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When Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Fraser Aird signed with Valour FC in the off-season, they never expected they’d have to wait until June to step on the turf at IG Field.
But that’s the hand Jean-Baptiste and Aird, as well as their Valour teammates, have been dealt this season owing to COVID-19. When the Canadian Premier League season was suspended days into training camp in March, Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian defender who hails from New York, and Aird, a winger from Toronto who formerly played for the Glasgow Rangers, decided to stick it out in Winnipeg despite being new to town and not knowing anyone outside of the club. Luckily for them, they had some four-legged companions that kept them company.
"It doesn’t matter where you were, you’d be kind of locked in your house and not be able to do too much," said the 25-year-old Aird.
"But no, it’s been tough. I recently got a puppy, about four weeks ago, so he’s kept me on my toes... His name is Ace and he’s a German shepherd-husky mix and I rescued him from the humane society. He’s 12 weeks now and growing every day... He’s obviously kept me really busy through everything and it’s been good to put a happier side to things during the pandemic."
“It’s honestly a blessing and a pleasure having him (Max, a nine–year–old boxer–lab) here with me because it made things a lot less stressful.” – Andrew Jean–Baptiste
Jean-Baptiste’s four-legged friend was by his side before he signed with Valour and he brought him north of the border from New York. Max, a nine-year-old boxer-lab, has given Jean-Baptiste, 27, an excuse to get out and explore his new surroundings as the two have checked out Birds Hill Park and dog parks around town.
"It’s honestly a blessing and a pleasure having him here with me because it made things a lot less stressful," said Jean-Baptiste, who played in the MLS for the Portland Timbers and Chivas USA before heading overseas.
"It’s a lot easier when you have a companion with you. I know I really love my dog and I haven’t had the chance for him to live with me the past couple years because I was in Europe and Malaysia. So being able to have him here now, I saw the opportunity and I took it."
But the dogs will have some time to themselves now, as Valour began their physically distanced training sessions on Sunday. The field has been split into four sections where the players do individualized drills under the surveillance of the coaching staff. Only four players are allowed on the pitch at a time.
"It’s been amazing to step into the stadium for the first time with the ball at my feet. I stepped into the stadium a few times back when there was snow on the field," said Jean-Baptiste.
"But now that I can be on the field with my teammates, yes not all of them, but at least a few of them who I’ve made great friendships with and to be able to interact with our staff again and not through a Zoom call, it’s not the ideal situation, but I’m taking whatever I can get and I’m enjoying it. It’s a great feeling, to be honest."
“The fact that it’s such a short career at times and we’ve almost wasted a full (season), I think all the boys are keen to obviously get something in place and be able to play some games.” – Fraser Aird
Aird admits it feels a bit bizarre, but the top priority for the players is their health and staying safe. However, that itch to start playing is definitely there.
"I mean, this is our job. This is what we’ve wanted to do all our lives," said Aird.
"The fact that it’s such a short career at times and we’ve almost wasted a full (season), I think all the boys are keen to obviously get something in place and be able to play some games."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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