Hunger fuels Dustin Houle.
While he watched his classmates show up to school in name-brand products, money was tight at his house.
“It was tough seeing all the other kids with their luxurious stuff and I had to scrape by to get food in my belly,” the 17-year-old admits.
“I saw the kids with all their stuff and said to myself, “OK, I have to be better than them to get to where I want to go.”
Houle uses this hunger as his motivation.
“It makes me work a lot harder because I know I have to out-work everybody,” he said.
“Just knowing that I don’t come from a lot makes me hungry to get to where I want to be.”
Growing up in Penticton, Houle played plenty of sports, but baseball was his love.
Both his parents played, as did his brother, Jade, who is two years younger.
Wherever there was an open field, Houle would be out there playing, either in a game against kids a couple years older than him, or in the backyard with his family, throwing the ball around.
But even getting into organized baseball was a challenge.
“(We) didn’t have much growing up, it would be hard for me even to pay for baseball, which is a pretty cheap sport to get into it,” Houle said.
The generosity of coaches and sponsors, who helped the family cover registration costs, allowed Houle to suit up every season.
And he definitely showed a knack for the game as a power-hitting third-baseman/catcher for the South Okanagan Tigers, Penticton’s minor baseball association.
But to take the next step, Houle needed to leave home, so last year, he came to Langley and joined the Blaze program.
It wasn’t the easiest decision — Houle’s mom still cries occasionally when she talks to him and fitting in at a new school can be a tough challenge during the teenage years — but it has turned out to be a smart move in terms of the long-term benefits.
As well as being forced to “grow up and take on more responsibility,” Houle was exposed to better competition and more opportunities.
With the Blaze, Houle is batting .288 with five extra-base hits in 18 games. He’s first in the PBL with one home run and 15 RBIs. He has also stolen eight bases and is an outstanding fielder.
Over a full season in 2010, Houle hit .289 with nine extra-base hits and 19 RBIs in 42 games and 121 at-bats.
“He is arguably one of our best hitters and one of the best in the country,” said Blaze coach Jamie Bodaly.
Playing in the PBL, considered perhaps the top U18 league across Canada, led to his selection as part of the Canadian junior national team program.
Houle, along with three of his Blaze teammates, has been in the Dominican Republic with the Canadian squad for the past two weeks. They are due back on Friday.
“It’s a big honour to have that Canadian name across your chest,” he said. “No other feeling is better than that.”
Houle also finds himself on the radar for next month’s MLB amateur draft.
One scouting website has him listed as the second-ranked prospect among the 37 Canadian high school players eligible for the June 6 draft.
For his part, Houle is attempting to focus on playing and getting better. He does admit that having scouts watch you can make for difficult times.
“(The scouts) are low key but it is still nerve-wracking at times, a bunch of scouts looking at you,” he said. “A lot of pressure is on.”
And should Houle get drafted but not sign with whichever team selects him, he already has a scholarship to Florida’s Chipola College, one of the top junior college baseball programs in the U.S.
Baseball Canada’s Greg Hamilton said Houle has a chance to be a real solid player, citing his arm strength and bat as his best attributes.
“He takes instruction very well,” the coach said. “And he carries himself like a professional player. I think if he chooses that route, he will play well every day.”
Bodaly said that you can tell Houle is committed to improving
“Baseball is his life, he is dedicated to the game,” he said. “He wants to learn, he wants to get better.”
When he arrived in Langley last season, Houle had the tools, but was very raw.
But through hard work, he has improved to the point he has a scholarship for next season should the pro game not pan out.
Houle remains humble and hard-working, and grateful for the opportunities he has received.
“It feels good to know I have worked hard enough to achieve what I have (so far),” he said.
He is also quick to credit his coaches, past and present, for his success. Especially with the Blaze and their myriad of connections in the baseball world.
“It is good to have guys like that in your corner,” Houle said. “Having them as supporters is probably key to where I am