Two years ago, Kevin Atkinson was as good as gone. The Barrie Baycats dependable third baseman had made the decision to move back to British Columbia after splitting his time between his home province and Ontario.
This wasn’t the first time that Atkinson had to figure out where he wanted to be.
“The first two seasons, I would live in B.C., come here for the summer, and then go back,” said Atkinson, who was recruited to Barrie by former Baycat Greg Byron back in 2012. “It was the third season where I kind of had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to keep on playing or just stay in B.C. I couldn’t keep just picking up my life and moving back and forth, but I wanted to keep playing. I’d met the best group of guys you could meet, and they’d become my best friends, the guys I talked to every day. So I made the decision to move out to Ontario, got a job coaching the Ontario Blue Jays and did that for about eight months.”
When that was finished, Atkinson, who had wanted to do some traveling, went to Australia. Once he returned, though, he still needed to figure out where he was going to put down roots.
“When I came back, it was the same thing,” he said. “I’d said I was going to figure it out two years ago as to what I was going to do and now I really needed to do it.”
Atkinson decided in 2016 that he would head home, which would effectively end his IBL career.
“I had made a decision to go back to B.C., but me and Kyle DeGrace were out at a Jays game one night and met a guy named David Millen, who had just hired Kyle in a sales job and offered me a job with that company right after we’d met,” Atkinson said. “The funny thing is, he offered the job and I’d said no, I was going back to B.C. and my mind was made up. But I messaged him, he took us out afterwards and the night was on him. It was a great time. I said thanks for the food and pops, and asked if they were hiring. They took a chance, I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I’m still with that company.”
With Atkinson now living full-time in Ontario – and getting to see a lot of it, driving anywhere between Markham and Ottawa for work – he’s able to remain a member of the Baycats, a cross-section of gifted ballplayers and good friends.
“The talent level on this team is incredible,” Atkinson said. “There’s ex-(NCAA Division-I) players, ex-pro guys, and we’ve had some former MLB guys, so the talent is incredible. We have some late bloomers. If I was able to do what I can now eight years ago, I’m sure I would have played pro ball somewhere. A guy like Kyle DeGrace, one of the best catchers I’ve ever played with and can hit, or Jordan Castaldo too, they never got a chance to play, but if they wanted to, they could go and still play some kind of professional baseball.
“Who knows how far they could make it, but the talent level we have, it’s like a professional locker room. They just might not have been fortunate enough to be given the opportunities to be drafted or have a scout like them enough to put their job on the line.”
Since coming to Barrie, Atkinson has been a fixture in the middle of the Baycats lineup, typically batting anywhere between fourth and sixth. While that may seem like a curious spot for a batter that doesn’t like to swing for the fences, he has gotten used to his role in what is a dynamic lineup.
“I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable (batting cleanup),” he said. “I’m not uncomfortable, but it’s at a point now where you’ve played the sport so long that, whether I hit first or eighth or ninth, it doesn’t really matter. Hitting will always be the same thing. I’ve fallen into a comfort zone where I know what I’m capable of doing, whereas when I first came into the league, using wood bats every day, I didn’t have an idea of what I was going to be able to do. The last few years, I’ve really started to adjust. I can let loose and even sometimes try to square a ball up to leave the yard and not worry about the outside factors.”
He credits the deep Barrie batting order as a key reason his plate approach remains relaxed.
“I’m not in a situation where, if there’s a guy on third base, I have to drive him in, because there’s no one behind me,” Atkinson said. “Jeff Cowan bats behind me, and he’s won a batting title. Beyond that, you’ve got Branfy (Infante), who’s always good for six, seven or eight home runs. Glenny Jackson is there after him. Given how strong our lineup is, it’s allowed me to just kind of go out and do my thing and not worry if I don’t succeed with what I’m trying to do.”
Atkinson’s no-worries approach fits well with the Baycats, even if that remains a foreign concept to some of his Ontario-born teammates.
“It’s funny, because if I relate it to my work and personal life, people can tell I’m not from Ontario,” he said with a laugh. “What they say is that I’ve got much more of a laid-back attitude and I’m much more ‘go with the flow’. If something happens, then it happens. Don’t get mad over spilled milk.
“Some of the guys I play with and work with, in those types of situations, they’ll let that affect them. That’s the biggest difference for me, being brought up on the West Coast, to transitioning to being in Ontario.”
Brian Backland photo – Kevin Atkinson rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Hamilton Cardinals.