By Tyler Lowey:
The bright lights of National Collegiate Athletic Association Regional tournament are not as blinding as they should be for Matt Lloyd. By now, his eyes have adjusted to the spotlight over the past eight years, as the Okotoks Dawgs and Dawgs Academy product has participated in highly scouted tournaments and competed for several national championships at the high school and collegiate level.
While Lloyd is currently trying to figure out a way out of Austin, Tex. and onto the Super Regionals, there is a realistic chance of hearing his name called by one of 30 teams during the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft June 4.
“Getting drafted is something I always wanted to happen and that’s eventually what I hope all this work I have put in leads to one day,” said Lloyd, who could add his name to the list of Academy players such as Jim Henderson, Emerson Frostad, Matt Ircandia, James Avery, Jordan Procyshen, Tyler Hollick and Clayton Keyes, to name just a few of Dawgs youth players to hear their name called by an MLB club. “It’s been my dream to play pro ball and play in the big leagues ever since I started taking baseball seriously, which all started once I moved out to Okotoks to play for the Dawgs.”
Lloyd is now nearing his completion of his junior year at Indiana University. As a utility player dominating both sides of the ball, he is trying to lead his Hoosiers to the Super Regionals and ultimately the College World Series for the second time in school history.
But Lloyd wasn’t always destined to be a star on the NCAA stage. It was one major family decision and a commitment to a program that helped point him in the right direction and take him to the footsteps of achieving all of his baseball goals.
After playing with the Coyote Youth Baseball Program in Calgary and making a trip to the Baltimore, Md. for the Cal Ripken World Series, Lloyd’s eyes opened to the type of elite baseball that was out there, and he wanted in.
That’s when his family packed up and moved to Okotoks after learning about the Dawgs Academy program that was beginning to take off.
“I remember seeing the facilities for the first time and they were unbelievable. The coaching staff there also seemed like they were top-notch,” said Lloyd, now 22. “There wasn’t a lot of that elite talent or elite programs inside Calgary. If I wanted to be exposed to that type of elite baseball, I had to be in Okotoks. Moving to Okotoks was easily the most important part of my career up to this point.”
When Lloyd walked into the Duvernay Fieldhouse for the first time as a 14-year-old, he didn’t look like a player that would be named to the first team All-Big 10 and as a second team All-American one day.
“He was just a normal-type player when he got here. He played shortstop and pitched for us the first year with the bantam team. He didn’t really stand out up against some of the older guys. He was a good fielder and a left-handed hitter that slapped the ball the other way,” said Dawgs Coach Allen Cox. “The one thing that did stand out was how competitive he was on the mound. He wanted to be up or have the ball in the big moments of the game. That’s something that hasn’t changed about him to this day.”
Lloyd was thrown into the spotlight his first year with the Dawgs, as they won provincials and finished fifth at the 2010 nationals in Vaughn, Ont.
The following summer, the Dawgs one-upped themselves and ended taking home silver from the national tournament after Lloyd stymied the powerful Team B.C. bats in the semis. He chucked a seven-inning complete game gem, where he struck out eight, only allowed five hits and blanked the top scoring offence from nationals.
“When he beat B.C., we all looked around at each other and knew we had something special,” said Cox.
Working out, taking ground balls, throwing bullpens and hitting in the cages became a daily occurrence that winter for Lloyd, as he prepared to make the jump to the midget program.
Lloyd joined the Dawgs Midget Blacks after they won the Alberta Championship and moved on to Canadian Nationals in Québec City where he pitched a complete game, 10-strikeout, three-hit performance in the gold medal game, as Team Alberta defeated Team B.C. 4-1 to claim the program’s first national championship. Lloyd also hit .313 with five RBI in six games at nationals,
“I started growing into my body a little more and began hitting the ball out of the yard. That’s when things started to click for me,” said Lloyd.
Lloyd went onto obliterate the competition in the Norwest League over the final two seasons of his high school career. He racked up five home runs, 54 RBI, 11 doubles with a .434 average over a limited 130 at bats. Lloyd was a key contributor in the Dawgs silver-medal performance at the 2013 nationals and earned an invite to join the national junior team.
“It was an unbelievable experience to represent my country. To go up against some of the best players from around the world in my age group was an incredible experience,” said Lloyd.
As a Grade 11 student, Lloyd joined Team Canada for a trip to Boston, Mass., where the national junior team battled against the top collegiate summer league teams from the legendary Cape Cod League.
The following year, he logged even more time with Team Canada, making his way down to Florida for some spring training trips and won the bronze medal at the 2014 Pan Am Games in Mexico.
His Junior National Team success led to a phone call from Marc Rardin, head coach of the three-time Junior College national champion Iowa Western Reivers.
“Before I knew it, I was flying down for an official visit to Iowa Western Community College and I fell in love with the program. It is a blue collar organization, blue collar school, had great facilities and the head coach was an absolute genius.”
After signing his Letter Of Intent, Lloyd suffered a setback when a recurring elbow injury led to Tommy John surgery.
“It was really frustrating at times. I tried to stay positive and I tried to be around the team as much as possible,” said Lloyd. “I looked at it in two ways: I could either roll with the punches, or stay down and feel sorry for myself. Fortunately, I decided to keep my head up, exercised, worked hard and got back on the field as soon as I could.”
The Reivers are thankful he chose the high road; as all he did when he came back from injury was crank nine homers, drive in 59 RBIs in 63 games, while carrying a .371 batting average and a ridiculous 1.027 OPS.
“It was important for me to be at a spot where I could pitch and hit, in order to keep my options open as long as possible,” said Lloyd, who played all four infield positions at Iowa Western, as he was named to the first team All-Region as an infielder and as a pitcher.
On the mound, the elbow showed no signs of weakness, as he went 7-0 in the regular season and whiffed 58 batters in 55 innings to sport a 2.78 ERA, all while leading his Reivers to the semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series.
Following his completion at Iowa Western, Lloyd accepted a scholarship to Indiana University, where he helped his team reach Regionals while DHing, playing all over the infield and working as a relief pitcher.
“We were very attracted to his ability to play both ways. We knew coming out of high school that he was a very good shortstop, so he had the versatility to play all over the field. We also knew that he had the arm strength to pitch,” said Hoosiers Head Coach Chris Lemonis.
In his two years and 315 at bats with the Hoosiers, Lloyd has crushed 19 home runs, 84 RBI, registered a .288 average with a .878 OPS. On the mound, he has been just as dominant. In 34 relief appearances, he owns a 7-4 record with 15 saves, and has registered a microscopic 1.73 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. As of last week, he can now add being named an All-American to his long list of accomplishments.
Lloyd’s dominance on the biggest collegiate stage has kept him longer than the traditional school year and it is unclear when — or if (with the MLB Draft imminent) — he will return to the Dawgs lineup where he torched the Western Major Baseball League competition to the tune of a .402 average with eight long balls, 38 RBI and stole seven bases in 39 games last summer.
“I’m not too sure what the next couple of weeks are going to be like for me right now. All my attention is with my team here, but the draft is also something I will be keeping an eye on. It’s something I’ve wanted my whole life and I think it would mean a lot for me and my family to hear my name get called,” said Lloyd, who grew up a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan. “Whether I’m back in Okotoks or not this summer, that doesn’t change the fact that the program was huge for me in getting me to where I am today. They turned baseball from just being a sport into a lifestyle. They gave me an opportunity to chase my dreams and I’m very grateful for the program and everything it has done for me.”