William Ouellette warms up in the bullpen at Nat Bailey Stadium.
“I might take you down, but I’ll never let you down.” — theme from Shaft 2000.
William Ouellette (pronounced ‘ooh-LET’) had plenty of takedowns as closer of the Vancouver Canadians and he never let his team down when he was summoned from the bullpen. The NWL saves leader and a mid-season All-Star, the 24 year-old Ouellette had a season to remember in YVR. He led the way with 13 saves to help the C’s reach the post-season and added three more in the playoffs. It was save number 16 against the Eugene Emeralds that set off a big celebration that crowned Vancouver as league champions in Game 4 of the NWL final at Nat Bailey Stadium.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound righthander began the season with the Dunedin Blue Jays and earned a victory in three appearances, giving up just one run over 6-1/3 innings during the latter part of May. The son of former major league catcher Phil Ouellette—who played 10 games for the San Francisco Giants in 1986—he was reassigned to Vancouver in time for the start of the C’s regular season.
Though the 24 year-old Ouellette was hoping for a longer stay in Dunedin, the Cal State-San Bernardino product said his first taste of full-season baseball was a good learning experience.
“I would say that being able to pitch in that league (Florida State League) and talk to some of my teammates like Jordan Romano and Ryan Cook and (Ryan) Borucki and (T.J.) Zeuch—just seeing what those guys are about, how they attack hitters, what their game plan is. Also, the pitching coach Mark Riggins. He was pretty helpful with me developing a slider, or the slider that I throw now. The biggest thing was realizing that you have to throw more than one pitch for a strike in Dunedin, in High-A, for me because those guys, they can eliminate a pitch if you can only throw one pitch for a strike so that they can look for that pitch and they can take advantage of it and really punish you there.”
Ouellette on his pitching repertoire.
“I do have a fastball, a slider and a changeup. However, being the closer this year, the role I took upon this year, in that particular role, you don’t want to get beat with your third-best pitch. And for me, the changeup is my third-best pitch. It has come a long ways, considering since I didn’t have one last year. So now that I do have one, I’m confident in throwing it. I just really didn’t get a chance to use it in those high-leverage situations that I was pitching in. I didn’t want to get beat with my third-best pitch.”
Ouellette on being sent down to Vancouver from Dunedin.
“When I first went over there, I wasn’t sure for how long that I was going to be there or I thought, maybe if I pitched there well enough that maybe I could stay (in Dunedin) for the rest of the season if I pitch well and get people out but when I was told I was going back to go and pitch in Vancouver, I found out that I was sent over there because they had a guy that was injured and I was just filling in for him while he was getting healthy. I made the most of it while I was there. I thought I pitched well and I think that it gave me a nice confidence boost going into the season knowing that I can pitch here, I can get people out and I can dominate hitters.”
William Ouellette pitched two shutout innings to earn his first Northwest League victory against the Spokane Indians at Nat Bailey Stadium June 23.
Ouellette on the moment he realized the C’s had a chance to be a championship club.
“Once we clinched the first half, we were kind of struggling going into that and kind of sort of backed our way into the first-half (North Division) championship I would say. I feel like once that we won that or clinched that as a team, I felt like we all as a team, or everybody in the clubhouse, took a deep breath and was like, ‘Alright, we got that out of the way, now we can play our baseball. We can throw strikes, we can hit the ball, we can play good defence and move runners over when we have to, get those clutch hits. To me, that’s what I would say our turning point was, simply because of the way that we backed into the first-half championship.
“Once we clinched the first half, it wasn’t that the second half was like, ‘Oh man, we don’t have to play as hard, we’re already going to the playoffs.’ It was very much, ‘Well, we won the first half, now let’s win the second half.’ That way, we can basically eliminate one of the other teams that we didn’t really play so well. That way we controlled everybody else’s destiny as opposed to our destiny was in someone else’s hands like a Spokane or a Eugene or maybe even Everett.”
William Ouellette ran his record to 4-0 with a win over Eugene July 2.
Ouellette on being named a Northwest League All-Star.
“I thought the All-Star Game was a ton of fun. The manager of the All-Star Game of my All-Star team (Hillsboro’s Shawn Roof) said that to embrace this because for some of us, it might be our only All-Star team. For me, up until this point of my career, it has been the only All-Star team I’ve ever made. That was a big accomplishment. I found out when we were in Tri-City. It was after our game, after we had won, I got a text from our trainer that said ‘Bring your passport to the field.’ I was a little thrown off. I was like, ‘Why would I need my passport? That doesn’t make sense.’ But I brought it and then I didn’t think anything of it and then (C’s manager) Rich Miller, we had a meeting in the clubhouse and said, ‘Hey, by the way, Orlando Pascual, Riley Adams and William Ouellette, you guys are All-Stars so congratulations! Go get ‘em in Hillsboro.’
“It felt like you were an All-Star because of the Fan Fest and the way that everything was set up. Everything that we were given, I felt like I was in the big leagues even though I was just at a minor-league All-Star game so that was a great experience for me and something that I’ll always remember.”
Ouellette on his favourite stadiums in the Northwest League.
“In terms of just like playing surface, I thought Spokane was awesome. The field was really nice. They got a lot of fans although it was very quiet with 5,000 people. It’s not like Nat Bailey where you could hear those guys from it seems like downtown. Those fans get so loud there. Hillsboro was cool, their 2,500-3000 fans were also very loud. They really got into the game. They cheered on their players, they really got behind their players, much like our fans at Nat Bailey so that was awesome. It was a cool experience to play in some of those stadiums.”
William Ouellette found a home in the C’s bullpen in 2017.
Ouellette on when he felt he hit his stride in 2017.
“Believe it or not, it was actually during extended spring training I would say. I went into spring training with a goal of making the Lansing roster and I thought I pitched well during spring training but I didn’t make the Lansing roster. There was a time we were playing the Braves in extended spring training. I go into a game, I have a clean first inning and my second inning, there were two infield singles and an error and I ended up pitching my way out of it with no outs and the bases loaded. I had to make some good pitches, some good, quality pitches in what I felt was like a high-leverage situation. For me, it felt like from that point on, I was confident. I had the most confidence in the word, like ‘Man, I can get anybody out. I can put the ball where I want, my slider feels good.’ At that time I was still throwing my changeup because there’s no statistics during extended but I took all those games seriously because for me, I was still trying to win a job. Being an undrafted free agent, I don’t have much leverage when it comes to success or failure.”
Ouellette on joining the Blue Jays organization.
“It was mainly the Blue Jays who were really talking to me because the scout (Jim Lentine) who ended up signing me, we were in contact basically all weekend (before) the draft. He kept telling me, ‘Like hey, you’re probably not going to go day two, if you’re going to go, it’ll be late day three. I just said, ‘Alright, no problem.’ We were actually in San Francisco for my Dad’s reunion – the ’86 (San Francisco Giants) reunion team. Me and my brothers and my Mom, we were watching the draft on my phone although I really tried not to think about it. I didn’t want to think about it but being day three, at that point, it was either now or never so I really started to watch the draft, check who was picking, check who the Blue Jays picked. The very last pick had came and my brothers looked at me, I had looked at them and we didn’t say hardly anything. About 10 seconds later, Jim the scout had called me and said, ‘William, I know the draft is over. We didn’t pick you but we’re going to give you a contract and there will be a plane ticket out if you want to sign.’ I said, ‘Jim, when do I leave?’ and that was it.”
Ouellette on spending 2016 in the Gulf Coast League.
“It was hot. It was hot and humid. I knew it was going to be hot but I had never been in a humid environment like that. It was a little different at first but my pitching coach at the time, Juan Rincon, helped me make the transition from being an everyday player in college to pitching and learning how to pitch. He really got me through the doorway I would say, to help me hit the ground running.”
Ouellette on his introduction to pitching.
“I had a lot of doubts when I was in college. I was asked, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about pitching?’ I always said, ‘I prefer to play shortstop until I don’t have a choice anymore.’ My senior year in college came and I went up to my coach and I said, ‘Coach, I want to pitch. I want to pitch too.’ He said, ‘Alright, well, let’s see what you got.’
I threw a bullpen before that day, I pitched in some intersquad games and then our opening weekend of the season, it was a 2-1 ballgame in the eighth inning and we were on the road so after we came in to hit, (the coach) said, ‘Hey, you’re going in for the ninth.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay!’ So I ran down into the bullpen, got loose and came in for my first save. I did both for the remainder of the season, I played shortstop and I closed games out for us as well.’
Ouellette on being a closer.
“I personally love it. I enjoy the high-leverage situation. For me, it makes me feel that I can’t make mistakes. Of course, everybody is going to make a mistake but I just feel like in those situations, my stuff is maybe a little sharper, a little harder. You have the adrenaline rush that comes along in being a one-run ball game or something like that. My job is no different than anybody else’s but it’s a little bit more special because if I do end up closing the game, we get to shake hands after the game – that’s probably the coolest part.”
Ouellette on getting the call to close out Game 4 of the Northwest League final.
“Me and my pitching coach (Jim Czajkowski), we were talking about it during batting practice that day. Me and (Orlando) Pascual, we were kind of ‘A and B ‘or ‘A1 and A2’ throughout the season. I was told that the reason that I did go in in that game was because I had got (Will Remillard) out in Game 3. (Editor’s note – Ouellette got Remillard to pop up to first to end the eighth inning of Game 3, stranding two runners enroute to a four-out save.) When he was announced as the pinch-hitter, it was almost instantaneous that I was going to go in.
The reasoning behind it was Pascual has a devastating changeup but it will float into a right-handed hitter. With the smaller fence in left field as opposed to our gigantic wall in right field…all the way through left-center, one of the more important things that I learned from (Czajkowski) was you don’t want to get beat pull-side late into a game or a save situation like that. With Pascual’s changeup coming into the barrel of that right-handed hitter, we didn’t want to get beat pull-side. Czajkowski or (manager) Rich Miller made the decision and trusted me to locate my fastball down and away and my slider in the dirt and the rest is history.”
Ouellette on pitching in Games 3 and 4 of the Northwest League final, which marked the first back-to-back appearances for the first time in his pro career.
“I was a little tired when I first showed up to the field but as the game gets on and continues on and we end up scoring those two runs in the (fifth) inning, from that point on, I was locked in. I was like, ‘Alright, I want the ball. I want to get those last three outs, I want to bring this home for us, for Vancouver, for the Toronto Blue Jays, for my teammates.’ Ultimately, I did feel like I had enough in the tank and if (Will Remillard) did happen to get on (base), I feel like I still had enough for the next guy so it was win or lose at that point.”
Ouellette on the final pitch of the season.
“That was the best thing I have ever did on a baseball field. The pitch before actually was a slider in the dirt that I thought (Remillard) would chase and he kind of did like a little check swing on it. I knew if I threw the next one for a strike, he had no chance to hit it. He ended up taking it. As soon as I threw it, I knew it was going to be a strike and as soon as Riley (Adams) caught it, he didn’t even wait for the umpire to call strike three. He just ran out and gave me a giant bear hug. I threw my glove, I didn’t even know or care where it landed. It was the best thing I’ve ever done on a baseball field and I will remember that for the rest of my life.”
William Ouellette waves to the crowd during the C’s celebration of their Northwest League title.
Ouellette on the short-lived celebration.
“It kind of did suck leaving the next day because we had host families and you spend all summer long being at their house. For me and my host family—Jennifer, Wes, Callum and Quinn—I really got to know them, got to enjoy some quality time with them. They really took time out of their schedule to show me the city, show me North Vancouver, show me what the city has to offer. I really appreciate everything that they did for me. Not being able to spend my afternoon with them after we had won and after we had celebrated. The next day, at 10:00 am, I feel like I’m leaving my family. Even though they’re not blood, or blood-related, I definitely felt like I was leaving home.”
Ouellette on his off-season plans.
“I just got home from the Dominican Republic (in October). I was there for a week along with nine other of my American teammates in the Blue Jays organization. We were down there experiencing the Dominican Republic, experiencing the culture of what (Dominican players) they have to go through, what they have to deal with before they come to the United States and that was an eye-opening experience to say the least. I am going to work at Sky Zone where I worked at last off-season and then I am going to start my weight-lifting routine next week and start getting into even better shape than I was this year for the 2018 season.”
If 2017 is any indication, Ouellette will be more than ready for his first taste of full-season baseball in 2018.
My thanks again to William Ouellette for taking the time to chat with me. Our conservation took place on the night of Game 1 of the World Series. He assured me that even if the game was still on when I called, he was still available to chat with me. As it turned out, the game was long over by the time I got around to calling him but I wanted to acknowledge his willingness to still take time out of his evening to talk to me and it was very much appreciated. I certainly wish him all the best in his baseball career moving forward.