For the second straight Canadian Premier Baseball League season, the Ontario Blue Jays Travers squad will reign as champions at the 16U level.
Made up of a new set of players than the one that won the inaugural circuit’s crown last year, Sean Travers’ team this season impressed him right out of the gate. The 16U manager understood that his current Blue Jays had the ability to win it all from the beginning, but needed to embrace and overcome some growing pains on the field along the way.
“We knew we had lots of young talent,” Travers said. “But we also knew we were young and immature, and had a lot of growing to do. The trick is to get the talent to mature and start playing baseball differently than they’ve experienced before, and learn to compete a little bit differently. In our regular season, we lost something like 14 games because of rain, which slowed the growing-up process.
“When we hit the road to play in the States, there was still growing to do because of the time we missed on the field at home, and when we were on the road we had a lot of ups and downs. By the end of it, they started understanding how to compete at a higher level, and it really helped us coming back into the playoffs, because we got put into a couple situations where we had to really compete our butts off to get to the next round.”
Playoff weekend was a hard-fought battle for the Blue Jays, who took a seven-run round-robin loss that meant they needed to make up the deficit in a later matchup in order to move forward. The squad also had to face its organizational rival, the Ontario Blue Jays Ellison 16U team, twice over the weekend, eventually matching up against the players managed by Joey Ellison in the final contest.
“The second game, we played Ellison’s team and it was really the one time all year where our pitchers struggled,” Travers said of round-robin play. “Our hitters just couldn’t pick them up. We had a bad game, and Joey’s team – to their credit – earned their walks, and when they had runners on, they would get extra-base hits to drive them in. We didn’t lose that game – they beat us. And they won 13-6, so in our final round-robin game we had to beat the Fieldhouse Pirates by seven.
“In the first inning, Fieldhouse went out and put up three runs against one of our best pitchers and I thought we were in trouble. To the players’ credit, they finally picked up the pitchers. They went out and put up 10 runs in the bottom and we went up 10-3. We had our seven, and it went back and forth a little bit. Sometimes in blowouts guys give away at-bats, but they didn’t do that. They kept building. We ended up winning 16-6 and that put us in the next round.
“We were the second seed and had to play the Great Lake Canadians in the semifinals. You know whenever you’re going to play GLC it’s going to be a battle. They have really good pitchers, really good players, really good coaching. Luckily for us, we had one of our best pitchers, Nick Fraser, ready to go. He went out there and really grew up on the mound and kept us in the game. Going into extra innings, it was 2-2 and both runs for both teams were unearned. It was a grind for both teams, and we ended up winning 3-2.
“In the finals we got to play Joey’s team again, and they were the hot team, they were excited, lots of energy. Their pitcher, Nick Saldias, was unbelievable for three innings. We went up 3-0 and right away they came back and made it 3-3. It was a battle for seven innings. They kept pressing and our guys kept responding.”
The championship victory was one that Travers believes came at an opportune time for his team, after they’d had a chance to move out of their comfort zone playing south of the border, and being forced to elevate their performance when they returned home for the battle to end the season on top.
“Early in the year, we would have lost,” the 16U manager said. “We weren’t mentally tough enough to withstand those situations. That’s where the growth came in. They got mentally tough and they competed at a different level at the end of the season than they did at the beginning of the year…
“When you’re winning, it’s tough to learn because winning can hide a lot of problems. What was impressive about this group is that they started to understand that in close games, the little things mattered. They started paying attention to detail and really started to prepare for games a lot better. Instead of just showing up and playing, they were prepared to give their best effort.”
With back-to-back CPBL championships at the 16U level, and two Blue Jays teams squaring off against one another in the final, Travers is proud of what his organization accomplished this season, and looks forward to growing and keeping a winning tradition as his program heads into its future in the league.
“For most of our season it’s all about development,” Travers said. “You can develop individually, but it’s really tough to develop as a team and develop a winning attitude if you never win. So with this group, it was really important for them to see the fruits of their labour. I’m so glad they got to win a championship, and when the final out was made, I was really happy to see how excited they were about it.
“With these guys, you could see that it was everything coming together and they got to celebrate it. It was awesome to see both of our teams make it to the final. Both teams getting there is incredible. In the championship game, no matter who won, we were going to win. And for my players, it was their championship to win, and they went out and got it.”