Local Baseball Star Jeff Watkin to Play for US School


By Josh Beneteau

Jeff Watkin’s many months of training and sacrifice are finally paying off for him as he has accepted a scholarship to play for Grace College in Warsaw Indiana. Playing for the Grace College Lancers, Watkin will be one of the youngest starting catchers in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), as well as the first Canadian ever to attend the school.

Watkin started playing baseball when he was six, playing for an Amherstburg houseleague team. His parents signed him up not thinking much of it, but at the age of eight, a play Watkin made caught the eye of Amherstburg travel coach Brad Bondy.

“I threw a ball from centerfield almost over the backstop.” Watkin recalled, “Brad saw that and came to my games every year after until I played travel.”

Watkin joined the Amherstburg travel team as a pitcher, because of his strong throwing arm, and remained in that position for five years. At age 15, Watkin joined the Techumseh Thunder in an effort to get more playing time. It was while playing for the Thunder that Watkin moved from pitching to catching.


Jeff Watkin catches a ball while playing for the Tecumseh Thunder earlier this season.

Bernie Labutte was the catching coach for the Thunder’s under 18 team and Watkin credits him for helping him make the transition from atop the mound to behind the plate.

“I tried out for Bernie’s team as a pitcher.” Watkin said, “But he needed someone to catch in the bullpen. In an effort to get his attention I volunteered to catch and I made his team as a catcher.”

Labutte took Watkin under his wing for five months and taught him how to hit, catch and get noticed by scouts.

“He doesn’t care where you’re from.” Watkin said, “He will show you how to meet scouts.”

LaButte’s tutelage prepared Watkin for the college scouting season and helped him grow as a player. Watkin excelled this past season for the Thunder, with a batting average of .333, one home run and seventeen hits. He also improved greatly on his defensive play, the aspect of the game he loves the most.

“My favourite part about catching is that you get to command everyone.” Watkin said, “It’s almost like playing a board game. You tell the pitcher what to do.”

One person who was very impressed with Watkin’s command was the coach for Grace College, Bill Barr, who was excited to fill the catching hole left by a graduating student with a young freshman. Watkin turned down offers from NCAA schools that would have had him spending most of his time on the bench and accepted the school that was willing to give him the opportunity to play right away.

“I chose Grace for the baseball.” Watkin said, “They just built a new athletic center there and I have the opportunity to greatly improve my game.”

Watkin’s mom, Vicki Watkin, is very proud of her son’s accomplishments.

“I am in awe of Jeff’s focus.” Vicki said, “Everything that means something to a high school kid, including prom and graduation, he gave up for baseball without even blinking an eye.”

Watkin’s dad Dan Watkin was also very happy to see his son rewarded for his hard work.

“It’s gratifying to see him meet some of his goals while still striving for more.” Dan said.

Watkin plans on studying liberal arts while at Grace and hopes to major in history. If baseball does not work out as a career, he plans to become a high school history teacher.

As he moves into the next chapter of his baseball career, Watkin still has one goal he hopes to achieve.

“I want to get drafted in two years.” Watkin said, “Hopefully to the (St. Louis) Cardinals or (Toronto) Blue Jays.”

Based on how much work Watkin has put into his baseball career so far, that goal does not seem too far away right now.

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