Leafs’ fielder putting baseball on hold

Brian Baker/Town Crier OFF THE CLOCK: Junior Leaside Leafs' starter Owen Laing looks to take a break from baseball for a year to pursue a career as a carpenter. You can't keep him away from the diamond though, he says.
Brian Baker/Town Crier
OFF THE CLOCK: Junior Leaside Leafs’ starter Owen Laing looks to take a break from baseball for a year to pursue a career as a carpenter. You can’t keep him away from the diamond though, he says.

But Laing says he’ll be back after carpentry break

Leaside’s Owen Laing is looking to trade in his baseball bat for some new lumber.

The 21-year-old starting centre fielder for Leaside Leafs is taking a reprieve from the Toronto Baseball Association to pursue a career in carpentry.

However, he assured in a late-summer interview it’s not the final nail in his sporting career’s coffin.

Having just received the President’s Honour Award from Durham College for his good standing in carpentry, he says it is his love of sports and tactile tendencies that is leading him down that particular path.

“Carpentry seemed to be the logical choice,” he said.

Baseball is on hold for now.

“At the moment I’ve decided not to play next year and pursue the carpentry career, but there is no age limit in senior baseball, so I think I will be back next year or the following year,” he said.

Even a year-long hiatus would be a loss, though, says Leafs manager Cam MacLellan, who points out that the 5-foot-11 Laing provided a steady hand at the plate and uncanny range in the outfield during the 2013 season.

“He really pays attention to the pitches and he gets more walks than anybody else on the team,” MacLellan said, of the team’s star player. “He’s a very patient hitter.”

MacLellan considers Laing “the best centre fielder in the junior loop.”

“He has phenomenal range, and can really track a ball,” he said.

During the Ontario Baseball Association’s Aug. 2-5 junior elimination tournament in Burlington, Laing showed off his hand-eye coordination when Leaside was losing to the host team.

“We needed a pick-me-up because Burlington got a big lead and there were two guys on base and Owen stepped up to the plate,” MacLellan recounts. “A 1-and-1 pitch and the next thing you know the ball is over the fence.

“The guy from Burlington came up to me and said, ‘That’s 460 to centre field and he cleared the fence by at least another 10 or 15 feet’.”

To Laing it was no big deal. He just shrugged it off when asked about it later, as he did with other questions about his talent.

“The only difficulty you’ll have with Owen is he’s really quiet,” MacLellan said. “I’m in sales, so I’m paid to talk, and I keep on engaging Owen in conversation, hoping I can get him to open up a bit.

“He excels in so many other areas, that’s fine. If he’s quiet, I don’t have a problem with that. That’s one less player I have to worry about.”

Even though Leaside lost the game 13-3, Laing’s surprise home run lifted his teammates’ spirits.

“Owen is a clutch player,” MacLellan said. “He’s the one you want at the plate when you need the hit.

“He’s also the guy you want in centre field when the bases are loaded and there are two out. That’s happened a few times this year, with the bases loaded and we needed to contain runners, and the next thing I have is Owen in centre field and a fly ball going to centre — and it’s a given.”

It’s a talent Laing has honed through the years, starting with T-ball in Bennington Heights. He played house league at Trace Manes Park and eventually made his way into the rep programs of North York Blues and Toronto Mets.

He won a Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association national championship with Durham College in 2011, just before joining the Leaside Leafs this year.

“The first year, under coach Sam Dempster, we went all the way … and that year, as a team, it just felt like we were unstoppable,” he said. “There were times when we stepped out onto the diamond and things would just go our way.”

What will Laing miss the most while he apprentices as a carpenter? His teammates, of course.

“What drew me to baseball was the camaraderie with my teammates,” he said. “Baseball is a slow game at times and just the talking with them between innings and during at-bats makes the game fun.”

In the meantime, Laing is waiting to see how much free time he’ll have to devote to athletics while apprenticing. His teammates tell him he has the talent to try out for the Intercounty Baseball League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s not interested in pursuing it at that level.

“I’ve had other teammates ask me that and tell me I’d be good enough to make an Intercounty team, but I’m not really interested in playing at that level,” Laing said.

Knock on wood, he’ll be back, somewhere.

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