I’m publishing this article jointly with my own blog, Blue Jays from Away as a multimedia extravaganza. Click the link above and you’ll be taken to my podcast that contains the audio of my interview with the Pompey clan.
Support from one’s family is one of the most important factors in one’s successes in life and baseball is no different. Covering the Toronto Blue Jays‘ minor league system in 2013, I met several proud family members who were at various ballparks cheering on their loved ones.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Midland, Michigan, I met Ken and Valerie Pompey in the stands during batting practice as they were watching their son, Dalton, the all-star center fielder for the Lansing Lugnuts, prepare for that evening’s game. Five months later, in a suburb of Toronto, we met to discuss the roles that they’ve played in getting their son to the level he’s at, excelling as a professional baseball player.
Baseball was always Dalton’s favorite sport, despite playing some basketball and some soccer as a boy. “The other sports that I played when I was younger, I feel like they were all geared towards helping me towards baseball,” he said. “I enjoyed playing them but baseball was my love from the beginning.” That love of the game and hard work has translated into some major accolades for Pompey, especially in 2013. He was a Midwest League All-Star, winning the MVP award for that game and earned himself the Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award for center field.
Dalton Pompey‘s development into what he’s become — a speedy, switch-hitting, slick defensive center fielder — is, in large part, due to the assistance of his parents who wanted him to excel at whatever he was doing. His time as a switch hitter began when he was just four years old and learning how to hit. When he began to play baseball, Valerie did some research since Ken had never played the game and read an article extolling the virtues of teaching young players to switch hit right from the start. They began by having him hit from his non-dominant, left side and integrated the switch hitting philosophy into his playing right away. He didn’t just face pitchers the opposite way at first: he would take a alternate at bats from each side, regardless of the handedness of the pitcher.
At the age of seven, when Dalton’s lack of speed was proving to be a weakness, father Ken enrolled him in track lessons at York University in Toronto. Ken noted that it was this coaching that really helped Dalton on the diamond, saying, “when he learned how to run, he showed more confidence.” Cleaning up his running mechanics, the coach soon turned Pompey into a speedster, a skill that would pay off down the line.
Ken Pompey understood his own limitations and always went to look for coaching from the experts rather than take on the projects himself. “I hired a coach who knew what he was doing to teach him how to run properly. . . I hired a pitching coach to teach Dalton how to pitch properly. I hired a fielding coach to teach him how to field the ball properly so that not only Dalton could learn how to do all this but so I could learn too.”
More coaching and more hours of practice with Dad followed and, while he didn’t hit his growth spurt until later, Dalton earned spots on summer travel-league teams and began to travel to places like Michigan and Cooperstown with his teams coming from the western suburbs of Toronto, cities like Oakville and Mississauga. Valerie was usually tasked with getting Dalton to his games and practices, logging thousands of miles on the road since, by that time, Ken was coaching Dalton’s younger brother, Tristan, who was playing competitive baseball too.
Of the time spent on the road to get to various baseball destinations, Valerie fondly recalls Dalton’s first over-the-fence home run at a tournament in Michigan as well as his participation in a “hit, run and throw” competition at a tournament in Cooperstown. There, the smaller boy showed off his speed in the “run” event, holding his own against players who were older and bigger.
For Dalton, his trip with the Ontario Blue Jays to Cocoa Beach as a 12 year old was an eye opener. “I didn’t play that much, I think I played one inning defensively . . . but it was good to see the work that they put in. . . . That was my first exposure to seeing scouts. We actually took a trip down to Tampa and watched a spring training game that the Yankees had. It’s exciting for me to look back on because if I’m in Dunedin next year, I’m going to play in that stadium.”