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COLD COMFORT
Twins infielder Edouard Julien is right at home amid his French-Canadian roots in Quebec City
By Jerry Crasnick

When the baseball season ends in October, dozens of players escape the winter cold in their home markets and head for Florida, Arizona or other more temperate venues, where the weather is more conducive to working up a sweat in the gym and lowering a golf handicap amid family time.


Edouard Julien, a young infielder with the Minnesota Twins, prefers a climate more befitting bobsledders, ice fishermen and Olympic curling aspirants. When he eases out of his driveway in the morning, the front and rear window defrosters are on blast and there’s always room in the cup holder for a piping hot coffee.


Julien, 24, struck a blow for French-Canadian pride this season when he joined former Detroit Tigers catcher Max St. Pierre as the second Quebec City native to play in the majors. His debut was the latest step in a professional journey that began in 2017, when he left his home in Canada for Auburn University in Alabama, speaking only French, and showed enough prowess as a hitter for the Twins to sign him out of the 2019 June amateur draft.

After hitting 17 home runs, celebrating an American League Central title and a Wild Card Series win with his teammates and finishing seventh in AL Rookie of the Year balloting, Julien is back home in Quebec, where the average annual snowfall is 112 inches and the daily January temperature usually hovers around 20 degrees Fahrenheit.


“I have a chance to be with my family and friends and kind of disconnect and think of something else besides baseball at times,’’ he said. “So I think it's the perfect fit for me.’’


As spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., draws nearer, Julien spoke with the MLBPA about his background in Canada, the challenges of learning English on the fly in college, and all the moments that dotted a memorable first season in Minnesota.

What was your orientation to baseball as a youngster in Quebec City?

I grew up watching baseball, but it was more the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays -- the teams in the Northeast. In the winter, hockey is big. I used to ski a lot and play pond hockey with my friends. In the summer, I would catch baseball games here and there, but it wasn't a priority for me.

Your dad, Remy, was an Expos fan. Did he ever talk about following the team?

He talks to me about it all the time. He tells me a lot of stories about all the great players that played in Montreal, from Vlad Guerrero to Gary Carter and Pedro Martinez, and how they used to develop a lot of prospects and it was a big thing in Montreal. But I think the (1994) strike kind of shut down everything, and when they announced the team was leaving the popularity was not there anymore. But he loved baseball and he gave me that passion for the sport.

You were born in 1999 and the Expos left in 2004. Did you ever get to Olympic Stadium for a game?

I don't remember anything about the Expos. I remember more my first game when I was a little older. I went to a New York Mets game at Shea (Stadium) and I remember watching Jose Reyes as a shortstop when he was a younger player -- just his speed and the way he hit for power and played defense. He was electric, and he had a huge smile every time he played. For me, hockey was easier to follow because I grew up idolizing French-Canadian players from my city and wanting to be like them. But after seeing Jose Reyes and falling in love with the game, I was like, ‘That’s it.’ I really wanted to be a baseball player. That really changed my life.

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How immersed were you in winter sports as a boy?

We had a pool, and in the winter the water would become ice and I would play every night after school from early December to late March. My parents wanted me to ski and have it be more of a family sport with my sister, but hockey was my favorite sport even though I didn't play it on a team.


We have a couple mountains close to the city of Quebec and I would do alpine skiing and racing and I was pretty good at it. We would go to this mountain cottage and practice and have races every other weekend -- slalom and grand slalom. That was a nice highlight of my childhood, for sure.

Did you ever crash?

I probably crashed once or twice, but no major injuries, luckily. Baseball is a lot easier on the body, but it’s a little harder to have success. I think I picked the right sport.

Canada has produced some great left-handed hitters -- Larry Walker, Joey Votto and Justin Morneau, to name a few. Your father was your coach from an early age. What lessons did he ingrain in you as a hitter?

We have a lot of good lefty hitters in Canada. When we pick up a hockey stick, we put our right hand on top because we're mostly right-handed, so it's just natural for us to swing lefty. I started playing at four or five years old. My dad put a bat in my hands and he would always tell me to just whip the bat and swing hard. He didn't really know a lot about baseball or hitting mechanics. But he knew that if I swung hard, I would hit the ball further. That's the biggest thing that’s stuck with me even today. My game is basically based on bat speed and having a quick launch. I'm just happy my dad taught me all that stuff when I was younger.

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Were there hitters you patterned yourself after as a young player?

When I was younger, I would only watch Jose Reyes. He played shortstop and I played the middle infield and I wanted to be like him, so I copied everything he did. He was a switch-hitter, so I even tried switch-hitting. Then when I got to college and pro ball, I started looking more at guys like Joey Votto and Justin Morneau and Robinson Cano -- lefty hitters who had a lot of success and took their walks and got on base and were more than just hitters.

You were drafted in the 37th round by the Phillies, didn’t sign, and decided to attend Auburn instead. How did that unfold?

When I was 16 or 17 years old, I played on the Junior National Team in Canada. We made a couple of trips in Florida and the Dominican, and a lot of scouts would come watch us play and practice. Brad Bohannon, the recruiting coordinator at Auburn, started recruiting me at a young age and I decided I wanted to go there. From what I heard, I knew the SEC was the best conference for baseball in Division I. They played in a big stadium and had big football and basketball games and it was a fun school to go to. After a visit, it was a pretty easy decision for me to commit there.

How much of a culture shock was it, because you didn't speak English?

I didn't really know much about Alabama, and I had never been there before going to college there. It was hard for me to communicate with people at school, and I knew nobody. I was lucky to have all the guys on the team and learn English from them. The culture shock was big because the food is different, and the way they talk is different. You’ve got to be polite with people and call everyone ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Sir.’ After a couple months I kind of got used to it, and it became a part of me. I even started saying ‘Y’all’ all the time.
 

The first month was eye-opening because it was a lot of mac and cheese or fried chicken. Everything was fried, and back home we don't really eat that stuff. It's more lean stuff like vegetables or lean beef or chicken with rice. It was good food, but I gained a lot of weight. Once the season started and we got fed by the team, it was fine. I have nothing but good things to say about Alabama and the South.

Did you watch a lot of TV to learn English?

I'm a guy that's not afraid to fail and is not afraid to get picked on. I wouldn’t watch TV at all. I would always be with my teammates, and guys would come to my room and we would just have fun and hang out. I would talk with them and just try to listen, and they would correct me if I was wrong or just make fun of me. After a month or two, I kind of caught on and I was able to communicate a little better and my accent started to disappear a little bit. It was me failing and learning.

Frank Thomas and Bo Jackson are among the famous athletes who went to Auburn. Did you ever meet them?

I never met Fred Thomas. I met Bo Jackson once. Josh Donaldson came back one year and spent a day with us in the fall and I was lucky to take groundballs and hit in BP with him. He was such a good leader for us to have in town, just sharing (stories) about his college career at Auburn and his failures in pro ball and how he had to work hard to get where he is today. He was a model for us, for sure.

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You spent parts of three seasons in the minors before making your big-league debut. What did you learn from that experience?

My first year in pro ball, I saw all the Dominicans and Latin players who were so good defensively and hit the ball far and had so many tools and were so much more gifted than I was. It was hard for me to project myself to be a big-league player. You try to be confident and believe in yourself, but it's hard when you see all these kids who are 16 or 17 years old that hit the ball harder than you and throw harder and have better hands. 


At the end of the day, I kind of had to believe in myself. I was so strong mentally that once the game came around, I knew I was going to perform better. I think that was the biggest jump for me -- to let the noise outside just be outside and focus on myself and work hard. Every day is a different day and you have to get better every day.

You made your big-league debut against the White Sox at Target Field on April 12. The next day, you collected your first hit and home run at Yankee Stadium. How much of a whirlwind was that?

I remember getting on the plane at 5 a.m. and getting to the field at 12 that first day. It was a day game, so I got my work in quick. I thought the big leagues were so much different. But once you get there and you’re between the white lines, it’s the same game. The bases are in the same place. At the end of the day, it’s just better players.


I had around 25-30 people in New York. I got my first hit on the first at-bat. And then we scored six or seven runs and faced a reliever and I got my first home run. It was a surreal moment because I did both of them in the same inning. It’s something I’m going to remember my whole life -- seeing the videos of my parents and friends and old coaches filming each other and cheering and jumping and being happy. It’s a lot of emotion. Even to this day, I watch the video and I get tears.

What's your offseason workout routine like in Quebec City?

I'm pretty fortunate that back home we have a dome over a baseball field, so I'm able to take BP and groundballs and do long toss -- all the stuff that I would do in Florida. I work out with Abraham Toro with the Oakland A’s. He’s been in the big leagues and played on playoff teams, so I learn a lot from him and we help each other and we push each other. It’s a fun relationship.

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You play for Team Canada in the WBC this year. Larry Walker was a coach and Freddie Freeman was one of your teammates. What was that experience like?

It was awesome. I'm a guy that likes to ask questions and learn from other people, especially when someone has a lot of knowledge and they’ve been where I want to be. I’m a very curious guy. The first thing I did in the cage was ask Freddie a lot of questions. He probably thought I was annoying -- like, ‘Who’s this guy asking me questions?’ But it was great to be around these guys and pick their brains and see how they prepare and approach the game. I learned a lot in the two weeks there. I'm very happy that I went there and represented my country. It was a great experience. And I'm glad that guys like Larry Walker and Freddie Freeman were cool enough to talk to me and answer my questions.

Hockey is still the dominant sport in Canada, but do you think the baseball culture is on the rise?

For sure. The Blue Jays are doing a lot of academies, and their success is helping the country in baseball. I think there are more younger kids who want to play, especially with the new rules that MLB has put in there. The game is faster and it's quicker, so it’s a little better to watch. I see that in Quebec. I’m happy with where baseball is going. I think all the Canadian players are giving back to their communities, and I’m going to keep giving my time back to the kids that are in Canada.

For anyone considering a vacation trip to Quebec, what would you say to recommend it?

I would say you would love Quebec City, or Quebec in general. First of all, you see the four seasons. It’s going to be different every time you come. Second of all, the food is great. The steak, the fish, the vegetables and fruits. There’s a lot of variety with the French cuisine, and it’s all fresh. The city feels European, but it’s close to the United States, so you don’t have to go to Europe to see it. It’s more of an old town with old buildings and it has its own beauty. I think you have to experience it at least once in your life.

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