Brayden Bouchey made his Nat Bailey Stadium debut with one-third of a scoreless frame to finish off a 7-1 victory over the Everett AquaSox June 20.
The lone Canadian of the Vancouver Canadians bullpen took 20 minutes of his time to chat about the 2017 season. The pride of White Rock, B.C.—righthander Brayden Bouchey (pronounced ‘BOO-shay’)—graciously addressed a number of questions I had for him, including what it was like to be a part of both a championship team and his hometown team.
“It was awesome. I didn’t have much success, my teams in college (Odessa College and University of Louisiana-Monroe) didn’t have much success and never really got to play in the playoffs so it was pretty cool just on that experience to play in the playoffs and ultimately getting to go to the finals and win it, it was a really cool experience. Something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life, for sure.
Not many guys get to experience playing college or professional baseball in their hometown so getting to win to a championship, I mean, that’s even less likely to happen so it was super special and I’ll cherish it forever.”
Bouchey spun six perfect innings in the C’s playoff run, with two of those goose eggs coming in the championshp clincher in Game 4 against the Eugene Emeralds. His biggest out was inducing a lineout to center field off the bat of Miguel Amaya to start the seventh inning. With the C’s nursing a 2-1 lead, it was a huge out after Amaya was given another life at the plate when a foul pop up fell in between catcher Riley Adams and first baseman Kacy Clemens moments before. Adams and Clemens were the two most thankful people in the park after Bouchey came to the rescue.
“Baseball is one of those games that stuff like that happens all the time. It actually happened in Eugene, the same sort of play. Riley and Kacy kind of had a little bit of miscommunication on it so when it happened in Vancouver, I know they were both pretty rattled about it and I’ll tell you that but right after it happened, Kacy came out to me and basically said, ‘Hey man, you got to pick us up right here.’
I went back out, just kept attacking the guy. (Amaya) actually squared that ball up pretty good off me but the ball doesn’t travel out to center field very well so Reggie (Pruitt) was able to get under it and make the out there. I just stayed within my game and as a pitcher, you can’t let stuff like that rattle you, right? You got to just control what you can control so as soon as you let the ball go, it’s out of your hands. You’ve done everything that you can do unless the ball gets hit to you so you just got to deal with it and stay positive.”
Bouchey on being honoured as a Northwest League champion by the B.C. Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“It’s been a lot of fun. Obviously, It would be a little bit more sweet if all the other guys were out there with me. It does feel a little weird going out there by myself. It’s weird because people really don’t understand the way that minor league baseball works in that we won the championship and then at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, everyone was on their way to the airport to fly back home so it’s weird in that sense but it’s been nice to experience and the front office was really great about it in inviting me to all the events.
I’ve got another one coming up. We’re going to the lacrosse game (Vancouver Stealth) in January so that will be another fun one. It’s definitely been cool getting to experience kind of the championship parade sort of atmosphere of professional sports so it’s been fun. There’ll be a couple of more coming up so I’m looking forward to it.”
Bouchey on watching games as a youngster and getting to pitch at Nat Bailey Stadium with the C’s.
“I was pretty busy, especially throughout high school playing ball myself and doing other things but I definitely went to a few (games at Nat Bailey Stadium). I thought it was pretty cool. I never really thought I’d have a chance at professional baseball until 12th grade or whatever. I grinded through college for a few years but getting to talk to the Blue Jays before the draft and thinking there might be a chance to get to play there was definitely something that I wanted to happen and it did so it was pretty special for me and my family.”
Bouchey on getting drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016.
“I was actually playing in a dodge ball tournament with some of my buddies so it was pretty cool to get that call around a bunch of my friends. My mom and my sister were there so it was a fun day and I got to spend it with a lot of my friends and family. It was pretty special getting drafted by the team I grew up watching the most.”
Bouchey on his baseball idol, New Westminster, BC native and Minnesota Twins great Justin Morneau and wearing #33.
“Morneau was definitely a guy that I looked up to in life. He just played the game hard and wasn’t too flashy about anything but got the job done numerous times. He was a B.C. boy that made it and got to live out that dream and so I definitely looked up to him.
The number 33 actually, I was given it my first year at Odessa College. When I transferred the next year at ULM, they had given it to me as well. I guess they saw that I wore it in junior college so it kind of followed me around there. Weird thing is, I got drafted in the 33rd round. The number just kind of stuck with me. It’s a good number, I like it so I just stuck with it. It’s kind of my thing now.”
Bouchey on the transition from college to professional baseball.
“In college ball, you’re practicing most days and then you have your games. In pro ball, it’s more you’re out there on the field, having not a full practice but doing a lot of things before the game and then you’re playing at night so you really got a full day of baseball whereas in college, you definitely have other things that you have to worry about with school or whatnot.
I think I was pretty well prepared for the professional baseball lifestyle from going down to tournaments in the States with the Langley Blaze where we would go down on our Arizona spring training trip and we would actually play a bunch of pro and college teams so that kind of got us ready and we were playing every day so the amount of baseball I had played leading up to college and pro ball got me ready for the grind of the season.”
Brayden Bouchey compiled an earned run average of 1.26 in the second half of the season.
It was quite the grind for Bouchey during the first half of the year with Vancouver as he struggled to the tune of a 10.80 earned run average that was inflated by five straight appearances in which he gave up runs. The 22 year-old settled down as he gave up just two earned runs the rest of the way over his final 16 appearances in the regular season. Bouchey was not surprised by his successful turnaround.
“I always knew I had that in me. I had actually been pitching very well leading up to the season in extended spring training. I don’t know if I lost focus or let the big stage of Vancouver get to me a little bit. I think I was just trying a little too much. Obviously being from the area, it kind of brings a little bit of pressure on you.
About halfway through the season, I really stepped back and said, ‘Look, it’s a game.’ Obviously it’s my job but I got to have fun doing it and I just got to relax a little bit. I started not to care less but just relax and just let it happen, control what I can control so I think ultimately, that kind of helped me out and put me on the right track and got me in the right mentality. It ended up working out.
The second half was obviously really good but I think I learned a lot about myself in that first half and now if I get a little rut throughout the season, I kind of know of how to deal with it and I think that is going to help me going forward in my career.”
Bouchey emphasized the adjustment he made was on the mental side.
“It wasn’t anything really physically. I didn’t go and make any big changes in my mechanics or my delivery. I might have tweaked a couple of things here or there but I think it was more of just getting myself in the right mental state and just going out there every day and having fun and trying to get better.”
Bouchey on how he gets focused on the mound during a game.
“I try to just look at the catcher the whole time, trying to just make sure that I’m not paying attention to anything in the stands because it definitely has a presence there throughout and it’s very easy to get distracted. For me, whenever my heart gets pumping a little too fast, I just turn toward the center field wall, just kind of take my hat off, take a couple of deep breaths and get ready to go again so that’s my way of dealing with it.
A lot of guys are different. Some people actually look at something in the stands and whenever they need to take a breath or whatever, they’ll go back and find fans that they’re looking at. It comes down to finding something that works for you and building your routine. That’s something that the Blue Jays have actually been pushing for us and they worked a lot on it with us in spring training., building a routine and finding something that works for you. It just comes down to trial and error. You got to find what works, right?”
Brayden Bouchey was ‘Mr. September’ for the C’s as he threw seven perfect innings, six of them in the playoffs.
Bouchey on working with C’s pitching coach Jim Czajkowski.
“He definitely knows his stuff. Really a big baseball guy so you can go and really talk to him about anything, any side of the game – hitting, pitching, whatever – he knows it all. He helped me out a lot with getting back on track, staying within my delivery and he gave me a lot of confidence in my curveball which, for me, is my difference maker. He told me that repeatedly throughout the season. That’s kind of my bread and butter and what I got to live and die by. He kind of got me back in that comfort zone and being able to throw that for a strike and throw it out of the zone when I needed somebody to chase it. He definitely knows his stuff and he’s a great coach. He helped a lot of guys on the team. I think if you go and talk to anyone on our staff, they’ll say the same thing. He helped them out throughout the season.”
Bouchey on the development of his curveball.
“Honestly, I don’t really remember when I started it. I know I’ve thrown it pretty much since I was 13 or 14 on. I wasn’t primarily a pitcher until I was about 16. I worked on it but it wasn’t like I put too much effort into it, it just kind of came naturally to me. The past four or five years, being a pitcher only, I’ve had the time to tweak it and kind of get a better feel for it. Now it’s more like I know I can get a better feel of when I’m in relief and I’m up of how I want it to spin, which way I want it to move, where it started and where it ultimately ends up in the zone. It’s just a process, it’s trial and error, you just got to keep throwing it until you figure it out.”
Bouchey on his pitching repertoire.
“I throw majority fastball-curveball. I really improved my changeup this year towards the end of the season. There’s not too many times coming of the bullpen where I would feel the need to throw it, especially if it was a close game, trying to still get outs while working on stuff and getting the team a win. I didn’t feel really comfortable throwing it but when I did throw it, it’s been a lot better than previous years.
I throw a changeup, curveball, fastball and I threw a slider more often at the beginning of the year. When I started throwing my curveball more than my slider, that’s when I started doing a little bit better so my slider is a little bit of a work in progress and I don’t throw it too often but it’s there and it’s something that I’m working on.”
Brayden Bouchey was given a ride out of the bullpen to the Nat Bailey Stadium mound 17 times in 2017.
All of Bouchey’s 27 appearances were in relief in 2017 but he believes he could be a starter if he gets the chance.
“I started in college so I’m familiar with it. Obviously, I’d like to do that but it’s whatever the organization wants for me, right? Either way, I’m good with the bullpen. I’m used to it now and I actually enjoy it. If they want me to start, that’s definitely something that I’m open to.”
Bouchey on his off-season plans.
“The last couple of weeks, I’ve started my workouts. I got a job at a sports store here. Just kind of hanging low, working out, getting my stuff done, start throwing in a little bit. Just working on getting stronger and getting in better shape and getting physically ready to show up to spring training and make a full-season team this next year.”
Given the way his season ended, Bouchey should be a member of the Lansing Lugnuts in 2018 as he gets his first taste of full-season baseball and takes another step towards his goal of becoming a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
My thanks again to Brayden Bouchey for this interview.