STANDING TALL: Orleans' Demi Orimoloye hopes hard work pays off in Toronto Blue Jays farm system

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When Victor Tedondo got his first look at Demi Orimoloye several years ago, he could see the football potential in the large-bodied, athletic teenager.

Orimoloye was a baseball player — a really, really good one — who would start in Little League with the Orleans Red Sox, then play for the Ottawa Nepean Canadians and Team Canada. But Tedondo, the owner of Gridiron Academy, couldn’t help but think about the potential this kid, big and fast, briefly a defensive end and running back for the Orleans Bengals of the National Capital Amateur Football Association, would have as a football player.

“At one point, he was the fastest kid we had at the academy,” said Tedondo. “He was built like a tight end; he was a tight end playing baseball. He could have been a Division 1 football defensive end or tight end. I’m not surprised at the success he’s had in baseball; I’m surprised he’s not in the major leagues at this point.”

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While Orimoloye, then a student at St. Matthew Catholic High School in Orleans, trained with some of the area’s most successful football players — including Eli Ankou, Michael O’Connor, Luiji Vilain and Patrice Rene — Tedondo realized the kid was a very special baseball player, so why mess with that?

“Football was always there on the back burner if I really wanted to do it,” said Orimoloye. “I worked out with football guys, I was in that environment from ages 13-18.”

With Tedondo helping him with physical and mental training, Orimoloye, a multi-sport athlete who also played basketball and sprinted as a track and field athlete, just kept getting better. With a coveted combo of power and speed, he was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft. And, in 2018, he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade for outfielder Curtis Granderson.

Now, the 6-foot-4, 225-lb. Orimoloye is trying to work his way into the Major League picture to be part of a very talented young Blue Jays squad.

After a 2020 minor-league season that was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s starting 2021 at the double-A level, with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. In 27 at-bats through Tuesday, he has seven hits, with two RBIs and a stolen base. In his last full minor-league season — 2019 with class-A Dunedin — he had 12 homers, 64 RBIs and 22 stolen bases, with a .240 batting average.

Asked about being dealt to the Jays, he said: “I was in high-A Carolina League. In the middle of a game, they pulled me and said I was getting traded, pending a physical. I had to wait like an hour to find out where I was going. The coach said, ‘You’re going home.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You’re going to Toronto.’ I was excited, but I had to move on. I’ve always been goal-oriented, but as soon as something happens to me, I enjoy it for a bit, then I’m on to the next thing.”

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Demi Orimoloye gives an autograph to a young spectator before a minor-league game in 2019.
Demi Orimoloye gives an autograph to a young spectator before a minor-league game in 2019. Photo by Eddie Michels /Supplied photo

A bit more than a year ago, he was looking forward to his second season in the Blue Jays organization. Then, in the middle of spring training, baseball was forced to shut down when COVID wreaked havoc worldwide.

“It was definitely disappointing, it was supposed to be my first year playing at double-A,” said Orimoloye. “I thought I was getting close. The whole pause, you had to keep your spirits up and stay ready for when the opportunity came. I feel like I have a lot to prove. When I got traded to Toronto, I only really had a year to show the Blue Jays what I could do. So this is a really big year for me, it’s an opportunity. It’s just the beginning, I’m getting my feet wet again. It’s all about working hard every day, getting better and taking my power and speed and using it to my advantage.”

Putting it all together and finding consistency on a daily basis is what Orimoloye is looking for.

“There are obviously certain goals and numbers I’d like to hit,” he said. “But, for me, it’s just getting better every day to be the most consistent player I can be and when I get to that point, all the numbers will fall into place. Being able to do it every game for a whole season — not just doing it for a month, then being cold for a week — being able to produce consistently, is the difference between guys who are in double-A and triple-A versus everyday big-leaguers. It’s the same talent level, same pool, but the guys in the big leagues just have more consistency. I wake up every day happy to be here. I’m just going to keep working. Work is what gets people to good places.”

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Part of finding that level of consistency is remaining on an even keel in all situations. It’s something that Tedondo has helped him with over the years.

“Victor’s my guy,” said Orimoloye. “He made me as mentally strong as I am now. The workouts we were doing, the intensity, the frequency, you have to be focused to achieve stuff in life. He’s like a second dad to all of us.”

“I try to help the kids with their mental toughness,” said Tedondo. “One thing I tell them: ‘You’re judged when the times are tough; you see true character when your back is against the wall.’ ”

Orimoloye also has had strong family support to lean on — with dad Segun, mom Adenike and younger brother Temi, a baseball player at the University of Windsor. There’s also his girlfriend Tamara, who’s from Muskoka.

“Good days, bad days, they’re always the same — supportive and there for me all the time,” said Orimoloye. “No matter what I was doing — whether it was baseball, football, basketball or track, anything — (my mom and dad) supported me. Having that support system, knowing they’re always there for me, no matter what is going on, has been amazing.”

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