There are 1500 baseball players across North America selected in the annual MLB First-Year draft each June, most of whom sign nearly instantaneously because of the opportunity to make a quick trip through the minor leagues en route to a glamorous major league career. For Vancouver Canadians RHP Taylor Cole
, the chance to sign as a professional baseball player wasn't worth the sacrifice he would have to make for his church, so the Las Vegas, Nevada native traded in his cleats for a plane ticket to Toronto, where he would serve a two-year mormon mission away from the game that he loved.
Now, the former BYU Cougar is hoping to regain the mound presence he had before stepping aside from baseball, while leading the Canadians to a Northwest League championship in the process.
In high-school, Taylor Cole was a two-way player, doubling as a shortstop as well as a hard-throwing RHP for Bishop Gorman HS. On the mound, his electric stuff made scouts compare him to Chicago White Sox RHP Jake Peavy, while at the dish Cole aimed to be like his childhood idol Mike Piazza. Ironically, the lifelong Dodger fan was picked by L.A. in the 26th round of the 2007 MLB Draft, but he felt that a season in college would suit him better than to rush into the minor leagues.
Enrolling at the College of Southern Nevada in 2008, Cole played under former Canadian OF Chris Sheff, and was drafted for the second straight year, this time by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 31st round. The D-Backs were very high on the young player who switched to the mound full-time, but the timing wasn't right for Cole to begin his professional career.
"I decided I needed to go on a mission for my church to serve the lord for a couple years," he said before a game at Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, "It was something I'll never regret."
Leaving baseball to travel to Toronto (where his mission was for two years) wasn't the easiest decision for Cole to make, but it was an experience for him that would change his life, as well as those whose lives he affected.
"If I didn't go on the mission, I'd have regretted it because I know how important it is to put the lord first, and it was something that I felt allowed me to become a better person and to have a better perspective on life."
After he completed his mission, the next step in his life was to get back into the game, and there was no better opportunity than to head to Brigham Young University, where he was technically a sophomore at 21 years old. The school's focus on both the importance of church and athletic achievements presented the best of both worlds for Cole in his comeback story.
"It was a good transition from the mission to being in an environment with school and baseball," he mentioned, "We had a great team there, and the coaches taught me well before this year to make a smooth transition even to pro baseball.
Cole started 15 games for the Cougars this season, going 5-5 with a 2.99 ERA, earning the attention of scouts across the west, and eventually his third draft day call. They say the third time is the charm, and for the fireballer, it meant a 29th round selection and his first professional contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The fact he was 21, combined with the confidence the Jays brass had in him, allowed Cole to be sent to the Canadians for Opening Day this summer, meaning he was coming to Canada for the second time in four years. Despite the six canadian-born players, Taylor may have had the most knowledge about the country after his life-changing mission exposed him to the great exploits of the 'Great White North'.
"If you would've asked me two years ago I would never have thought that Canada would be where I'd have spent three of the last four years of my life, but I've definitely grown a love for Canada having been on both the east and west coast of the country," he admitted, "It's just a beautiful country, I have a lot of pride for it, and it'll be close to my heart forever and I hope one day I can go back to the east coast and play in Toronto."
Being selected by the Jays was a blessing, allowing Cole the chance to live out his dream, while hopefully giving him the benefit of playing for his hometown Las Vegas 51s in the Pacific Coast League (AAA), as well as playing in Canada in the meantime and hopefully in the future.
"There were stereotypes before I came the first time (to Canada), but I kept hearing before I was sent here about how beautiful Vancouver was, and it hasn't let me down. There were a lot of positives to be picked by Toronto and it kind of goes back to saying how everything will work out. I'm proud to be here."
Since joining the C's, Cole has enjoyed every moment of his second Canadian experience, and enjoys the rush the fans give him every time he touches the mound.
"It's awesome, I love it. The environment is amazing, they put on a great show at the stadium and I think our play is bringing people out," he mentioned while noting that he feels like an honourary Vancouverite, "You really feel like you're playing professional baseball and it's something I've always wanted to do."
Despite having good numbers with Vancouver, he feels as though his velocity isn't where it should be, but it is forcing him to learn how to have better control of his pitches.
"The velocity will come, my body isn't in the shape it needs to be in, and I think that the time it takes to get my arm back to where I want it to be will be soon. I keep saying soon, because I want to get back and dominate, so it is a little bit frustrating," he said, "I need to be patient, work hard, and I do I believe I'll come back and get back to where I was before. I've had to learn how to pitch without the velocity I want so when that's back, I'll be a better pitcher and it'll be a good blessing."
One of the most humble players on the team, Cole is putting aside the frustration of his individual struggles to help the team win. Because at the end of the day, that is the main goal set out by the coaches, players and management of the Canadians.
"If we consistently do what we do, then things will happen in our favour because you can't worry about the outcome, just focus on what you can do. One of our coaches said, "Worry about yourself for the betterment of the team". I'll never forget that, because it creates an unselfish environment and makes us think about winning a championship."
Cole says that there would be no better ending to his first professional season than to hoist the NWL trophy come September. Right now, that's all that's on his mind with the first half coming to a close in a few days time.
"It would be incredible. I haven't won a championship since high school and obviously it's a lot different winning a professional ring, so I want to get back and get a chance to win a ring with these guys. We definitely have a chance," Cole said smiling, with the desire to win evident in his expression.
After putting his moral values above personal greed, and serving his church over serving himself, it may be the perfect start for Cole's career to go down as a champion, but it is far from the end of his story.
It is only the beginning.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.