the end of last summer, with the Jays’ rookie-league affiliate teams in the Gulf Coast League (Floriday) as well with the Bluefield Blue Jays in West Virginia – was one of three Canadian players on this year’s Canadians team, but the only from the Lower Mainland.
“It meant a little bit more to me, and the other two guys, too,” he said. “It’s the only Canadian team in the minor leagues… Not too many guys get to win a championship in their hometown.”
The first step in getting the chance to play for his hometown Canadians was to be drafted by the right team – the Blue Jays last year – which Bouchey said was “pretty special” in its own right.
“I grew up being a fan of them, and I watched all their games on TV, so to get drafted by them… all the stars kind of aligned to allow me to play in Vancouver.”
He had family and friends at home games throughout the summer, he added.
“I had tremendous support… so it was pretty special to bring this one home for them.”
The championship – the Canadians’ first since a string of three consecutive NWL titles ended in 2013 – came in Bouchey’s first year of professional baseball, after the Semiahmoo Peninsula native left the University of Louisiana-Monroe after his junior year to turn pro. The 21-year-old graduate of Elgin Park Secondary, played for both the BC Premier Baseball League’s White Rock Tritons and Langley Blaze during his junior baseball days before embarking on his university career.
On Wednesday, there was no shortage of people wishing him well and congratulating him on his season – including Canadians’ manager Rich Miller, who told MiLB.com – the official site for all minor-league baseball – that Bouchey’s improvement from the start of the year was nothing short of remarkable.
“(The relief pitchers) all pitched well, but just to take one guy, Brandon Bouchey, the first half of the year was not very good. He knows that,” Miller said.
“He saved his best for the end of the year, and we preached all year long, at the end of the year we want to be a better player and a better team. A lot of these guys were, and he was one of them.”
Bouchey said his early-season struggles were “frustrating” especially since he’d performed well with other Jays’ prospects at extended spring-training prior to the start of the Canadians’ season.
“I didn’t have the start I wanted… I don’t know if it was focus, or getting away from what my strengths were on the mound, but I had a couple rough outings. It wasn’t fun for a little bit there,” he admitted.
He credited his teammates’ support, as well as help from his coaches, for turning his season around. It was during a road trip to Boise, Idaho for a series against the Boise Hawks where he noticed his performance improving, he said.
“That was kind of my last bad outing. After that, I had one good outing, then two, then it turns into a little bit of a streak, and you have more confidence all around,” he explained. “Once the second half of the season rolled around, I was confident and feeling good out there.”
Current Tritons general manager Marty Lehn – also a longtime MLB scout – also sent congratulations to Bouchey and the C’s organization via social media on Wednesday.
Also on Twitter, Bouchey retweeted the sentiments of his teammates, pitcher William Ouellette, who on Wednesday morning referred to the championship victory as “one of the best days of my entire life.”
Yesterday was one of the best days of my entire life.— William Ouellette (@wouellette8) September 13, 2017