Before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out its 2020 season, the Prince George Youth Baseball Association was developing a reputation as one of the most successful programs in Western Canada. When play resumes, the PGYBA will take a swing at building on its momentum.
But, assuming there is a 2021 season, it’s likely to be one of adjustments and challenges.
“I’m hoping that by the time May rolls around, which is when our season starts, they’ll have enough vaccine that they’ll allow us to play games within our own community, which would allow house teams to take part,” said PGYBA president Carmen Martin.
“And then my hopes would be to at least allow our all-star kids – even if they’re practicing together and there aren’t normal tournaments per se – to get into a cohort bubble with somebody closer. So like Kamloops is the next closest place to us for baseball. To get them down there, even for a couple weekends here and there to play some games (would be important). I feel that if we can’t get some of these kids some games this year we’re going to lose some who will choose to play elsewhere – they’re going to move for the summer or find a different place to play. Or we’re just going to lose the numbers.”
Prince George is a city of about 75,000 people, located in north central British Columbia, six hours by car from Kamloops.
In geographically-isolated Prince George, the popularity of youth baseball tends to rise and fall with the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays. When the Jays are hot, so is baseball in the city known as B.C.’s Northern Capital.
In the handful of years prior to 2016, registration in the PGYBA sat between 350 and 400 players. From 2016 onward, numbers ballooned to a high of around 600 and settled out at 522 for the 2019 season.
In the all-star ranks, teams from Prince George produced a gratifying string of success stories during that four-year span. In 2016 the 18U Knights hosted and won the BC Minor Baseball Association midget double-A provincial championship tournament. The 18U Knights repeated as champs the following year and also claimed gold at the Baseball BC provincials before they capped their season with a silver medal at Western Canadians.
In 2018, the 15U Knights battled to a silver-medal finish at their BC Minor Baseball championship. Then, in a sparkling 2019 season, the 18U Knights, 15U Knights and 13U Knights all came home with gold from their provincial tournaments.
For an association on a roll, Martin said losing the 2020 season to the pandemic was “terrible.” Prior to the March 2020 lockdown, the PGYBA had been running its annual indoor training program at the Northern Sport Centre fieldhouse on the University of Northern British Columbia’s Prince George campus. Higher-level players (18U, 15U, 13U, 11U all-stars) benefited from about 10 weeks of practice before COVID-19 brought everything to a halt.
“We were not able to get back on the indoor fields, just based on the rules,” Martin said. “We could have probably gotten back on the (outdoor) fields earlier than we hoped (but) the unfortunate part is, without PGYBA running a league, nobody maintains those fields. Besides mowing of the outfields, the City doesn’t really maintain the infields. That falls to the league and it was kind of hard to get volunteers when there was COVID.”
As spring turned into summer, players from the 18U Knights were really the only ones able to throw the ball around. Thanks to some behind-the-scenes organizational efforts, they got onto the Prince George Senior Men’s Baseball League field for some limited sessions.
“They were able to get out a little bit but, overall, PGYBA, we didn’t do anything last year,” Martin said. “We just thought, ‘We’re going to take the year off, figure things out, regroup, and hopefully be ready to go this year.’”
In preparation for this season, the PGYBA has already opened registration. One positive development is the fact several families who paid their fees for the lost 2020 campaign told the league to keep the money and use it for 2021. Martin appreciates the show of faith. In return, the PGYBA is giving some of those families a bit of a financial break.
“Depending on what age group your child is in, your registration amount is different,” Martin said. “We told people if they left their money with us, even if their child moved up a division and it cost more money to register them this year, we would keep the payment from last year and we wouldn’t worry about it.”
Overall, Martin is staying positive and taking a day-by-day approach to the resumption of baseball. All-star players – under the guidance of former minor pro Craig Langille and ex-National-level baseball and softball player Craig Horswell – have started their indoor training at the Northern Sport Centre. As well, the PGYBA is offering Sunday indoor sessions for house-level players who want to get back in the game. These on-field opportunities are being carried out in adherence to COVID-19 health and safety protocols and, in Martin’s view, are good first steps.
“I’m happy that we’re doing winter ball – I’m like, ‘OK, that’s a win we can offer this right now,’” said Martin, who is also the northern representative on the BC Minor Baseball board of directors. “That will take us through to March and then I’m going to be like, ‘OK, now what’s April-May going to look like? What can we next offer?’ In one breath, things are changing slowly, it feels like, and then in the next minute in terms of sports and stuff, things can change so drastically so it’s kind of hard to make a long-term plan.”
Jason Peters is a freelance writer and editor based in Prince George, British Columbia. Visit his website at www.frontpagepublications.net.
Rhonda Pauls recognized with 2021 Baseball Canada Umpire Developer Award
The Baseball Canada Umpire Developer Award is handed out annually to an individual who has demonstrated commitment and excellency in the delivery of umpire education as part of the National Umpires Certification Program.
An accomplished umpire on the field whose resume includes numerous provincial, national, and international events, it was her off-field work that stood out in 2021 as she put in tremendous efforts in developing and growing the next generation of umpires.
As such, Baseball Canada is pleased to announce that British Columbia’s Rhonda Pauls is the winner of the Baseball Canada Umpire Developer Award for 2021.
With Covid-19 still impacting the way in which umpires are traditionally trained and developed, Rhonda’s work to create online educational resources ensured that information and development tools were provided to young umpires in BC and across Canada.
Rhonda created on online platform for the BC Baseball Umpires Association in addition to producing multi-hour, virtual training sessions for umpires in BC. Her teaching materials including lesson plans, instructional videos, quizzes, and presentations as part of her workshops and clinics.
A former winner of the Dick Willis Memorial Award for Baseball Canada Umpire of the Year (2014), Rhonda is a role model for aspiring female umpires and spent time in 2021 engaging female umpires across the country through a unique virtual series.
She has also used her platform to raise awareness around mental health in researching and developing materials for an interactive workshop.
Her efforts around mental health support and awareness did not stop there as she created a team of individuals in BC who serve as peer counsellors for mental health awareness. This is the only team of this nature in baseball in Canada.
Rhonda was also active in many of her off-field umpiring roles in 2021 including the planning and execution of the Super clinic as part of a group effort while also serving as President of the BC Baseball Umpire Association.
She was elected as a board member for Baseball BC where she participated actively in several committees including Strategic Planning and sat as a member of the Baseball Canada instructor development portfolio where she’s been instrumental in the re-design of the Senior Course Conductor Portfolio.
Umpire Developer Award recipients have included:
2020-Ed Quinlan & Chris Wilhelm (ON)
Butler Park to get new lights before 2022 season
City council votes to install lighting and netting to Trail baseball park
By Jim Bailey – Trail Times
From an article on August, 26, 2021
City staff laid the groundwork to complete the lighting and netting additions to Butler Park before the start of the next baseball season.
After stadium light standards were deemed to be unsafe, the city removed the poles and netting this past year, and made way for a new installation.
At an Aug. 16 Governance and Operations Committee meeting, a staff report recommended four options for installing new stadium lighting and netting at the Trail baseball park.
“(Engineering technician) Kyle McCormick has worked diligently with engineers and vendors to come up with what we feel is a practical recommendation moving forward,” said public works director, Chris McIsaac.
Because the soil below Butler has low cohesion, engineers decided on the installation of drilled and cast-in-place concrete piles.
Also, the upgrades to the stadium lighting will reduce the number of standards needed from eight to six along with the number of LED stadium luminaries, and 15-gauge Dyneema netting will be strung along the first and third-base lines.
“This proposed Butler Park installation is a significant addition to the fiscal 2021 capital projects,” wrote Interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Rino Merlo. “To proceed in 2021 requires a substantial amount of non-budgeted cash.
“However, should council authorize this Report’s recommendations, the city has the funding to proceed in 2021.”
Merlo offered that funding could come from various sources including the city’s deferred amount within the UBCM Community Building Fund of $1.25M, the Capital Works Reserve Fund $236,000 and Surplus about $100,000.
“However, this significant draw down of capital resources reduces the city’s financial flexibility.”
Parks and Rec director Trisha Davison also confirmed that there is grant funding of about $235,000 pending.
The immediate costs were a concern for Mayor Lisa Pasin who said, when considering last year’s total capital budget, a $1.5M expenditure would amount to 55 per cent of the total budget allocated for capital.
To spend 55 per cent of a total budget on one project is significant for the city, she later clarified.
“And this should be evaluated within the context of all priority projects.”
Of the four options, Option 1 was the least expensive at $1.586M with all work being completed in 2021.
However, in a 5-2 vote, council chose Option 2, which will see pole foundations, underground electrical, and stadium lighting installed in phase 1, and completed with the netting put up in the spring of 2022.
The cost for Option 2 is estimated at $1.642M, more than Option 1, but less than Option 3 and 4 at $1.655M, whose estimated completion dates were by the end of 2022.
Catching up with Marika Lyszczyk, former Whalley player making baseball history
Arm surgery rehab awaits the Delta resident, the first female catcher to play NCAA men’s baseball
Evidence suggests there’s no stopping Marika Lyszczyk, but surgery has slowed her down a bit.
This month the former Whalley Chiefs baseball player is resting at home in Tsawwassen following rotator cuff repairs in her throwing arm.
“They thought it was my bicep that was a problem, but it was actually my rotator cuff,” Lyszczyk said with a sigh.
“Right now I’m in total immobilization, I can’t move my shoulder. It’s not very fun sleeping.”
With rehab looming, this fall the 20-year-old catcher plans a return trip to New Hampshire’s Rivier University, whose Division 3 team last year made her the first female catcher to play NCAA men’s baseball. It was historic stuff, and Lyszczyk can’t wait to play ball there again.
“I’ll rehab down there and get back into the swing of things,” she said confidently, in a phone conversation.
“I’m itching to get back, because one of the hardest things for me is to not train,” she added with a laugh.
(Story continues below a seven-minute Sportsnet video: “Marika Lyszczyk Breaking Gender Barriers In NCAA Baseball”)
Earlier this summer, despite lingering soreness in her arm, Lyszczyk travelled to Long Island, NY, to play for the Sag Harbor Whalers of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.
It’s the latest stop in a baseball journey that involved her playing four seasons with the Whalley Chiefs, during her high school years, as the first girl to see action in the B.C. Premier Baseball League (PBL).
“It was such an opportunity there, and such a huge foundation for moving forward in my baseball career,” Lyszczyk said of her days with the Chiefs. “The league is great, with some really good players, and it was such a good experience for me, before going to college.”
Her time at Rivier University in 2020 lasted a brief nine or 10 weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a move back home to Delta.
A year later, a summer in the Hamptons was a thrill for Lyszczyk.
“It was great being there – it’s so beautiful, and the community is great,” she raved. “You hear about it with all the celebrities being there, and the people were so amazing. It was a great chance to go there and play with some pretty high-level guys playing D1, D2, so it definitely was a challenge for me.”
Her original summer plan was to also attend Baseball Canada’s women’s national team showcase in Quebec (along with Surrey prospects Stacy Fournier and Claire Eccles), but for Lyszczyk, arm surgery took priority.
“Last year I had some arm pain and I thought it’d go away,” she recalled. “I’ve thrown a lot in my lifetime, practising sometimes five, six days a week, and my arm has been sore, but not like that. I was hoping to take a few months off and it’d be fine, but I finally got a MRI to realize that something was wrong and that I’d need surgery.
“So I played summer ball and it was more like pain control for me, and I was proud of myself for getting through the summer. But it did hold me back in some areas and I knew I needed to get it fixed when I got back home.
“Generally when you go through a rehab like this,” she added, “people tend to come back stronger, and there’s lots of guys who come back from, like, Tommy John Surgery and they end up throwing two miles an hour faster, things like that. It’s pretty cool to see how rehab has changed in that way, and I’m hopeful that I’ll come back even stronger than I was before.”
She hopes the procedure will ultimately allow her to play more baseball in the future.
“I always say that I want to play baseball as long as I can, as long as the opportunities are there for me, and that’s another reason why it was so crucial that I got my arm fixed now, so hopefully I can have a longer playing career,” Lyszczyk explained.
“And once my playing days are over I hope to do on-field commentating and stay in the game afterward, because I couldn’t imagine my life without baseball.”
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