Cal Poly's Van Ostrand: Shuttler to Slugger

Jimmy Van Ostrand has evolved from a badminton star into one of the most feared hitters in the Big West

By Brian Milne

bmilne@thetribunenews.com


Tribune photo by David Middlecamp
Jimmy Van Ostrand has evolved from a badminton star into one of the most feared hitters in the Big West.
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Around the Van Ostrand household, it's known simply as "The Tape."
Jimmy Van Ostrand's mother, Sandy, breaks it out on occasion for friends or when her son's team is on the road, cooped up in its hotel and in desperate need of some entertainment.
When she pops in the treasured highlight video of her son, a wiry, 16-year-old Van Ostrand wows the room with his smashing swing and dashing defense.
And all of the tales that have been told about this young Canadian phenom quickly become a reality.
Jimmy Van Ostrand used to be one big, bad ... badminton player?
"I've seen the video and he's legit. He's no scrub because there was some serious highlights on there," said Cal Poly second baseman Brent Walker, who first saw the tape last summer when he and Van Ostrand played for the Anchorage Glacier
Pilots. "He's running around everywhere in his badminton clothes — that collared shirt and those super short shorts.
He was a stud."
Not exactly how you pictured the Big West Conference's most feared hitter honing his baseball skills back home in British Columbia, eh?
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Van Ostrand was indeed an acrobatic shuttler long before he was known as a burly slugger for the Cal Poly baseball team.
Van Ostrand, who came into the weekend with four more home runs than anyone in the conference, was ranked as high as third in the country as a junior shuttler and even won a pair of gold medals with Team Canada during the 2000 Junior
Pan-Am Games in Cuba.
The senior outfielder/first baseman even credits some of his success on the diamond to badminton, which can improve hand-eye coordination, conditioning and flexibility.
"I definitely get bugged by my buddies back home about not becoming a hockey player," Van Ostrand said. "Because of the weather up there, you could only play baseball for three or four months out of the year. Everything else you did had to be indoors. Badminton was something to do and I just started playing. I liked it because it was a great workout."
Van Ostrand's father,
Tim, agrees the "physically demanding" sport is what helped his son become a great all-around athlete.
Physically demanding?
Considered a leisure sport by many in the U.S., competitive badminton can be a fast-paced game where players leap and dive about to rally a shuttlecock that travels at speeds reaching 200 mph.
Average matches last more than an hour with shuttlers traveling anywhere between
3 and 4 miles during a single match.
"And Jimmy was pretty good at it ... always in the top five in Canada," his father said in a phone interview from their hometown of Richmond, British Columbia. "Back then he was tall, thin and hadn't put on the bulk he's had the last couple years. He looks completely different now. It's scary. Last time I saw him I hit him in the stomach and it was like I was hitting a wall."
Van Ostrand, realizing there wasn't much of a professional future in badminton, finally gave up hitting "birdies" for baseballs after his senior year at McMath Secondary School.
Without any major scholarship offers, Van Ostrand's high school coach, Ari Mellios, suggested he play baseball for an old friend at Allan Hancock College.
Focusing on the sport full-time for the first time, Van
Ostrand quickly starred for the Bulldogs and was a first team All-Western State Conference selection as a freshman and sophomore. Van Ostrand was drafted in the 29th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003 but turned down the offer to continue working on his game at Cal Poly.
"The thing about Jimmy is his work ethic and desire for the game are off the charts," said Cal Poly assistant coach Jesse Zepeda, a former Hancock assistant who recruited Van Ostrand to play for the Mustangs. "The ability was there (at Hancock) but that talent still had to be tapped. He was a kid that had to put in more time, and he's developed into that hitter a lot of guys don't want to throw to."
Despite missing six weeks with a broken wrist last season, Van Ostrand returned from the injury and hit safely in 22 of his next 49 at-bats (.449).
He finished the year hitting .345 with four home runs and 25 RBI in 40 games before moving on to the Alaska Baseball League where Baseball America ranked him the league's third-best prospect for the 2006 draft.
"He's been working for this ever since I can remember," said his younger brother David, currently a cleanup-hitting third baseman at Hancock. "I remember him asking for a weight set for Christmas when he was 13, and he's been using them ever since. He's been going nuts for the last year or so because he's
really focused on getting ready for professional baseball."
Those thighs that resemble tree trunks and arms that pass for pythons are proof of the hours the older Van Ostrand spent in the weight room this past offseason.
That sheer size combined with a Big West-best 11 home runs, 34 runs scored, 40 RBI and 77 total bases, are making the scouts drool and pitchers shiver (evident in the 25 walks and 9 hit by pitches he's received).
Then there's the part of the stoic slugger those outside the program rarely get to see.
"He's the first true leader I've had in my four years here," Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. "He's taken that role and cherished it and our team is better for it. We've had guys who were quiet and led with their actions but nobody like this. He'll confront the team if a practice or a game isn't going the way it should be and does the things that leaders are supposed to do."
All of which makes the former badminton star an intriguing prospect for local baseball scouts.
"He's definitely not hurting his cause this season," one scout said of Van Ostrand last week. "The thing that's helped him is he's performed well against some of the better pitchers going right now. ...
If he continues to show consistency, I can see him being
A FIRST-DAY, TOP-10 ROUND GUY."
If that's the case, Sandy
Van Ostrand might have to start showing another highlight tape to all her friends back home in Richmond.
One of her son playing baseball instead of badminton.
"Baseball's my sport now," Van Ostrand said. "It's been that way since my freshman year of college. Once I played my first full season of baseball and started lifting weights and all that, that's when I realized I wanted to take my game to the next level. Now it's all I want to do."