By Teresa Flores
Baseball is more than America’s favorite pastime. The love of the game has stretched far beyond the borders of the United States. Northeast Texas Community College Eagles baseball player Tristan Graham embodies that notion.
Making his way all the way from Canada, he has joined together with his teammates to help form a strong baseball team that is currently ranked fourth in the nation.
While some may not think of baseball as a Canadian sport, Graham has loved the game as far back as he can remember.
“I started playing baseball when I was four,” he said. “My dad had been playing all his life, and he got me into that as well as hockey.”
Influenced by his father, he continued playing the two throughout his childhood years. Graham said, “I’ve been into sports my whole life.”
“Where I’m from in Vancouver,” Graham said, “[Baseball] is probably, out of 10, like a 7. It’s not as popular as hockey, but it’s up there.”
He said that it is typical for Canadian baseball players to seek opportunities in America. “After you graduate, the main goal is to go somewhere down in the States and play junior college or NCAA.”
As for what he likes best about baseball, Graham said it’s a challenging sport. “It’s kind of set up for failure,” he said. “If you’re up 10 times at the plate, and you hit three times out of the 10, that’s a good day.”
However, when it came to playing both hockey and baseball, Graham said the two conflicted with each other. He said the scouts wondered which sport he was actually dedicated to playing at the collegiate level.
“I had to choose between the two sports, and I chose baseball at the age of 15 and I’ve been committed from there.
Assistant Baseball Coach Austin Knight said in his experience he usually sees this level of commitment in players who are not from the U.S. “I think we are unique in that we welcome those kinds of kids to come play for us because most of the time they really enjoy baseball, and that’s their drive and their passion and what they want to do,” he said.
Graham, a right fielder, was Knight’s first recruit as a coach here at Northeast. Knight said that there are some hardships with recruiting players from outside of the United States, but it can also be positive.
“If you have the right connections with people outside of the States, then you know you can trust their word on the kid’s character and ability,” he said.
He also mentioned recruiting within the country can be equally as difficult due to the competition amongst other colleges. “In the States, it’s tough. If the kid is from Texas, well all the best junior colleges in Texas are going after that kid.”
Head Baseball Coach Josh Stewart expressed some difficulties as well. “Sometimes you have to do your homework on these guys a little more,” said the head coach. “Maybe you only get the chance to see them play once, if that, at a tournament. You really have to evaluate the players on video.”
Graham’s talent managed to find its way onto the Eagle baseball field through a simple form of technology. The Canadian baseball player said Knight gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“We heard about him just through an email and a video that we saw and saw that he was a very physical kid,” said Knight. “He’s got a lot of tools, but we had never actually seen him play.”
An unexpected injury, however, plagued Graham’s practice abilities during the 2014 fall semester. “Before coming down here, I was playing in the nationals for 20-under. I was playing down in Nova Scotia, in east coast Canada,” said Graham. “I was diving for a ball and dislocated my left shoulder.”
But, the coaches said he has proven himself by bouncing back strong this spring season. “His production this far has definitely matched the tools that we saw initially,” said Knight.
The assistant coach also mentioned Graham’s intriguing character. “What’s funny about Tristan is he actually is a quiet person and kind of keeps to himself, but on the field he is very competitive,” Knight said. “It’s almost like a quiet, relaxed intensity that is something that our team has really benefited from.”
With his team back home in Canada, Graham said he was able to travel to other areas of the United States such as Arizona, Florida and Washington.
Though, this is his first time in Texas. As for experiencing any culture shocks, Graham said, “Surprisingly no, just like the little accents and stuff like that.” Despite the transition, he seems to be adapting fairly well.
“It’s exciting. I like it so far,” he said. “The team and everyone around the school and campus have been nice so far. It’s been a pleasure.”
Graham said his family back home appreciates the opportunity he has created for himself. “They love it,” he said. “My dad gave up an opportunity when he was younger, so he made sure I was going to play college ball.”
As far as his future plans go, Graham said, “Hopefully after two years here, I will transfer to a good NCAA school, or if everything works out, get drafted and sign to a pro team.”
Both Stewart and Knight said playing for Northeast has greatly benefited both Graham and the team. “This is the best two year school in the country,” said Stewart. “We’re just getting him prepared to move on with education as well as his athletic future. It’s a great chance to get playing time and really develop your skills.”
Knight said that he hopes the program can get Graham the opportunity to get a great education and degree.
“Hopefully we get him an opportunity to go on and get his bachelor’s at a four-year school and play baseball there or even professionally,” he said. “I think he has that kind of talent. He’s made the opportunity for himself. We’re just benefitting from his person and talent.”
By Teresa Flores