Most kids growing up in Canada learn to play winter sports. They play hockey, luge or maybe even curling, but not Cal Poly’s Jimmy Van Ostrand. Van Ostrand is a different story.
Van Ostrand grew up in the icy, cold climate of Richmond, British Columbia, which is on the Western side of Canada. But while most of the other kids were playing hockey, he did something very few other kids up north do; he played baseball.
“Hockey is way bigger than baseball up there, especially because of the weather, but I still wanted to play baseball,” Van Ostrand said. “It was tough, though, since up there we could only play for four or five months of the year because the weather would get bad.”
This was no problem for Van Ostrand, however, as he took up badminton in the off-season.
“I actually got pretty good, and I was ranked third in the country in my age group at one point,” Van Ostrand said. “But eventually I had to choose between baseball and badminton, and I chose baseball-it was my first love.”
Out of high school, Van Ostrand went to Hancock College, which lies in Santa Maria, Calif. There he met Jesse Zepeda, who coached at Hancock at the time. In early 2004, Zepeda signed on at Cal Poly to be an assistant coach, and a season later, Van Ostrand followed.
“Coach Zepeda was the main reason I chose Cal Poly,” Van Ostrand admitted. “He was a great connection to the school, and it felt like a good fit, so I came here.”
In his first year on the team, Van Ostrand exploded onto the scene. He hit .345 with four home runs and 25 runs batted in, and earned Honorable Mention All-Big West Honors as a right fielder. This year, Van Ostrand is playing first base as well.
“He made the change very easy,” head coach Larry Lee said. “He worked hard all fall and now he can play either position for us.”
“The positions are different, but I feel comfortable with both of them now,” Van Ostrand said.
First base is not the only new position Van Ostrand is in this year. He has also become the leader of the team both on and off the field.
“He’s a physical presence on the field, and has become the leader of our team,” Lee said. “He makes sure everything goes to plan, and we need him out there.”
But Van Ostrand remains modest about his new role, though.
“This team is very easy to be a leader on,” Van Ostrand said. “Everyone works hard and I don’t really have to say much.”
That hard work is paying off as the Mustangs currently rank No. 22 in the country. They also hold the most wins in the Big West, with 10, but Van Ostrand and the rest of the ‘Stangs aren’t satisfied yet.
“It feels good to be ranked right now, but our goals this year are to win the conference and qualify for regionals,” said Van Ostrand, who leads the team through 12 games with five home runs and 17 runs batted in. “Once we’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.”
Winning the Big West and qualifying for the regional tournament are pretty lofty goals, seeing as how every Cal Poly team in the past has fallen short. But don’t expect the same this season. Led by Van Ostrand, the 2006 Cal Poly Mustangs are a different story.