Gideon at top of his game as post-season arrives
By Ken Pagan • Photo by Soar Photography
A mid-summer change of scenery did nothing to derail Justin Gideon’s career season. In fact, the move to the Welland Jackfish has sparked the ever-consistent Gideon’s game and he is primed for what he hopes is a lengthy post-season.
The 27-year-old outfielder put the wraps on his seventh IBL regular season with a 3-for-5 performance on Sunday in a 13-6 win over the Hamilton Cardinals, the team he spent the previous three seasons with before coming to Welland in late July.
In the win, which helped the Jackfish clinch a tie for the best record (31-11) in the IBL, Gideon launched his league-leading 19th home run, the second-highest single-season total in IBL history (Sean Reilly hit 21 bombs in 2013).
The five-foot-nine left-handed hitting Gideon has been a model of consistency since entering the IBL in 2015, a career .353 hitter over 1,100 at-bats.
What was different this season is the power stroke – his previous career high was eight home runs, which he hit in both 2017 and 2018 with the Burlington Herd.
He’s hit eight home runs in the final 15 games of this season with the Jackfish.
“It’s more a surprise to me than anyone else,” Gideon said in a field-side interview at Hamilton’s Bernie Arbour Stadium an hour before launching his 19th dinger. “I’m just happy to be playing well. I don’t think my approach (at the plate) has changed a whole lot. I’m just trying to hit the ball hard instead of worrying where it goes and the results have come.
“I’ve always had a goal of reaching double digits in home runs but it’s never been a goal of mine to lead the league or be up there with the top guys. I’ve always just strived to be a top player in categories across the board, so it’s been a surprise this year for sure.”
Gideon also led the IBL in hits (68) and slugging percentage (.781), was second in batting average (.382) third in runs (47), sixth in RBI (45) and 10th in stolen bases (14).
As he has matured in his mid-20s, the Brock University alum has paid more attention to taking care of his body, putting more emphasis on off-season workouts and game-day habits.
“I’ve taken my recovery and my pre-game routines a little more seriously this year,” he said. “I think being able to get back into the gym during the offseason really helped as well.
“During COVID (lockdowns) I was able to do some stuff at home, but nothing compares to being able to get in the gym and get a good routine going and keep the motivation. And this year, I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence, too.”
The spike in home runs aside, Gideon has been remarkably consistent in seven IBL seasons, routinely among the league leaders in batting average. He topped out with a career-high .435 with eight home runs in 2018 during the final season of the Burlington Herd, before the franchise relocated to Welland and became the Jackfish.
Gideon didn’t make the move with the team, staying close to home with the Cardinals in Hamilton for the 2019 season, but he has been welcomed with open arms since coming to Welland.
“I’ve really enjoyed coming aboard,” he said. “I’m familiar with a lot of the ownership and management from the Burlington days and there are still some of the same players and I’ve played against a lot of these guys, too, so there was some mutual respect. I was made to feel part of the team right from the get-go and I think that helped with the transition.”
Jackfish general manager Jason McKay did not hesitate when the opportunity came up to bring Gideon into the fold.
“I was getting, in my estimation, one of the top three players in the league year in and year out –longevity, track record, he’s a gamer and he never misses a game,” McKay said. “I thought I was getting the IBL’s Mike Trout. He can run, hit, defend, throw, hit for power. He’s a legit five-tool guy.
“The thing that really drew me in is I know he loves the game. He never misses. He’s an Iron Man, He hasn’t missed a game in his IBL career.”
McKay says Gideon has always had the swing that can produce power, and he’s happy to see the results coming in a Jackfish uniform. Gideon’s addition has made for a lengthier Jackfish lineup and there is a little more competition for playing time among an established group of everyday players.
Gideon is in the mix with a productive Jackfish lineup that scored a league-leading 426 runs in 42 games (averaging 10 runs per game).
Leadoff man Gianfranco Morello led the league with 60 runs and hit .333, while infielder Brandon Nicholson topped the IBL with 48 stolen bases and scored 44 runs. The Jackfish ran wild all season, with seven of the league’s top-10 base-stealers: Nicholson, Morello (36), Matteo Porcellato (27), Tyler Dupuis (26), Hogan Brown (22), Ethan Hunt (15) and Gideon (14).
The Jackfish will need to await the final game of the season to be played between London and Toronto to determine how the tie at the top of the standings effects seeding. Gideon does not mind as he states.. “I think the sky’s the limit with this team,” he said. “The guys are really scrappy and there’s no game that we’re not in. Even if we’re losing, we know we can come back. We’ve done it, so we have the confidence. And in a playoff series, we have good depth that can carry us.”