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It’s not every day that you get to meet a World Series champion.
But having the chance to be trained by one? That’s a rarity, although it could become reality for young baseball players in Surrey this summer.
Former Toronto Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun is hosting a baseball camp from July 2-3 at Whalley Athletic Park. He will be joined by former baseball pros, including Whalley Little League icon and former Major League Baseball player Justin Atkinson.
After being fired as an analyst from Rogers Sportsnet in November, 2017, following allegations of “inappropriate behaviour and comments” toward female employees, Zaun pursued other avenues to stay involved in baseball. He recently spoke to the Now-Leader about his new-found inspiration: training young baseball players and growing the Gregg Zaun Pro Camp.
“I was lucky,” Zaun said. “I have uncles who played professional baseball, so it was passed from one generation to another. Not every kid gets gifted that opportunity, and I feel blessed to be able to pass the game on to the next generation.”
“Lots of kids these days learn from watching videos, but when someone who’s played the game at a higher level is able to share their experiences about their techniques that made them successful, I think that’s an invaluable asset for young athletes.”
It didn’t take Zaun long to realize his passion for teaching baseball to youngsters.
“I did a 10-week catching clinic in Toronto,” he said. “Often these guys go from being terrified of the baseball to embracing it. I have a nine-year-old who catches the equivalent of a 95 mile-per-hour sinker now.”
“With hitters, I’m starting to watch kids at 10 or 11 years old hit 65 mile-per-hour curveballs. Watching these kids lose their fear or watching those lightbulb moments with guys and girls playing baseball is something else, it’s really special.”
After teaching baseball to youth in the Greater Toronto Area, Zaun decided he wanted to take the camps across Canada.
Now, the Gregg Zaun Pro Camp just recently returned from Peterborough and will make stops in Kelowna and Edmonton, following the camp in Surrey.
“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just Canadians in the Toronto area who got the chance to see how other professional baseball players went about their business.”
The California-born Zaun, who won a World Series with Florida Marlins in 1997 before playing for the Blue Jays from 2004 to 2008, now calls Canada home.
That’s part of the reason why he’s dedicated to improving the game in Canada, although he believes baseball in this country is already in a good place.
“I think Canada is making progress in the baseball world,” he said. “There’s an untapped resource of talent, for sure.”
“My goal is to help Canadian kids compete on the world stage, and I really believe the only thing holding these kids back is the opportunity to train year-round.”
“Certainly, weather plays a role. It makes a difference when you’re able to train 11 months of the year. If you want to compete with kids from down in the Southern U.S., in Latin America and in Asia, you need to get out and just do it, train full-tilt.”
Zaun does have a long-term vision of building training facilities in Canada. He envisions facilities with retractable roofs and enough space so that budding baseball stars could train around the clock.
“You look at these kids in Canada, they’re as good as anywhere else in the world, they just need the opportunity to be coached and trained year-round. That’s what I’m trying to do, create an environment where that can happen.
“I’m passionate about the game. Anybody who loves the game like I do, you want to see these kids get an opportunity to get to the next level.”
There is a storied history of baseball in Surrey, with the Whalley Little League existing for more than 60 years. They’ve also represented Canada at the Little League World Series on five occasions, with one of those appearances coming in 2018.
Zaun is no stranger to B.C., since his wife is from Kelowna, but this will be the first true visit to Surrey.
“I know a few guys from Surrey, and they tell me about how passionate the kids are for baseball. It’s going to be a really good experience for these kids. We want kids to know about it and come on out. Opportunities like this don’t happen too often. It’s a good experience to take advantage of these professionals and their time.”
For more information on the Gregg Zaun Pro Camp, visit greggzaunprocamp.com/surrey. Registration closes on June 20, with a fee of $200 per player.