International student Greg Vukets a new face on Ryerson’s volleyball team

The country is different, but the volleyball court is almost identical to the one Greg Vukets left behind.

The 18-year-old looks at home as he jokes around with his new teammates during practice. You wouldn’t know that he left New Zealand just last month to begin his sports career in Canada as a Ryerson Ram. The adjustment to his new home in Toronto hasn’t been as challenging as he thought it would be.

“The cultures aren’t that different, people think I sound funny but that’s pretty much it,” he says.

The 6’2″ freshman shows a lot of passion for the game no matter what country he’s playing in.

“I like to bring a lot of energy when I’m on the court, I show up, I enjoy it, I play, I do what I’m told, its pretty simple,” Vukets says.

One of the reasons he started playing volleyball is because his family members were so involved with the sport. His Dad played on the Junior National Team, his sister played, and both of his parents coach. “It’s just kind of in my blood I guess,” he says.

Vukets had a leadership role on his high school team in New Zealand. He was captain on the Westlake Boys volleyball team for three years before starting out this year as a freshman.

When he has more time he’s  looking forward to exploring more of Toronto, despite leaving Auckland where he says his house was a fifteen minute drive to the beach.

“I love being in the heart of downtown, there’s lots to see, I’m excited to go and explore some different places.”

“[The move from high school] “has been different but its been really good,” Vuket says.

The setter will play his next game October 27th vs. McMaster.



Stroman eager and ready to go for 2017

Energy. Marcus Stroman has a lot of it. Talking about the start of next season with him is a little like watching a race horse waiting to sprint out of the gates and start running. It’s still months before baseball returns to the Rogers Centre, but Stroman is already prepared to go out and take the mound for the 2017 season.

 “I’m ready man, my body’s ready, I’ve been throwing and I’m ready to go,” he said.

Stroman says his knee is at 100% and he feels a lot stronger than last year, which will allow him to go deeper into games and pitch with more accuracy.

The 25-year-old has had a busy offseason, not out of necessity but by choice. “I’m someone who does much better with more on my plate than with less on my plate, I’ve always been that way,” he said.

One of the things he’s been working on in the offseason is his brand, Height Doesn’t Measure Heart (HDMH) which he says is currently run out of his house but may require expansion. “I literally just went home and my house is now like a warehouse. I had to go home and buy a shed so we could put a bunch of boxes and stuff in the backyard,” he said.

Besides working on his brand, Stroman has spent his offseason with family and friends as well as travelling. “I’m just doing everything I can to maximise living life and enjoying it,” he said.

 However, his job as pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays is still priority number one. “First and foremost, I’m in the gym every single morning, pitching,” he said. “First and foremost is bringing a championship to this city, that always is, everything else is secondary.”

The plan is to do better than last year. The Jays made it to the ALCS in 2016. “We want to go further, and I think that’s kind of the mentality, just taking that into spring training, he said. I think that’s the goal and the mindset of everyone in the clubhouse.” To help the team during the 162-game marathon, Stroman says he wants to go deeper into games. “I want to be the guy to go out there seven innings, nine innings, to keep my team in it,” he said.  

Stroman is excited to have long time Blue Jay Jose Bautista be one of those teammates. He says that Bautista has been instrumental in his career so far. “I remember one of the first starts in the big leagues, him coming over and talking to me about tempo and pitch selection. I’m always picking his brain about what to throw guys. He’s the first guy I go to, because I feel like he has the best strike zone judgement out of anyone in the big leagues.”

“I’m extremely happy to have Jose back, that’s my guy right there,” Stroman said.

As for himself, what’s left of his offseason before the team starts Spring Training in Dunedin, Florida won’t be spent staring at the wall or doing other forms of nothing. “I always like something happening, I don’t like sitting and playing games for three hours,” he said. I truly believe life is short and I’m just trying to make the most of my time here.”







Jays Pitcher Marcus Stroman visits Ryerson University

Marcus Stroman is a lot more than a Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher. If you have the assumption that in the offseason baseball players sit around, eat, and fly to expensive places to lie on the beach, Stroman doesn’t fit into that category.

He came to talk to a Ryerson marketing class this week about personal branding, specifically his brand “Height Doesn’t Measure Heart” (HDMH), a phrase he says he used to write on his hat back when he was in college. At 5’8″ Stroman is the shortest starting pitcher in the MLB.

I hated everyone saying “Stro you’re so little, it got super old, it still gets old,” he said.

“But I got over it, one day it just popped in my head “height doesn’t measure heart.” I would look at it and realize that regardless of my stature, I was able to compete at the highest level with the best athletes out there.”

Stroman said he’s just starting to realize how important branding is because a lot of athletes don’t do it.

“They don’t want to take the time, they don’t have interest, they just want to be one dimensional and just be sports sports sports. Well I’m completely far from that, I grew up in a household where my parents obviously pushed every sport but they also pushed me around to different things.”

Stroman said as he got older those interests stayed with him.

“It doesn’t mean I’m going to let it take away from my passion for baseball or mean I’m going to work any less. I realized I have an opportunity where I can do it all so why not do it all if you could?”

Besides having his own brand Stroman is in his own words “a pretty okay rapper,” and he also said he’s starting up a fashion blog soon. He said that the name of the blog is going to represent athletes taking their style in fashion beyond on the field.

He also recently collaborated on a song called “Shine” with rapper and close friend Mike Stud.

“I’m very into music. I secretly want to be a rapper,” he said. “I kind of want to pursue it a little bit because it interests me and it’s a very good outlet for me.”

Stroman is not the kind of guy who lies in bed and watches Netflix all day, he likes to keep busy and make the most out of life. He said he doesn’t need much sleep.

“I don’t like relaxing much. I can relax when I’m old, I’m young now so I’m going to try to do as much as I can.”

However with taking on multiple projects in the offseason and focusing on things other than baseball he said it’s come with some backlash from Jays fans.

“I got a tweet today ‘Stroman why aren’t you working on your sinker, why are you rapping, why are you traveling? You should be in the gym working out.’ “People don’t realize that I am doing these things, there’s plenty of time to be able to balance it all.”

Stroman is very active on social media so he’s very aware of what’s going on with fans and what people are saying. He says it’s been him on all his social media accounts since day one, which is rare for professional athletes who sometimes get assistants or marketing teams to handle it.

He said it’s possible to balance everything he enjoys doing, including baseball, which he says is his number one passion.

“It’s just a matter of not being lazy, of being proactive. People don’t realize this is extremely fun for me I’m doing things that I want to do. I’m working on music, I’m working on fashion, I’m in the gym training, it’s everything coming together, and it’s the pieces together that fit me as a person.”

Stroman says that his priority is still baseball and his eyes are still set on a World Series win.

“I’m sorry if you guys get mad that I’m rapping or making clothes, I promise you guys that I’m in the gym, I’m doing everything I can to bring a championship to this city, that’s first and foremost.”






photo credit: Steven Ellis




Tears from a Blue Jays Fan

I want to take my Blue Jays post season hat and my half crushed cookie that says “ALCS” on it and burn it in a nice little bonfire in my grandparent’s backyard.

It’s probably not the most devoted thing to say as a Jays fan, but they’ve both been sitting on my dresser for more than a week now constantly mocking me about what could have been.

Three wins away from the World Series.

I had already planned how the remainder of my student loan would be used to buy up as much World Series gear as possible.

Thank you government of New Brunswick.

So yeah, it sounds like a nice idea now to sit outside and toast a marshmallow over my burning post season hat. Maybe I’ll buy some hotdogs and make it a meal.

Besides, it’s cold in Toronto and well the players have probably all flew to warmer countries to cry, my options for traveling to a warmer place are limited by lack of funds (a.k.a. too poor).

So I guess I’ll just cry in front of my little fire and hope that Toronto doesn’t have any laws against burning things in the backyard.

Do hats make good fire starters? I suppose I could throw in my rally towel to help.

The sad thing is about the season is that I don’t really feel anything.

Maybe I’m in shock. I think it’s possible I have pent up anger. I’ve never been to a therapist before but maybe it’s a good time to start.

Or maybe I’ll just stock up on canned food, pretend I’m a bear, and go into hibernation for the winter. I’ll survive off of bottled honey.

Why bother coming out when there’s no baseball?

I’ll probably sound like an old person when I say this, but it literally feels like just yesterday that it was April and it was the first game of the season.

And now the World Series is starting today and we should have been in it. I had my hat and everything.

I was prepared to jump up and down and high five people I probably would have normally pushed in a rush to make it to the subway.

Living in Toronto makes a person kind of ruthless, but inside the Rogers Centre during post season baseball I didn’t feel like pushing anyone.

I didn’t know anybody and they didn’t know me, but our solidarity was represented by matching blue caps.

Now I guess I’m just going to have to lie in bed all day with the memories.

And so I don’t get too lonely I’ll probably cuddle up with one of those giant bags of Chicago mix popcorn from Costco. Well the Cleveland and Chicago fans are screaming and crying and doing whatever it is people do at a World Series game, I’ll be in bed trying to decide whether to eat a piece of caramel or cheesy popcorn next.

It’s disgusting, I know. I would much rather be at the Rogers Centre surrounded by people wearing blue and white jerseys and drinking too much beer.

I only wish I could be feeling what the fans are feeling in Cleveland and Chicago. The last time the Jays made it to the World Series I was three years unborn, so I don’t even know what it feels like.

23 years ago.

I imagine it’s something like the wild card game felt like, people jumping up and down like rabbits, acting like they had just won the lottery and that they were friends with everyone in the stadium when neither was true.

Being a sports fan is so much better when your team is winning.

Now I guess I’ll start on my big bag of popcorn. I’ve got five long months to go until April. Maybe if I’m feeling brave I’ll turn on the radio for a little and listen to the game. If I imagine hard enough maybe I can pretend the announcers are saying “Jays” instead of “Cubs.”

But hey, there’s always next year.






How to flunk photography class

I sat in my first university photo journalism class wondering why Peter, our professor, was speaking a different language.

He had an impressive grey moustache and a kind face, but he couldn’t speak English.

The marzipan chocolate bar I was eating began to taste like regret. I should not have taken this class.

It reminded me of high school math when I had no idea what the teacher was talking about.

But this time the confusion was unexpected. I was used to taking pictures for my family who have more pictures in the house than they do wall space. The documentary of our lives is plastered in the kitchen, living room, and even the bathroom. The car has pictures in it sticky tacked to the steering wheel.

I guess my mom likes to look at us when she gets road rage and thinks about honking at someone. Even the family rabbits picture is in the car.

I’m not kidding.

Since I usually want to avoid being in the pictures, I thought I was well practiced in being The Verge families unofficial photographer.

But Professor Peter was talking about some next level stuff.

ISO and depth of field were not in my vocabulary. I knew where the on/off button was, the take a picture button, and the review picture button. That had gotten me pretty far.

My mom thought I was a good photographer.

But our first assignment for photo journalism class was four pictures and it took me four hours to complete.

Mom was wrong.

I spent the first hour standing on the sidewalk taking pictures of cars and trying to make the car clear and the background blurry. I believe that’s called depth of field. Or it could be shutter speed, honestly I’m still confused.

When we got our week two assignment I got a little braver. Prof Peter wanted us to go out and shoot sports photography.

Me and my experience of three days using a DSLR camera thought it would be a great idea to take the assignment to the Rogers Centre field. Blue Jays batting practice would make great pictures.

I was given professional advice from a professional: fake it till you make it.

I could fake it. My media pass said photographer in bold letters. I was a photographer.

Well, I was definitely some sort of photographer as I stood on the Rogers Centre field aiming the camera in the direction of Dalton Pompey with the lens cap still on.

It took me three pictures to figure out that the reason they were turning out all black had nothing to do with the settings.

If my camera bag that said #23 on it since it was a school borrowed hadn’t given me away as an amateur, I was surely caught now.

My face was now a nice shade of red and it stayed that way until I left the field.

It was harder than I thought to fit in with the pros.

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to share the lens cap story with someone who was also on the field working for Sportsnet, and someone else from ESPN.

On one hand I feel like we’re all just people and we all started somewhere, even if it was taking pictures of a lens cap.

On the other hand if there’s anything that screams “don’t hire me” it’s probably telling people who could potentially one day be hiring you that you have no idea what you’re doing.

I didn’t really have a choice though because I couldn’t really quite figure out how to focus so I also needed some advice.

Professor Peter needed some pictures or I wasn’t going to pass the assignment.

Hopefully journalism is a bigger world than I think it is, or if it ever is those guys sitting across from me at an interview table they see past the lens cap incident and towards some sort of potential.






Excitement for 2016 Blue Jays felt throughout the city

It’s hard to spot an empty seat at the Rogers Centre. The blue rows are all filled with blue clad people. It doesn’t matter that it feels like 40 degrees out. Warm beer and hotdogs cooked twice-once by the staff and once by the sun-must be the new preferred taste.

Fans aren’t scared off by the heat, only by losing. The Jays are in 1st place in their division and doing anything but.

So, the fans keep coming.

They come off the subway at Union station and head in droves towards the Rogers Centre. Some have flew in to watch a series from different parts of Canada. I talk to a guy who says he’s a Blue Jays fan from Kentucky. Others I recognize as being permanent fixtures at the stadium from the beginning of April until now. And there’s the few that won’t remember the game at all. Not because of too many beers, but because they’re too young to understand what’s happening or where they are. They are the baby Blue Jays fans, they look the cutest in Blue Jays gear and usually end up passing out for the majority of the innings.

It’s because of fans like these, and because of the talent on the field, that every game seems to be a uniquely exciting experience.

Winning is fun.

The stadium is always packed even during the weekdays. It’s like the city of Toronto has forgotten work and other responsibilities in favour of staying out late, watching an incredible baseball team, and chowing down on overpriced popcorn.

It’s beautiful. It doesn’t just feel like glimpses of the 2015 post season, every game has that same kind of energy.

One game Melvin Upton hits an inside the park homerun that gives the Jays a lead in the bottom of the 8th inning. It feels like the magic that is happening in the Rogers Centre has reached an all-time high. It can’t possibly get more exciting.

But then the next game Josh Donaldson hits three home runs, and it’s just as much a jump up and down and scream until you lose your voice game as the day before it.

Hats are thrown down onto the field to celebrate Donaldson’s baseball hat trick. It has echoes of game five of the ALDS last year when beer cans were thrown down onto the field to protest a call.

But this isn’t a protest, it’s a celebration. And instead of the stadium echoing with boos, 50,000 voices are coming together to chant “MVP.” If you’re not standing up in your seat, you’re one of the few. It’s a magical place to be. The fans are brought to their feet at the Rogers Centre cheering on their Blue Jays multiple times a game.

I clap so much and so hard that my hands sting and turn a nice shade of red. I don’t have any power over what happens on the field, but support is the one thing I can offer.

There’s a lot of adults in the crowd, but here, we’re all 12 years old again. A middle aged lady struts around proudly in a giant bird costume. An older man has dyed part of his hair blue to show his support. A toddler has decided he wants to be Jose Bautista, and has a drawn on beard.

A toddler with a beard, who would have thought.

It’s the kind of season that I’ve come to expect incredible things to happen. The Jays have come back from losing 6-0 to win the game 12-6. They’re in 1st place in their division, and 4th place in attendance in the MLB, and they’ve won the fans confidence that no matter what the score they’ll come back and get the big W.

People who say it’s just a game have never heard what it sounds like when 50,000 voices come together chanting the same thing. Or heard the happy honks of cars in the street after the Jays won game 5 of the ALDS last year.

I watch an older man lean over and ask a Jays fan on the subway if they won the game. In a city where people generally keep to themselves, it’s amazing how people are all of a sudden part of a tighter knit community. I feel safer walking home at night surrounded by other baseball fans. Although in Toronto anonymity rules, I don’t feel like I’m surrounded by strangers walking home beside people who are all wearing the same Blue Jays hat I am.







Bob Elliott Is Spreading The Game Of Baseball

Bob Elliott is my mentor.

I guess he’s kind of like the wise old owl, and I’m the wide eyed baby owl.

Except we’re not owls, we’re people.

He is 46 years older than me, with blue eyes and a furry grey mustache. I’ve only met him in person a handful of times, most of our correspondence is done through email.

I write for his website “The Canadian Baseball Network.”

Elliott has been covering baseball since 1978, and is a Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

I have been writing about baseball for…about three years.

This may be part of the reason why I feel like we could both watch the same play on the field, and see completely different things. He could see talent, potential, a future MLB player- a story, where as I would just see a play.

I wonder what goes on behind the mustache and the blue eyes when Bob watches baseball and interviews players.

John Lott put it perfectly when he said of Elliott in a National Post article “Along the way, he was welcoming and helpful to countless writers wading into the baseball beat for the first time.”

It’s true, I am example of one of those writers.

Bob is kind enough to help me do a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.

Living in downtown Toronto I’ve learned that everyone isn’t a nice person.

There are those people who will walk down the street, hairy chest exposed to the world, and wave the middle finger at you just because they can.

You can shake that off.

The people you really have to watch out for are the ones who appear nice, but are just pretending to be.

It’s sad.

It’s like adopting a nice cat, bringing it home, and finding out it has a monstrous personality beneath that cute furry face.

But Bob is genuinely a nice person. There is no monster hidden away behind his mustache.

He’s helped me get into events that I wouldn’t normally have access to. I can send out as many “I love baseball please let me in” desperate emails as I want, but I would probably be greeted with suspicion and little else.

But Bob trusts me, and the Blue Jays trust Bob.

I guess he trusts that somewhere in between being a crazy baseball fan and a writer, I will find a balance and maintain my composure during interview situations.

It doesn’t matter if I sit in my bed the day before, chomping and burping my way through multiple chocolate bars.

He trusts that come interview time, I will act like a civilized human being.

Recently the Blue Jays had a “credentialed media only” appearance as part of the Winter Tour.

It was an opportunity to interview select Blue Jays players.

“Does second year journalism student count as credentialed?” I wondered.

I’m pretty sure it didn’t. I think if I had shown up and said “Hi, I’m Melissa. I’m with Ryerson University. I’m doing this for the school paper,” I would have been escorted politely outside and told to go home.

But Bob helped me get in, and whenever anyone asked I would say “I’m with Bob.”

When I signed in on the sheet before going upstairs to interview the players, it had a spot for “organization.” I panicked. I had no organization. I was just Melissa, second year journalism student.

“I’m with Bob” I whispered to the lady at the desk like I was divulging an important secret. “I’m actually not with an organization.” I looked around to make sure nobody had witnessed our exchange.

“I’m with Bob” seemed to be my answer for everything. It was the baseball version of “Open Sesame.” It worked every time.

“What should I put in the organization blank?” I asked. “Just put the Toronto Sun,” she said casually like it was no big deal.

I proudly wrote down the Sun. Underneath the guy from Sportsnet, there was my name! How exciting. I was part of the Toronto Sun for the day. Me!

I had never written an article for the Sun, but today as far as anyone was concerned, I was with them. Bob, me, and the Toronto Sun.

Who would have thought?

This event gave me more confidence in myself. I guess it gave me the confidence that Bob already had in me.

It was weird, I had interviewed people before, but never looked up to them like I looked up to the players I interviewed that day.

I skipped eating five cloves of garlic in one meal the night before (I love garlic) so I wouldn’t smell like death, and possibly cause an “injury by smell” to one of the players.

This was the first interview I’ve done that I didn’t blush. I didn’t choke on my own spit, or even worse, spit on the players.

I’m fortunate enough to have Bob as my mentor.

He’s not like one of those people where the more time you spend with them, the more you despise them.

It’s like the more I learn about Bob Elliott, the more articles I read about him, the more I realize what a likeable person he is.






Image by: Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun