By Darren Lum
Red Hawk takes passion for baseball to Muskoka … and, hopefully, beyond
A former Red Hawk is working to fulfill his baseball dreams by attending the newly formed Muskoka Outlaws Baseball Academy.
Seventeen-year-old Damon Harriss values this opportunity to develop his game in the hopes of reaching his playing potential and, hopefully, play at a Division 1 or Division 2 college in the United States.
From the Bracerbridge-based school’s website: “An Elite High School Baseball Academy will welcome student athletes from provinces across the country to beautiful Muskoka. The newly formed Muskoka Outlaw Academy will operate out of Bracebridge, providing opportunity to both local, as well as out of province student athletes to participate in Elite High School Baseball.”
The Grade 12 student-athlete has been completely immersed at the academy where baseball training is in full swing for the driven teen.
“You get Mondays off, and the rest of the week you go to the gym after school and workout and then go practice. On game days, you get picked up from school and go to the game. We usually practice four days a week and have games on the weekends,” he said.
Working out is about an hour and then the practices are up to 2.5 hours.
During the summer, the Highlands’ teen played for the Muskoka Hornets and will be representing the Outlaws for upcoming games and showcases during the school year.
Damon said the academy’s focus is also on academics. Students need to maintain at least a 70 per cent average.
The Highlands teen said his offer to play for the Outlaws came from a recommendation by his Hornets’ coach, who runs the academy.
He adds his defence was likely one of the main attributes that got him noticed.
With winter coming, indoor practices will be held during the week.
He said part of the season includes showcase opportunities with a trip to Florida and Las Vegas at the start of the calendar year.
The academy, he said, will enable him to be a “better ballplayer than when I came here before. [I’m] hoping to be 10 times better than [this] summer by next summer.”
The lesson that has stuck with him so far is there are plenty of competition at the academy, which has motivated him to give “110 per cent” and “you can’t let off at any time.”
He said there is a strong work ethic among the players. It serves as a model for others to follow.
There are players who come from New Brunswick, Manitoba and Quebec.
“It’s been a great experience so far. A little bit different with moving away and being billeted in Bracebridge and going to a new school, but I’ve been enjoying it so far,” he said.
He’s enjoyed the daily practices, but said there was adjustment with being billeted and having to switch to a new high school with twice the student population. This was the first time Damon has moved away from home, but believes it will serve him well if he must leave the province to play baseball.
Although Damon has the ability to play catcher and the outfield, he said his preferred position is behind the plate where he can be more engaged in the game, whether it’s throwing out baserunners, blocking balls in the dirt, receiving and framing each pitch to being able to call the game. It’s the constant engagement that he really appreciates when he plays catcher, which he started with rep ball for an under-10 team.
The highest level of baseball he has played so far has been AAA for the Muskoka Hornets. He was the team’s catcher.
At 5’9”, Damon knows he has a challenge to overcome the perceived quality of stature coaches usually look for in players, which is being more than six feet tall.
“Just trying to get on base as much as I can. Block everything I can behind the plate and just work on my quickness and speed,” he said.
He’s a contact hitter, and a vocal leader in the dugout.
“I’m the type of guy that gets everybody up,” he said.
He attributes this to his dad, Josh Shaw.
“He always told me I got to be that guy,” he said.
His skills, he said, also came from his father, who helped coach him for years.
“If he didn’t help me out or teach me the stuff I know now I probably wouldn’t [have played] even AA baseball in the summer,” he said.
Shaw had baseball dreams of his own and has been happy to support his son’s pursuit, which started as a three-year-old playing T-ball and progressed to playing rep for the Kawartha Cubs at 10.
“The baseball “dream” I guess does come from me. That was one of my dreams growing up obviously didn’t come true. And my hopes for Damon are to get a scholarship and at least a post-secondary education while playing a sport he loves to do and who knows maybe get drafted to the MLB one day,” he wrote in an email.
He adds there is a growing trend among youth in the Highlands towards playing more baseball, whether it’s recreationally or a travelling rep team.
Shaw said he played for the Orillia Royals at the AAA and then the junior level.
Through the app NCSA – college recruiting app – Damon has two universities following him. One is Baylor and the other is the University of Richmond.
His message to other young players from the Highlands is to join a quality team such as the Muskoka Hornets.
“I’ve been here since bantam and they have a great association and push a lot of guys through to college. Some not even AAA,” he said.