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B.C. community stands together to save baseball season

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Butler Park in Trail, BC

If baseball isn’t the heart of Trail, it is, at the very least, a vital organ. A raging windstorm knocked the immediate and near future of Trail’s youth game into critical condition, but fears have subsided thanks to the cooperative efforts of community members and city officials.

In Trail – tucked in a scenic mountain valley in southeastern British Columbia near the Canada-U.S. border – venerable Butler Park is the home of baseball at the teen and men’s levels. The facility was built in 1902 on land donated by Sydney Butler, who later became mayor of the community. Butler Park has been a gathering place ever since it opened and has hosted countless high-profile events, including the 1995 Babe Ruth World Series, which drew crowds of 6,000 fans for games that involved the home team. To put that attendance figure in perspective, Trail’s population at the time wasn’t much more than 7,000.

Earlier this year, for about half an hour on the morning of Jan. 13, a violent wind ripped through Trail and left one big mess in its path. The storm toppled trees all over town, including at Butler Park. Before Trail Youth Baseball president Jim Maniago had even left home to go to work that day, he was alerted to damage at Butler.

“My phone starts lighting up, people saying ‘Butler’s a disaster, trees are down,’” Maniago said. “I was like, ‘Well, it can’t be that bad,’ and then I drove by and it really was. Three massive trees came down, and one of them was right by one of the light poles, which also had netting attached to it. The weight of the tree, plus the netting onto the light pole, pulled one of the poles down.”

One week earlier, Trail Youth Baseball received an email from city hall, saying that an engineer had examined the light poles at the park and had found some serious issues. The eight poles – each one 70 feet high, made of concrete and rebar, hollow in the middle and uncapped at the top – were failing. They had been in place since the early 1980s and had been exposed to the elements long enough that they were wearing down from the inside out. Bottom line, they had to be removed as quickly as possible.

At that point, Maniago and Trail Youth Baseball expressed their concerns to city officials about the takedown of the light poles and how that could negatively impact the 2021 season for Trail’s 13- to 18-year-old players. Not being able to practice or play games into the evening hours would present challenges so a request was made that the poles be left in place until the fall, when the season was over.

The windstorm and the damage it caused made that plea irrelevant and threw the 2021 season even more into jeopardy.

“There was the discussion that the cost of everything was going to be too much and there was discussion about shutting the park down,” said Maniago, adding that a closure would have affected close to 100 players in the 13- to 18-year-old age category. “So we really had to lobby and promote our program and show how needed it was. Realistically, with last year being (lost to) COVID-19, if the park got shut down, which basically meant we wouldn’t have been able to play this year, you take two years off of a program and it’s pretty hard to get it rolling again. And this is aside from the fact that these kids need somewhere to play. Our 16- to 18-year-old group is a pretty strong group – there are six to eight kids looking at going to college in the next two years and they need a place to play.”

Trail, incidentally, is known for producing elite-level ball players. The most notable graduate of Trail Youth Baseball is Jason Bay, who played for the host team at the 1995 Babe Ruth World Series and later achieved MLB stardom with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. Bay, the National League Rookie of the Year with the Pirates in 2004 and a three-time all-star, also played for the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners. As well, he was a three-time Tip O’Neill Award-winner as Canada’s best baseball player and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

With the overall health of Trail Youth Baseball and the good of its current teenaged players front-of-mind, Maniago and others stayed in steady contact with city councillors and staff members in the aftermath of the storm.

“A few of us spent the better part of the next three weeks, basically selling the importance of the field,” Maniago said. “To the credit of the councillors, they were really supportive. I think a lot of them in some shape or form have been involved with sports in town and recognize, for a small town to produce the athletes that we have and the successful teams that we’ve had, (sport) is part of the fabric of the city. I always joke that people don’t live in Trail for the shopping – it’s the recreation that we can offer that’s the draw here, the lifestyle.”

Much to the relief of Trail Youth Baseball, the decision was made to keep Butler Park open and allow the season to proceed in whatever form COVID-19 measures will allow. Without lights, on-field activities will be limited to daytime hours.

No light poles (removal began the week of Feb. 8) also means no safety netting. But whenever the park is hosting a practice or game, signs will be posted in the surrounding neighbourhood, warning people in the area to keep their eyes open for baseballs exiting the playing area. During practices, teams will use a batting tunnel as an additional safety measure.

“We’ve got some pretty good people on our executive who did some research on how many foul balls leave parks and what areas of the park they leave and things like that,” Maniago said. “Obviously without the nets, more balls are going to leave the park but it’s not quite as bad as you might think.”

Due to issues around COVID-19 the Trail Orioles men’s program will remain idle for 2021 so the team’s absence from Butler Park will make for a more sustainable situation when it comes to usage of the facility.

“The compromise is to live through this year and, if all goes well, then in the fall, netting and lights should go up and we’ll be good to go for next year,” Maniago said.

Trail city council decided at a March 8 meeting to spend roughly $35,000 to have a class A estimate done on the cost of netting and lights.

“They can’t vote to go ahead with the project until they have the final estimate but I gather that they’ve done their homework and as long as nothing goes crazy-sideways that, come September, they’re going to start work on getting the new poles and lights and nets up.”

Maniago anticipates that the cost will be shared between the city and Trail Youth Baseball. Each party, he said, will try to secure grant money to help lessen the financial burden.

“It was a pretty concerning couple of weeks,” Maniago said, looking back on the series of events. “But, in the end, we’re really happy with how it’s gone.

“We’re happy that the kids are going to get to play this year and we’ll move forward from here. I think anytime you do renovations it ends up being an upgrade so this time next year I think we’ll be looking at the field, going, ‘Wow, this is great.’”

Metal poles and much brighter, more energy-efficient LED lights are now the standard at community baseball parks. Safety netting has also improved greatly in the past few decades.

“The netting will be better quality if you’re looking through to watch a game,” Maniago said. “This stuff, apparently you almost don’t even see it.”

The soon-to-be-improved Butler Park will eventually have Bay’s name attached to it. Trail city council has already approved in principle a project that will see the venue rechristened as Jason Bay Field at Butler Park. The initiative – which will require the installation of new signage – is currently on hold due to COVID-19.

Jason Peters is a freelance writer and editor based in Prince George, British Columbia. Visit his website at www.frontpagepublications.net.

 

Baseball PEI

Baseball PEI seeks new Executive Director

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Deadline for resumes is Thursday, 27 January 2021 at 12 pm.

The current Executive Director of Baseball PEI, Randy Byrne, will be leaving Baseball PEI at the end of the day on Friday, 28 January 2022. Byrne has been the E.D. of Baseball PEI since September 2014.

As such, Baseball PEI is calling from applicants for the position of Executive Director. The deadline for submission for applications is Thursday, 27 January at 12 pm. A resume, with at least three references, should be emailed to baseball@sportpei.pe.ca.

The job description can be found HERE.

Only those applicants who are invited to an interview will be contacted.

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Alberta Amateur Baseball Council

AABC Weekly Passion for Baseball Honors to Garry Thomson

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Alberta Amateur Baseball Council is recognizing those individuals who have contributed significantly to Alberta baseball, at the youth level. This week’s nominee, regarding “Passion for Baseball”, is Garry Thomson. Garry has coached and umpired for the Brownfield, Coronation, and Castor minor baseball organizations for decades.

In his youth, Garry was inspired by softball, not baseball. Once Garry moved to Brownfield, the strong minor baseball program motivated him to join their ranks. Garry began a teaching career in the Brownfield area, and once his kids were old enough to start playing, he became more involved directly with the local youth programs. All his boys played baseball in the East Central Alberta area, and today, he has grandkids playing for the same local programs.

Garry cites Coach Carter Stickler, of the Consort area, as a coach who had a very positive impact on him regarding baseball, and sport in general. He also would like to recognize Terry Schneider and Dan Buskas, as great mentors, in his involvement and development as an umpire.

Garry is proudest of his role as being a facilitator/supporter of baseball in East Central Alberta. He takes great satisfaction that his kids, and grandkids, have all had the opportunity to participate in quality local minor baseball programs. Garry is also very pleased with the relationships he has formed with people all over the province as an umpire and coach. He is humbled that he is still asked to umpire, as he was this past summer, even as he gets a little older.

Garry hopes that baseball numbers continue to grow throughout the province. He wants baseball to remain a friendly, fun, and affordable sport for all. He feels baseball helps build relationships throughout Alberta; baseball, he credits, as being a great sport for the fans as well. He wants all baseball enthusiasts to remember, a) baseball is supposed to be fun, b) it is important to show sportsmanship, c) play hard and winning is a bonus at the end of the game.

Alberta Amateur Baseball Council, and the Alberta baseball community would like to thank Garry for his volunteerism and commitment towards Alberta youth baseball

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Baseball Saskatchewan

Hawkins takes big first step in chasing big league dreams

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By Darren Steinke – Howe Happenings

Garrett Hawkins was ready to jump into the next level of work when he was drafted into the MLB.

On the second day the 2021 MLB Draft this past July 12, the hard-throwing right-handed pitcher from Biggar, Sask., was selected in the ninth round and 280th overall by the San Diego Padres. The draft selection was a huge highlight for the 21-year-old, but he knew the long journey to try and become an everyday MLB player continued.

“It was pretty exciting just knowing that all the hard work had paid off,” said Hawkins, who towers on the mound at 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds. “You kind of got to a point that you’re just proud of yourself and proud of everyone that kind of contributed to it.

“Not to say that the work isn’t done. There is still a lot more to do, but it is a good first step for sure.”

Hawkins, who trains in the off-season at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, had been playing for the New Jersey state capital-based Trenton Thunder of the MLB Draft league at the time he was selected by the Padres.

With the Thunder, Hawkins started six games posting a 1-0 record, a 2.63 ERA, 32 strikeouts while giving up two walks in 24 innings of work.

Shortly after being drafted, Hawkins traveled to Peoria, Arizona, to join the Padres rookie team that plays in the 18-club Arizona Complex League.

With the ACL Padres, Hawkins put up solid numbers. The graduate of the Saskatoon Giants under-18 AAA program appeared in seven games with the ACL Padres posting a 3-1 record, a 2.35 ERA, 27 strikeouts while giving up two walks in 15.1 innings.

“I enjoyed it,” said Hawkins, whose main pitches are the fastball, slider and change up. “I just kind of got my toes wet in how it all works going forward.

“I got to meet a lot of people, see lots of like different cultures like lots of Latin players that I haven’t had a chance to be around a ton and kind of just meeting all the new draftees that got picked in my year also. It was pretty good, and I am excited to kind of get going again and move my way up.”

Hawkins said he benefitted from the fact he got some real good coaching with the ACL Padres, which he thought helped his performance on the field.

“I think I just kind of maybe took another step once I got there,” said Hawkins, who can throw his fastball at 93 to 95 miles per hour. “Eventually, something stuck, and I kind of just used it to my advantage.

“I think just the increased input from the coaching staff and all that helped a lot.”

Throughout his life, Hawkins said baseball was the sport he was always the most passionate about. That passion took root from simple beginnings.

“I kind of just started playing baseball at a young age playing catch with my dad (Ian Hawkins) at home,” said Hawkins. “Eventually, I was just playing minor baseball.

“All my friends were kind of doing it at the time.”

When he started playing minor baseball, Hawkins said he started to experience success on the mound early on.

“I’d say it happened right away,” said Hawkins. “Obviously, I hit and pitched at a younger age, but I kind of had a knack for pitching when I was younger.”

Hawkins ultimately caught the eyes of the high-performance coaches with Baseball Sask. He helped Saskatchewan win gold at the 2016 Baseball Canada Cup in Fort McMurray, Alta., and at the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.

The standout hurler credited Greg Brons, who is the High Performance Director for Baseball Sask, with getting a core group of players playing together or against each other on younger teams and training together in the years heading into those gold medal wins. Hawkins said the players became good friends and a realization grew that they might be able to accomplish big goals together.

“We had a core group of guys that (Greg) Brons kind of brought up together and kind of knew we had the potential to do something like that,” said Hawkins. “That group had been together for maybe three years before that, so when it came time to put it all together, I just kind of remember all the guys that we had and just how good we were and how ready we were to kind of be on that stage.

“It was exciting.”

Besides those gold medal wins on a national stage, Hawkins enjoyed playing against and with a number of his provincial team teammates in the provincial under-18 AAA league. He has lots of good memories throwing for the Saskatoon Giants at Cairns Field and Leakos Field.

“I enjoyed it just because most of the time it is like Saskatoon team versus a Saskatoon team, so you kind of want to beat the other one,” said Hawkins. “I enjoyed my time playing here for sure.”

After his season wrapped up with the ACL Padres, Hawkins elected to live in Saskatoon during the off-season in order to train at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. On top of doing his own training, Hawkins will help out the crew at the Going Yard Training Centre coach young pitchers.

Jordan Draeger, who is one of Going Yard’s top instructors, was one of Hawkins past coaches.

“It is pretty cool just seeing (the young pitchers), because I was in those guys shoes kind of when I was in high school,” said Hawkins. “It is kind of cool seeing those guys build up and be around them as much as I can trying to help out, if they need it.

“I like going in there and doing my work and getting to watch some other guys do theirs, so it is pretty cool.”

Hawkins, who will turn 22-years-old in February, said all the coaches he had through the years have had a big impact in allowing him to have the success he has had.

Going into his second season as a professional, Hawkins said his main focus is improving his consistency.

“I kind of like where my pitches are at now,” said Hawkins. “I think just continuing to learn about hitters and stuff like that and just trust myself.

“I just have to continue to get better each day and try and move up.”

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