The last piece of the puzzle for the Great Lake Canadians program was to find a place to get some games in on home soil, and through the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier Baseball League, it did just that.
“It was huge for us,” Great Lake director of baseball operations Chris Robinson said. “Obviously we were on a little bit of an island there, and we were always really fortunate that the Fieldhouse Pirates were in the same boat…so we were always able to play them.
“But to have the competition week in, week out, against the five other programs [with the Pirates, as well as the Ontario Blue Jays, Ontario Nationals, Team Ontario and Toronto Mets], it separated quickly. That’s the one piece of the program that we felt we were missing, was the consistent high-level competition, and for us that was the excitement of last year.”
In their fourth year of the Canadians program, Great Lake has established a staff and routine that they’ve found comfort in, not making many changes throughout this off-season but continuing to build on the success they’ve found. The biggest difference between last season in the CPBL and the upcoming year will be the addition of a new squad at the youngest level of the circuit.
“We stick with what we’ve done in the past in terms of the off-season,” Robinson said. “Our guys start up now and we’ll run twice a week for most teams throughout the off-season. We’ll take our spring trip with the older groups to Florida. We did add a team this year, we added a 14U team, so we’re going to have two 14U teams this year and that will make six for us, so that’s exciting. We feel like we have a pretty solid group of guys and we can start to build from the bottom now and work up.”
To prepare for the upcoming season, Great Lake will take its top teams down south to St. Petersburg, Florida, on the same trip they’ve done in the past with an additional showcase opportunity for their players this spring.
“We’ll be back at St. Pete’s again, the same place we were the last two years,” the program’s director of baseball operations said. “We head down there March 11th to 17th and we’ll play six to seven games, and this year we’re going to do a scout day for the first time. So we’re going to have a showcase-type day, and play a game in the afternoon that day, on Tuesday, March 14th.
“It will be a mixture of our 16U, 17U and 18U teams. [Adam Hall, Canada’s top prospect heading into the draft] is going, so that’s obviously going to be a draw in terms of scouting and getting some exposure not only for him but for some of the other kids.”
Proud to be a part of the CPBL in the inaugural season, and contribute to the high calibre of play the loop provided on a consistent basis – also benefitting from the level of competition when they ventured out of the country and into a number of American tournaments throughout the summer – the Canadians are excited to find even more success both in and out of the league this year.
“That was the good part about last year, having an understanding that you’re playing programs now where some teams are going to have good years and some teams are going to have bad years,” Robinson said. “That’s just inevitable but if you don’t show up and play on a Saturday, you get beat. That teaches our guys, and speaking with the other programs and other coaches and guys who run programs within the league, we all had very successful tournament seasons last year.
“On our end, it was probably one of the most successful – from top to bottom – tournament seasons that we’ve ever had. It’s a direct correlation to being challenged for four games a weekend every weekend, and having to play at that level for four games rather than maybe showing up for a weekend against I-don’t-know-who and playing a good team, knowing you’ve got to gear up.”
In the busiest fall season the program has had in its four years, it felt to Robinson as though players were solidifying their commitments to college day after day, which provided enjoyment for all those involved.
“There are 10 guys for us who are ’17 commits, and there is one player who’s an ’18 commit,” he said. “We’ve had 11 guys, and it was in a span of about a month-and-a-half which is something we’ve never done. It’s been an exciting fall for us, no doubt…It was an exciting time for all our guys.”
From the start of the program to the success it has found over time, a lot has already happened and changed for Great Lake, and the Canadians look forward to what more may come as they continue their progression.
“This is year four,” Robinson said. “It’s neat. When we started, it was a lot about [the coaching staff]. It was about Adam Arnold, Adam Stern, Jamie Romak, and now it’s more about the kids. They’ve taken this program and it’s about [alum] Matt Warkentin [currently at Johnson County Community College in Kansas] and Michael Brettell [at Central Michigan] and these guys who are going off and continuing to build our brand by doing what they’re doing. It’s exciting. We’ve got a lot of guys going out this year, it’s a big class for us, so we hope it continues.”
Among the players who will see their CPBL tenures come to an end this summer, the Great Lake Canadians are sending Adam Hall to Texas A&M, Jordan Marks to the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, Jameson Hart to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, Jonathan Burkhart to Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois, Justin Snow to Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, Iowa, Noah Myers to Wabash Valley Community College in Mount Carmel, Illinois, Eric Lindsay and Jake English to Dodge City Community College in Kansas, Dallas Hunter to Parkland Community College in Champaign, Illinois, and Corben Peters to Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas. Matt Jenkins is also committed to Santa Clara University for the 2018 season.