Pitcher pulls off perfect change-up, from baseball to farming

Canadian pitcher Phil Aumont, whom the Blue Jays signed to a minor league deal last December, has chosen farming over baseball. He says the COVID-19 pandemic has shown him how critical food production is.

Gatineau's Phil Aumont should be training with the Blue Jays this spring, but COVID-19 threw him a curveball

Phillippe Aumont, pictured here pitching for Canada at an Olympic qualifying tournament, was among five players signed by the Blue Jays to minor league deals on Dec. 2, 2019. COVID-19 made him rethink his future. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

Talk about a change-up.

Pitcher Phil Aumont of Gatineau, Que., was supposed to be a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization in the spring. He'd signed a minor league contract Dec. 2, and was determined to earn a spot in the team's starting rotation at spring training.

Aumont had fought his way back after being relegated to scrappy independent baseball, including a stint pitching and coaching with the Ottawa Champions.

But then came COVID-19, and even though Major League Baseball is set to start in July with a 60-game season, Aumont, 31, has made the momentous decision to step back from competitive sport and take up farming. 

Aumont shared the improbable story with Stu Mills on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. Their conversation has been edited for length.

Aumont, 31, bounced around from the majors to the minors, then to independent baseball with the Ottawa Champions, where he set a single-game Can-Am League record with 18 strikeouts on July 16, 2019, against the Rockland Boulders. (Marc Lafleur/Ottawa Champions)

Why farming?

There's a meaning to it. I want to touch nature. I want to learn about animals, and growing vegetables and fruit crops. Just the endless possibilities for me on a farm are priceless. Baseball has been great. Baseball gave me an opportunity to do a lot of things in life, and I'm very thankful. But when the pandemic hit you saw what it caused in our cities. I just felt a need to start something, to just go back to nature and get away from negative stuff. It's something that my fiancée and I have talked about a lot — having a farm with chickens and pigs. You name it, we want them all.

You didn't grow up on a farm. This is all new?

This is all new. I mean, I've visited farms before. But it's something that we share in common, me and [my fiancée] Frédérique. We felt this was the right time. We were introduced to the farmer from whom we are going to rent. He's got 20-plus years of experience and he said, 'I will be there to guide you guys, and to make sure you don't make the mistakes I've made.' And we just thought it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. Baseball is only part of life, but nature is going to be there forever.

I was looking back at your professional career as a baseball player. You're listed as six-foot-seven. You were throwing a 96 mph [154 km/h] fastball at age 18. Is any of that useful when it comes to farming?

To do a few things you have to be strong, but there's so much equipment now that you can use. For me, it's not about strength, it's about the meaning behind it. Baseball, like I said, has been really great to me. But at some point I want to do something that's meaningful.

Any regrets about walking away from something at which you really excelled and had been such a part of your life since you were 11 years old?

No. I think that people who have regrets will die with regrets. I did everything for a reason and I enjoyed it. I've come to an end where I'm at peace with myself. I've succeeded in many ways in baseball. I've failed. I've gotten life lessons. I don't think about regrets at all. Just think about it — you're going to regret something, and then you grow old and just simmer on your regrets? That's not healthy.

The baseball season is going to go ahead in some form. Probably no fans in the stands for much if any of the season. Will you watch?

Yeah. I'll definitely watch baseball. I'm stepping away from competition, but I'm not stepping away from baseball. I will be there for my community. I will be there for baseball in Ottawa for what they did for me. I will find a way to help. I want to share as much as I can about my experience, and maybe offer some tips about what not to do to be able to succeed. 

Your daughter has just turned one. Are you going to teach her how to take a swing at a ball first, or are you going to teach her how to drive the tractor first?

She'll probably drive the tractor first. We're not going to set any limits on our kids. If you want to play sports and you don't want to touch farming? I am totally fine with that. But farming is family. It's all family-based. Hopefully she grows into that. We do need labour. Kids are cheap labour. More kids to come, hopefully. We want people to come to the farm and experience animals, vegetables and fruits. As a society we're growing into big cities. We forget that farms put food on the table. The community can come see where their vegetables grow. 

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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