Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN) – Victoria Eagles pitcher Kurt Horne has just returned from the Dominican Republic where he was in camp with the Canadian Junior National Baseball team and ISN's Christian J. Stewart caught up with the towering lefty to discuss the experience and what appears to be a promising baseball future for the youngster from Sooke.
Over the past two years, two elite Victoria baseball players and past members of the Canadian National Junior Team have gone on to sign contracts with Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs. Last season, former Victoria Mariner Jesse Hodges had an incredible run with the 2012 Junior National team in Korea and was signed by the Chicago Cubs, while in the most recent MLB entry draft last week, former Victoria Eagle Nick Pivetta – who played for the Junior Nats from 2009-2011 – was drafted 136th overall by the Washington Nationals and will be signing to play for that organization very soon.
Perhaps next in that progression to the big leagues is 6'5" Kurt Horne, a towering left-handed pitcher from Sooke, BC who is playing for the Victoria Eagles in the BC Premier Baseball League and who has just returned from his second camp with the 2013 Canadian Junior National Team which took place recently in the Dominican Republic.
To his credit, the 16-year old Grade 11 student at Edward Milne Secondary does not concern himself too much with MLB draft opportunities yet, choosing at present, to focus on continuing his development with the Junior Nationals and with his Victoria Eagles premier squad and having fun doing it.
"I don't think about that [the draft] too much" said Horne. "Right now I play the game and have fun with it. I'd like to have a future in baseball, whether its college or professional, which is what everyone in my position wants to do – getting paid to play a game you love – but for now I just play and I'll let whatever happens happen."
That "whatever" for Horne has certainly been a positive one to date for the big lefty.
Growing up in Sooke, Horne began his minor baseball career with the Triangle Baseball association before moving over to Gordon Head at the Mosquito level. Numerous Greater Victoria Baseball Association All-Star teams and a quick seven years later, Horne stands ready to take his game to the next level.
A dominating pitcher at any age group he has played at, Horne credits his father Rocky and his mentor, well-known Victoria baseball coach and trainer Marty Hall, with his development on the mound.
"I've known Marty Hall all my life and he is like family to me" said Horne. "My Dad helped give me the key mechanics, or using a car term if you will, Dad put me together, while Marty then has polished me up and cleaned me up. Marty has been a huge mentor for me, he's always around and will come to my games and give me advice and such. He has been huge for me and helped me quite a bit."
In his first season last year (2012) with the Premier Eagles, the then 15-year old Horne was impressive, pitching in 14 games with 8 starts and amassing a record of 5 wins and 2 losses with an ERA of 2.01. He also had 51 strikeouts.
In his limited action with the Eagles thus far in 2013, Horne has taken the mound twice, most recently in a complete game 8-inning 1-0 shut-out win over North Delta this past Saturday and in 11 innings of work total, has not allowed a run, has given up just 5 hits, has struck out 10 batters and has issued only a single walk.
Horne's 2013 Premier League experience has been curtailed by his involvement in the two Junior National team camps, one in Florida and the most recent in the Dominican, both of which Horne has enjoyed immensely.
"The Junior National team has certainly been a life experience. You learn a lot from National level coaches, not only about the in-game things, but also on how to warm-up and prepare for games, little things that you can bring back to your club team not only to make yourself better but to pass along and make your teammates better."
"The experience in the Dominican was also incredible from a cultural perspective" added Horne. "It was really eye-opening to see how predominant baseball is in their culture. We stopped one time at a field – if you can call it that – carved out of dirt and rocks, but yet there were 50 or so kids of different ages all playing the game with passion, despite not really having the same level of coaching and training that we get here in North America at the same age."
Asked what it felt like the first time he pulled on the Canadian jersey, Horne replied, "It's an unbelievable feeling. You can't believe you are wearing your country's jersey and then when you go out on the mound, it kicks in that you are pitching for your country against guys that are getting paid to play baseball."
One of the biggest changes in Horne and his approach to the game in recent years has been his maturity on the mound. At the younger levels, Horne would tend to get upset very quickly when teams would string together a few hits or runs, but now, Horne is much calmer and instead of getting upset, uses that energy to find ways to get himself out of situations.
"I knew that playing for the National team I would have to mature quickly and to stay relaxed on the mound and not get too upset when I have a tough inning. I try now not to let stuff get to me. I feel that once the ball leaves my hand, I have no control over the outcome…if the kid hits it, it's a good hit. I just have fun now when I pitch and do my job."
Next up for Horne with the Junior Nationals will be a camp in Toronto at the end of June and a trip to New England to play against teams in the summer collegiate Cape Cod League. They will then travel to Australia and ultimately Taiwan for the World Championships August 30th to September 8th.
In between all that, Horne will continue with the Eagles in a dual role as both a pitcher – likely next seeing action against the rival Victoria Mariners this coming Thursday – and a position player (first base), but despite the advantages his height and left-handedness bring to the first base position, the reality down the road with the Junior Nats and perhaps beyond, is that he will only see action on the mound and will leave his fielding and batting days behind.
Unless of course, somewhere down the road, Horne has the good fortune to be drafted by a National League team, in which case, we may once again see him at the plate, batting in the number nine position, once every four or five games or so.