It takes a different kind of swing to hit a baseball than it does a hockey puck, a lesson some of the latter sports' top prospects learned first-hand during a batting practice session at Coca-Cola Field on Wednesday afternoon.
Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, Olli Juolevi, Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre-Luc Dubois took turns taking cuts while players from the Buffalo Bisons watched nearby. Maybe the swings weren’t things of beauty, but there was some solid contact – just not enough to impress Bisons catcher Tony Sanchez.
"Oh, man, it's a good thing they're so athletic on the ice because hitting a baseball is not easy and it just shows," Sanchez said, laughing.
Sanchez played his college ball at Boston College, where he got a chance to befriend the hockey team and even get out on the ice from time to time, so he knows the sport. He even knows some of the pros, like former Sabre Nathan Gerbe and Amherst native Brooks Orpik.
"I know it’s one of the hardest sports to play, physically demanding," he said. "But you come out here and you watch them try to hit a baseball and you can't help but laugh."
Relief pitcher Dustin Antolin, a Hawaii native, is a bit less familiar with hockey. Not only had he never been to a game, he'd never even met a hockey player before. But he and Sanchez were both in agreement when it came to which hockey player looked best in the batter's box.
"I would say Matthews," Antolin said. "Matthews had a nice swing, a great swing going on. I can only imagine would that would look like with a puck."
"He had the nicest swing," Sanchez said of Mathews. "From the left side, pretty smooth. You could tell that the other guys really hadn't taken very many swings in their life other than slap shots and wristers."
Matthews did in fact play baseball until growing up and said it was his second favorite sport after hockey. He came close to putting the ball over the right field wall a couple of time on Tuesday, by far the closest of any of the prospects.
That ball never did find the stands, though, but to Matthews' credit he said it had been a while since he swung a bat, and he did only play until he was 13 years old. He was also aware of the enjoyment the Bisons were getting at his and his fellow prospects' expense.
"I think they were enjoying it for sure," he said. "It's pretty funny watching guys that don’t really play try to play their sport, so I think they had a good time."
As different as the two games may be, all of the athletes on the field were able to connect when discussing the week ahead. All six of the prospects in attendance will hear their name called during the NHL Draft at First Niagara Center this weekend, a moment already in the rearview mirror for Sanchez and Antolin.
"We were talking, you know, just about Friday and how exciting it was for them," said Antolin, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. "I remember when I got drafted it was pretty exciting so we had that bond right there so it's pretty cool."
"They don’t really know what to expect. They're really excited about the future and what to expect and it kind of reminded me of myself at that age," added Sanchez, a first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009. "It's a lot of fun to see them and how genuinely excited they are for the future."