Dylan O’Rae has dreamed of baseball for as long as he can remember.
“My dad would take me to Detroit Tigers games. That was kind of our ‘thing’ and it really got me interested in baseball in the first place,” said the 17-year-old Northern Collegiate student.
“We’d cheer for guys like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. My dad was a baseball guy and it’s something he really raised me around.”
This month, the 17-year-old signed a letter of intent to join the baseball program at the University of Illinois — and it still feels like a dream, said the shortstop and second baseman.
“It was such a great feeling, one of those moments I’ve really been looking forward to.”
O’Rae started playing T-ball around age four before joining the Sarnia Junior Rookie Braves, with his dad Charlie as coach.
“My dad brought us over to the U.S. to get that experience, so we’d venture over there and play in tournaments,” he said. “From there we saw that I could maybe go to the U.S. and play travel baseball, so I ended up doing that for four years.”
After stints with the 10U Bluewater Attack program in St. Clair Michigan and the Motor City Hitdogs 11U squad in Rochester Hills, he joined the London-based Great Lake Canadians Program at age 13, where he’s been ever since.
This season with the Canadians he hit .550 with 55 hits, four home runs and 20 stolen bases.
He is currently the No. 9-ranked prospect and No. 2 ranked shortstop in Ontario, according to Prep Baseball Report.
“It’s something I really enjoy,” he said. “My teammates are some of my best friends, so anytime I can be around them it’s always a fun time.”
The son Charlie and Tammy O’Rae juggles a full schedule — after school he grabs a bite to eat before making it to Centrefield Sports in London by 4 p.m.
“Depending on the day, we’ll do fielding practice, skills, then get a workout in — agility training, weightlifting, then I’ll head home and figure out how I’ll get my homework done,” he said with a laugh. “It’s kind of a long day.”
Last year one of his coaches, Chris Robinson, sent video of O’Rae to officials at the University of Illinois — where the coach himself had a successful college career. That progressed into a verbal commitment from O’Rae, who officially signed on with the team Nov. 10.
“I’m planning on taking finance,” said O’Rae who’ll start there next fall. “So getting a degree is one thing. It would be awesome to potentially win a conference championship with the team.”
It’s been quite a year for the infielder. This fall he was named MVP of the Canadian Premier Baseball League’s All-Star Showcase, and was invited to Baseball Canada’s junior national team camp in Florida.
“It was amazing, to compete against the best players in the country is pretty special,” said O’Rae.
He also played hockey and basketball growing up, which helped him become a more complete athlete, he said.
“Every sport has its different skills you need to be able to play — and it all kind of translates over to baseball as well.”
O’Rae said his ultimate goal is to get back to a Major League Baseball stadium — and just not in the stands this time.
“That would be amazing,” he said. “To get drafted or signed to play professional baseball one day.”