Tag: Chris Robinson

Great Lake Canadians catcher Owen Diodati selected by Blue Jays in 2019 MLB Draft

Being selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in Major League Baseball’s draft was a dream come true for Great Lake Canadians catcher Owen Diodati.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-handed-hitting backstop from Niagara Falls became the third Canadian Premier Baseball League player taken off the board and the third Canadian selected by the Blue Jays when Toronto called his name in the 29th round on Wednesday, with the 867th overall pick.

Though Diodati discussed his options with the Blue Jays during the selection process, the 17-year-old plans to fulfill his commitment to the University of Alabama.

“I had some discussions with [the Blue Jays on Tuesday] where it got really serious and it was a really hard decision for me to go to school,” Diodati said. “They made a pretty significant offer financially and it was a hard decision, so I didn’t think it would end up how it did, that they would still choose me.

“It says a lot about them as an organization and who they are as people. It was an exciting day for me, and it means a lot more coming from the Blue Jays especially because I don’t think there’s anyone I had a relationship with like the Blue Jays, and from top to bottom I knew everyone, and it was really special.”

Great Lake has seen firsthand how hard Diodati has worked to get to the point where he was able to have a decision to make between an impressive collegiate opportunity and professional baseball, and couldn’t be more proud of the young player.

“He’s been one of our hardest workers,” GLC director of baseball operations Chris Robinson said of Diodati. “He’s just the type of kid you don’t bet against. He’s a really mature kid on and off the field in terms of his approach to the game. Offensively, he’s got that professional approach already.

“I know there were some questions of whether he could catch, and I was impressed with how he went about that. He went and spent his entire off-season with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder to prove that he could catch, and it’s pretty cool today getting drafted as a catcher. That’s a cool thing for Owen because I know that’s something he believes in and he really wants to fulfill.”

Added Diodati: “The Blue Jays were one of the teams that really believed in me as a catcher and thought I could do well back there and stay behind the plate regardless of what the bat is and what usually happens to guys like me in pro baseball.

“That was something I talked to [Robinson] about from the very start – I wanted to catch. For them to believe in me and to draft me as a catcher, it’s definitely special. It speaks to the hard work I put it, but also drives me and fuels me to keep working, because I know it’s possible if I really want to do it.”

As Diodati continues his baseball career beyond the CPBL and the Canadian Junior National Team, the Canadians are confident in what he will bring with him to the next level.

“He’s going to work,” Robinson said. “That’s something that [Diodati’s parents] Jodi and Ryan have instilled in him and something that we saw immediately when he came here. So that’s what it’s going to be again, whether with the Jays or down in Alabama, he’s going to keep working.

“He’s got such a great disposition to him and he’s a great teammate, he keeps things light, but he’s the type who leads by example when he’s in the weight room or when he’s on the field or whatever. We’ll see similar things from him as he moves forward.”

Diodati was one of just 25 Canadians selected in the 2019 draft, and one of six CPBL players chosen, joining Ontario Blue Jays Dasan Brown, TJ Schofield-Sam and Jaden Brown, taken in the third, 12th and 40th rounds, respectively, and Toronto Mets Ryan Leitch and Keegan Pulford-Thorpe, selected in the 29th and 33rd rounds.

“It’s something I dreamed of since I was a little kid, and coming from the Blue Jays it means even more because that’s who I grew up watching,” Diodati said. “It’s so classy for them to make that pick after not working out a deal. And three years from now, when my draft year comes around again, it makes that relationship that much stronger. Today was amazing, and getting picked was a childhood dream come true.”

Great Lake Canadians looking to build off of a successful CPBL campaign

Coming off of an incredibly successful season, with three Canadian Premier Baseball League championships and two tournament victories south of the border, the Great Lake Canadians organization is looking for much of the same and more as it heads into the fourth year of the circuit.

Taking the trophies for the second-straight year at the 14U, 15U and 18U levels of the CPBL, the Canadians added a 16U tournament win at the Kent State Invitational and an 18U victory at the Gene Bennett Classic, and all the while maintained the program’s focus on continued development and the progress of its players.

“It was a good year for us,” GLC director of baseball operations Chris Robinson said. “We were happy with how things went on and off the field. We continue to send guys off to school – some big schools and some good fits – and obviously on the field we had some success with three championships.

“We don’t ever really evaluate our success on winning championships but there’s something to be said for as you develop players, you want to develop the winning mentality. So we were really happy with how that went this year.”

Among the accomplishments of the program during the year, the highlight of last season for many of those involved with the organization was in seeing the success of the 18U squad and the season it was able to put together.

“We had some success down in the States, and throughout the league, we all talk collectively about how the league and the competition up here helps our success in the States,” Robinson said. “But we had a very, very special group of older guys this year. Not to take away from any of the other groups we’ve had but it was a very special group and a group that you might not see for a long time.

“It was the way they were wired, the way they went about their business, and obviously they were dominant on the field as well. So that for us was a real fun year, to watch those guys at the back end of their careers here with us, doing what they did.”

As the season came to an end, the Canadians planned their inaugural banquet – featuring ESPN and Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Dan Shulman as the master of ceremonies, and with multiple big-league players including Pete Orr, Jamie Romak and GLC coaches Robinson and Adam Stern in attendance to honour the players – to open up the off-season before beginning another winter of development-focused training to gear up for the fourth CPBL season.

“Our first banquet was a success, and a really cool night as a staff to celebrate what the program has done,” Robinson said. “The off-season is status quo for us and it continues to be that way. We remind ourselves that there are no gimmicks, there’s no special pill, and it’s just a matter of continuing to develop players as we have in the past. That’s always at the forefront of our minds heading into any off-season.”

With another season about to get underway, Great Lake’s staff is excited for what the future holds and to see how the fourth year of the league unfolds on the field.

“I always like watching the kids develop from year to year,” Robinson said. “And now that we’ve been in it, we’ve seen our first group graduating college last year, and now you see the progression of kids over that course of the year.

“We have a really exciting group of 14U players this year, and we’ve always had good players at that younger level. This year, athletically it may be one of the more highly-anticipated groups we’ve ever had. We look forward to having athletes because we believe so strongly in what we do on the developmental side. So that will be a really fun group to get going and see how they progress, along with the rest of our teams and more familiar players.”

Great Lake also has a number of players committed to head to schools for the upcoming season, with Ryan Faragher off to Wabash Valley College, Noah Myers heading from Wabash to the University of South Carolina, Owen Diodati going to the University of Alabama, Tye Imeson off to Salem International University, Brian Zapp heading to Miami University and Eric Martin headed to Indiana State University.

Great Lake Canadians look ahead to third year of CPBL

Excited about the success of the Canadian Premier Baseball League in its first two seasons and the way the circuit has aided in the development and expansion of their program – in addition to winning three of four championships last year – the Great Lake Canadians are looking forward to even more in the third season of the loop.

“We had a pretty good year last year as a program, and the product of seeing our guys go off to school and have success because they’re playing against the top talent in the country in our league,” GLC director of baseball operations and CPBL executive Chris Robinson said. “That’s in and of itself the reason that we started this. 

“So it’s exciting to see not only our guys, but guys across the CPBL from different programs go down to college, be prepared, step in, and early in their careers have success and be big parts of their teams. When it’s all said and done, that’s what we were aiming for, so it seems to be really effective that way.” 

During the most recent winter, the Canadians added a squad to the fold, and made multiple changes to their staff, with some additions and some movement, and they can’t wait to see how the differences translate to the field. 

“We added one team this year, so now we have two 15U clubs,” Robinson said. “Our young 14U team last year pushed the envelope a little bit because of how successful they were [winning the CPBL 14U championship] and because of how quickly they developed. So we’re excited to add that piece, and we adjusted some of the staff, putting guys in positions where they’re going to be successful and dealing with players that are the best fit for them. 

“Jeff Helps is going to manage the 16U team, Brock Kjeldgaard is going to jump up to the 17U team, and Derek Bloomfield, who’s been a long-time rover and jack of all trades for us, and knows the program inside and out, he’s going to take over the 15U Red team. 

“We’ve added Jon Fitzsimmons on the pitching side, and we’re really excited about that, and to have Brendan Saville and Ryan Zimmer, guys we’ve been able to add who are local and tremendous coaches to add to the stable we already have here. It’s exciting and it continues to grow, but we’re also able to grow as a staff with it and add guys with the calibre of coaching that we have.” 

Another piece added to the Great Lake puzzle this off-season was the announcement of several organizational awards as the Canadians made an effort to recognize the accomplishments of current and former players with bigger plans for the accolades in the fold for the future. 

“The awards were neat, and something that [director of player development Adam] Stern has wanted to do forever,” Robinson said. “It’s a great idea, and recognizes some guys within the program, and some of our alumni. It’s neat to see our organizational MVP Noah Myers is down in college doing what he’s doing and having a tremendous amount of success there. 

“And then for guys within the program it’s nice to acknowledge what they’ve done throughout the whole year on the field and off the field. Hopefully the kids look at it as something they want to shoot for. Going into this year, we’re planning a big banquet, and it would be neat to put everything together and bring the family in all at once and celebrate the year in that banquet-type setting.” 

After an incredibly successful second season of the CPBL in which Great Lake teams won championships at the 14U, 15U and 18U age groups, the organization believes there is still much more to accomplish as it moves forward. 

“I don’t think we ever evaluate the development process on wins and losses, but it’s good for the kids to see the hard work paying off and buying into the process,” Robinson said. “Our 14U Red team was a perfect example of that, where they really bought in, developed so quickly, and they were a tight group so it was neat to see them have the success that they had. Our 17U team was great, winning the championship at the 18U age group, and our 15U team was great, winning the championship there, but our teams that didn’t win were very successful too, so we were lucky to have really strong baseball clubs from top to bottom. 

“That’s the expectation for us and we expect our guys to show up to the field and have that desire to win and the instinct to win baseball games. That’s what it has to be at the next level, so if we can prepare our guys for that, then we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.” 

Robinson is looking forward to getting the CPBL going to not only see how the Canadians fare on the field, but also in the hopes of having a successful opening weekend showcase and tournament, with eyes on a midsummer classic as well, after bad weather interrupted a variety of the league’s plans over the first two seasons. 

“We had so much interest in that opening weekend [last year], so I’m hoping that we can generate the same interest level,” Robinson said. “Obviously with some of the draft-eligible guys from throughout the league, we should be able to make it a weekend where people are coming up to watch. I’m starting to hear from scouts and schools that they’re going to be here, so that’s exciting for us because it’s one event that we have really wanted to develop. 

“The all-star game is still a swing and miss and we want to make a couple adjustments to it. We didn’t figure it out last year but hopefully this year we can do it in a way where it becomes a recruiting event for some of the younger guys in the league, and to recognize some of the guys in the older age groups who have had good seasons. That’s the goal, but we continue to build the product, play games that are competitive, and continue to separate ourselves as the best league in the country. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Among the players who will see their CPBL tenures come to an end this summer, the Great Lake Canadians are sending Eric Cerantola to Mississippi State University, Matt Jenkins is committed to Harvard University, Kian Bukala to the University of Indianapolis, Jacob Schuurman is heading to Calvin College, Ian Jordan will be going to Cuyahoga Community College, Cam Sanderson will be attending the University of British Columbia, Kyle Maves is off to Quinnipiac University, and Cal Theal will be heading to Niagara University. For the 2019 season, Eric Martin is committed to Indiana State University, Brian Zapp will be heading to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and Owen Diodati is committed to Xavier University. 

GLC staff gets stronger with addition of Jon Fitzsimmons

LONDON, Ontario – As the season approaches and each of the Great Lake Canadians players and teams continue to grow stronger, the organization’s coaching staff has also done the same.

Bringing another exciting and experienced local player to the fold, the Canadians welcome the addition of Jon Fitzsimmons as a roving pitching instructor to the program. The 26-year-old right-hander not only grew up in London and knows the local landscape of the game, but he brings his experiences from Division-I baseball, playing in the minor leagues with three different organizations as well as in the Can Am League, and winning multiple championships along the way.

“When you can add someone of Jon’s calibre who has played the game at the level he’s played, it’s a great addition to the stable of coaches that we have,” GLC director of baseball operations Chris Robinson said. “We’re excited to have him, and being around him for the last couple of years in the off-season and watching him work, it’s great to bring on a guy who we know works the way he does. Obviously he was committed to his playing career, and now to coaching, and it’s going to be exciting to have him around and really have him sink his teeth into this.”

Fitzsimmons spent three years at Canisius College – one alongside fellow GLC staffer Shane Davis – setting numerous records in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, winning the program’s first MAAC championship, and growing as a hurler, before signing as a free agent with the Royals after his junior year. From there, he played up to Double-A, with a career ERA of 3.87 over more than 160 innings, before heading to the coaching side of the game.

“With Jon’s familiarity with us and what we’re trying to accomplish as a program at the amateur level, he has a lot to add,” GLC pitching coordinator Adam Arnold said. “He provides a lot of experience, and for a guy who’s been able to go through it firsthand, it’s a bonus for us…Jon brings a passion and work ethic that stand out, and he understands what it means to be a Canadian baseball player from your local centre. To be a part of it, and to pass on the knowledge and the experiences he went through, that’s pretty special on it’s own.”

Many of the Great Lake staff members had their first experience with Fitzsimmons as he was trying to forge his way further into the game, and are excited to work with him on the other side of things going forward.

“The chance to bring on Jon Fitzsimmons was a great opportunity for not only the organization, but it’s a great fit for everybody,” GLC director of player development Adam Stern said. “He’s going to be focusing on the 16U to 18U level with the pitchers, and he’s a guy who has come full circle.

“The first year we opened up Centrefield, Fitzy was one of the first guys who came in and was in pitching classes, so having him come on board is a great example of what we have here. The kids in the system now can look to that. He’s been through it and had a great career to date, being able to go to college at a four-year school, have a great career and go off into professional baseball and get to Double-A, that’s a huge accomplishment. Bringing him on board is a huge win for the program.”

Learning from a number of the coaches he will now work alongside, the right-hander looked up to them, and couldn’t be more elated to be a part of what they’re doing now.

“It’s really exciting for me to join them, because these are guys that I’ve looked up to growing up,” Fitzsimmons said. “They’re the guys who actually taught me a lot about the game. They were teaching me when I grew up, and a lot of us always aspired to do what they were doing. So to be able to contribute to a program like this, with such a high calibre of coaching staff, with guys who have played at such a high level and have such high-level knowledge, it’s humbling for me to be able to join them.”

Happy to be back at home in London, Fitzsimmons is looking forward to contributing to the game and its development in the area where he first experienced it.

“Growing up here and playing baseball here, it’s really nice to finally be able to give back to the community here,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’ve had such a long history of baseball players coming out of London, who have played at a very high level, and it’s nice to be able to hopefully continue that process and be a part of it…

“Staying around the game of baseball is exciting for me. And knowing that when I was younger, a lot of coaches I had were really inspiring and made me enjoy the game a lot more than maybe I would have with someone who wasn’t as knowledgable or as excited to be there, I want to try to provide that experience for some of the kids here.”

Bringing in another successful and high-level player from the area to add to an already impressive coaching staff is something that the Canadians take pride in, and are excited to offer to the players within the program.

“This is our bread and butter,” Stern said. “We really put a lot of pride into the guys we have coaching in this program. It adds to the credibility and shows that the guys here really do want to give back to the game. Adding another piece like Jon is great for the development of players. He’s another example for these kids to look in the mirror and see the products that do come from not only London, but all over southwestern Ontario. A separator for our program is the guys we have involved.”

The addition of Fitzsimmons is representative of what has already been built by the Great Lake staff, and what more is to come for the elite amateur program.

“Having Jon join our staff, being from London and with the experience he brings, is a product of what has been built here, both on the Centrefield side and then on the Great Lake side,” Robinson said. “The amateur baseball world is difficult to navigate for players and families, with so much out there in camps, showcases, recruiting services, and all of the other options available through email, social media, and everywhere you look.

“Our philosophy has always been to create an environment where kids can come to get better at playing baseball. No gimmicks, no shortcuts – it’s about surrounding our players with a staff that will help them get to the next level. The most important thing in amateur baseball is preparing for the next level, and the addition of Jon is another tremendous resource for our players to use. He’s someone who has been where they want to go, and has gone through the process they’re in the midst of.”

GLC instructors set to be inducted into Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

When the Canadian Premier Baseball League season starts to wind down this summer, two members of the Great Lake Canadians coaching staff will take centre stage in St. Marys at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in June.

Great Lake director of baseball operations Chris Robinson and infielding, outfielding, and hitting instructor Brock Kjeldgaard are two of just eight players set to become two-time Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers when they are enshrined as a part of the Pan Am team that kept gold on home soil in Ajax in 2015, after previously winning the first gold medal in Baseball Canada program history when they came out on top of the same event in 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“The first one was a big deal because it was the first gold medal,” Robinson said. “But the second one just further puts an exclamation on what the program is now, and what baseball in Canada is. As an outsider you can say, ‘Anybody can win one,’ right? But when you win back-to-back, that goes from being a one off to showing that we’re a world power now.”

Happy to have been a part of the team that left its footprint on the game in Canada, and is being acknowledged by the Hall of Fame for exactly that, Kjeldgaard hopes that the squad’s accomplishments can help continue to grow the game north of the border.

“It’s been a really exciting time for baseball and Baseball Canada, and hopefully it continues to grow,” he said. “It will, and should with the success of the Blue Jays and everything. It’s just been an honour to play for Canada in that tournament and all the other tournaments I got to play in, and when you’re playing in those tournaments it’s a different feeling. You really take that sense of pride in being Canadian that everybody talks about. You hear it from everybody but it’s honestly a different situation, and it’s unbelievable to be a part of.”

Being summoned to the team was unbelievable in itself for Robinson, who played his last professional game as a September call-up for the San Diego Padres in 2013. The mid-season tournament had now-Yankees farmhand Kellin Deglan pencilled in as Canada’s starting catcher, but the squad needed a suitable and capable backup backstop, so Robinson got the call.

“There was a little bit of anxiety about it, there’s no doubt,” the native of Dorchester said. “The way that [Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] explained what my role would be, I wasn’t as anxious about it as thinking I would have to go in there and be a huge part of the on-field stuff, but there was still some anxiety because I hadn’t played for a couple years at that point. The catching part I was okay with. I had still been doing some catching, and that was always something that came a little easier to me than hitting. That was more of where I was worried I was going to be jumping in there facing some of the top minor league arms and some of the best international arms.

“It was funny how it worked out, because I thought because of my role in it, it might not be as gratifying as the first time around, and it was the exact opposite. It was almost more gratifying because we got to do it at home, and it was an experience that I had never really fathomed even getting to have again. I don’t want to say it was sweeter than the first one, but it was definitely as sweet, which I wouldn’t have expected.”

Being able to play in front of their families and friends created many memorable moments, and made the Pan Am Games an incredibly gratifying event as a whole for Robinson and Kjeldgaard, and markedly different from all of their previous international playing experiences.

“It was exciting,” Kjeldgaard said. “It was pretty neat to do it in Toronto – or Ajax – but especially for me and Chris and all the other guys from Ontario. We got to have our whole families there, which didn’t get to happen when we were in Mexico. And obviously with the crowd cheering you on and everything, it’s a pretty cool atmosphere.

“The most memorable thing, for me at least, was being able to do it in front of all my friends and family, instead of just random people in Mexico. Mexico was obviously awesome, and it was the first [gold medal for the program] and it was amazing, but to do it at home in front of the Canadian fans and my family was pretty cool.”

Added Robinson: “That was magnified a little bit. Getting to celebrate on the field, for example. The hostility of the crowd, the other team had to deal with that for once, rather than us. The crowds were great, especially as we got deeper and deeper into the tournament. That was a pretty cool part…

“I remember we were playing Colombia on the back field, and I got an at-bat and my kids were in the stands. They had seen me play, but they weren’t really at the age where they knew what was going on, whereas this time around in the Pan Am Games they could figure out that dad’s playing. I remember that I was walking up to the plate, we were up 8-0 and it was a complete nothing at-bat, and I remember hearing [my son] Griffin scream, ‘Go Daddy,’ and I thought, ‘This is one of the coolest at-bats I’ve ever had.’ That’s an experience I will remember forever, even just the pictures we have with the kids and [my wife] Amy and myself, the whole thing was really special.

“So I agree with Brock where that was something that we, for a very long time playing on the national team, never got to experience. We never had anything like that. That was a part of the reason why it was so gratifying.”

Also different from previous experiences for Team Canada was the way the final game of the tournament ended. In a deadlock with Team USA after nine innings, the international tiebreaker rule came into effect, with runners starting on first and second base in extras. When the American squad went ahead with two runs in the 10th frame, the Canucks needed to answer back in the bottom half.

They did, with one out and one run in after a failed bunt attempt, a hit, and a back-pick attempt at first base gone wrong. When Team USA hurler David Huff sent the ball into right field, Canada’s second run came around to tie the game. When right fielder Brian Bogusevic threw the ball over his third baseman’s head, national team legend Pete Orr continued around third and headed for home. The throw beat him there, but when the ball rolled to the backstop, Canada became back-to-back Pan Am champions.

“It was different for sure, because of how the game went,” Kjeldgaard said. “It was weird because I was in the game and then Tim [Smith] pinch-hit for me, so I was out of the game, and when I was in the game I was perfectly fine but as soon as I came out of the game I got really nervous. You can’t do anything when you’re not playing, so it was nerve-wracking for sure.

“When we were in Mexico, I was playing right field and centre field, and you just play the game and then once it ends, it’s pure excitement. I was a little more nervous in Toronto, especially going into extra innings, and having that extra-inning international [tiebreaker] rule.”

Robinson wholeheartedly agreed with his colleague’s sentiment that the game was much more nerve-wracking as a bystander than as a player.

“Oh, a million per cent,” he said. “I remember I was in the bullpen with [pitching coach Paul Quantrill] and I said, ‘Q, if I’ve got to go into this game right now – god forbid something happens to Kellin [Deglan] right now. I’ve been shaking for two straight hours and I feel like I’m going to vomit.’ It’s ridiculous. I completely agree with Brock. That was the first time in my life when I was on a team where I felt completely helpless and I felt like I couldn’t even help right now if they needed me to. The reality is probably as soon as you got in there, it would be more comfortable than sitting and watching.”

The final play of the matchup made things both exciting and confusing for all those involved, but for the Canadians now heading into the Hall of Fame, it couldn’t have ended any better.

“It’s one of those things you remember forever,” Robinson said. “From my angle, we were sitting there in the bullpen and we were just going crazy like everyone. Then we saw Pete slide, and we saw the ball beat him, and then from our angle we didn’t see anything until the umpire called him safe. We didn’t see the ball. We saw the umpire call safe, and that was when we did our 330-foot sprint. The thing I remember so clearly was that hesitation of thinking, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ And he called him safe and we took off.”

Added Kjeldgaard: “I saw the umpire call him safe. It was a really weird situation obviously because it was like you don’t believe what just happened, or you don’t really understand what just happened when it first happened but you’re just in a state of pure joy. I remember all of us after the game saying, ‘We don’t know what happened. It just happened and we don’t know what happened.’

“There was mayhem, and you just go crazy. After, you’re trying to reflect and figure out exactly what happened, and we had to watch it on video because we didn’t know. You get different views, and then a couple days later some more videos were on YouTube and they got sent to us to see, so it was cool to see the perspective from in the stadium and all the different angles.”

With a special team from beginning to end, the two GLC coaches couldn’t be more honoured to head into the Hall of Fame – again – and with the particular group of guys that they accomplished the ultimate goal with at the most recent Pan Am Games.

“It was a fun group,” Kjeldgaard said. “We were loose from Day 1. You could say there was pressure, but really we didn’t feel any pressure. It was just those 24 guys altogether, we had one goal, and it was just to go there, to win the gold medal again, and thankfully we got to do it.”

Canadians find final piece of puzzle in inaugural CPBL season

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.

14U Great Lake Canadians take undefeated season into playoffs

With the Canadian Premier Baseball League playoffs underway at the three youngest levels of play, one team stands out amongst the crowd for the season it had and what it did to get to the end point.

The 14U Great Lake Canadians squad put together an undefeated run that lasted throughout the entirety of the year, posting a 21-0-1 regular-season record, becoming the only team to accomplish such a feat and setting an incredible standard in the circuit’s inaugural season of play.

“This team gelled right from the beginning,” said Brad McElroy, the manager of the program’s 14U squad. “They seem to bring out the best in each other which makes it easy and comfortable for them to play together.”

Though they made it look easy at times, the Canadians showed their grit when they needed to and became a force to be reckoned with when challenges confronted them.

“We had a game in Toronto against the Ontario Blue Jays where we were down by three in the seventh and the guys buckled down, scored five in the inning, and held the other team off to win,” McElroy said. “That was when we really started to see the potential of this team. They pick each other up and love being at the field.

“As a coaching staff, we are very proud of these young men and are excited to see their future in baseball in the up-and-coming years.”

Setting the bar for teams in upcoming years of the CPBL, the 14U Great Lake squad also set an example for their entire program, and the coaching staff couldn’t be more excited for what their players accomplished but also for what more is to come from them.

“This is an exciting group of kids to be around,” said Chris Robinson, director of baseball operations for the GLC organization. “They play the game hard and the way we want all of our teams to play. They are a perfect example of Great Lake Canadians baseball. It’s exciting to think about this group, years down the road, and how good they can be.”

Two other teams came incredibly close and had similar success throughout the year, with the Tri-City Giants posting a 16-1 record at the 13U level and the Ontario Blue Jays 12U Naylor squad going 18-1-1 during their season, both finishing atop the standings among their respective age groups.

Playoffs have commenced for the 12U, 13U and 14U teams and will see their completion at the end of the weekend. At the 16U and 18U levels, makeup games will be played over the duration of the weekend and post-season play will begin at the end of July.

Van Rycheghem off to the desert after draft

Luke Van Rycheghem couldn’t wait to get started.

As the days to this year’s draft wound down, the 18-year-old Ontario Blue Jays and Canadian Junior National Team backstop anxiously looked forward to what the selection process might bring.

Although it didn’t go exactly as he had planned, because of nerves and a little bit of impatience, Van Rycheghem became the fifth high schooler from north of the border chosen, when the Arizona Diamondbacks made him their 23rd-round pick.

He immediately made the decision to head off into the professional baseball realm, and is currently on his way to beginning his pro career.

“It didn’t really go the way I thought, but turning it down was just too hard,” the native of Kent Bridge said. “I was way too excited to start playing professional baseball. It’s a huge honour to be drafted.

“My parents [Mark and Rosie] were so proud and my whole family was really excited for me. All my friends already got hats and jerseys and all that stuff. My dad was most excited for me. He couldn’t stop smiling, and he just seemed so proud.”

Working with the OBJ program over the last couple of seasons, along with getting help from a variety of resources, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound catcher has made it clear that baseball has always been a top priority, however difficult the circumstances.

“From Luke, I’ve seen his maturity and commitment to the game,” said Mike Steed, the director of pitching and college placement for the OBJ organization, and head coach of Van Rycheghem’s current team. “With Luke living in the Chatham area [three hours away], it was tough for him to get down a lot for workouts, but he and his family made a great effort to get him around our culture with the OBJ program. And, he can now hit the pitch on the outer half.”

Added Van Rycheghem: “I have always tried to work as hard as I can up to this day, and it has been my dream for so long to play pro ball. Both the Ontario Blue Jays and Team Canada have impacted my game. They’ve helped me improve every day…I’ve also been helped by [former big-league catcher] Chris Robinson, he has always been there to help me with my catching and develop me.

“And in Florida [with the Junior National Team], I worked with [former American League MVP] Justin Morneau. We worked in the cages on my swing and he gave me some pointers. Also, my dad has been a huge help – he does so much to develop me as a player and as a person.”

Not much has been different for the young player throughout his time with the OBJ program, steadily improving to get to where he is currently, but Steed believes his most consistent attributes will help him the most along the way.

“He really hasn’t changed that much, other than physically getting bigger and stronger over the time I have known him,” Steed said. “He has always been a sincere, genuine person with how he approaches the game, and people in general.”

The Diamondbacks should look forward to the addition of one of their newest Canadian rookies, and his coaches at home are excited for what the future may bring to the high schooler.

“Arizona can expect a young hitter with a power bat,” Steed said. “As he keeps maturing as a hitter, he will be a solid, middle-of-the-order type of player…I’m looking forward to watching Luke go through the day-to-day grind of minor league baseball. And I mean that in a positive way, because he loves the game so much I don’t think he will know it’s supposed to be a ‘grind.’”

Van Rycheghem is one of six players from the Canadian Premier Baseball League selected in the draft this June, among a total of 12 high schoolers hailing from north of the border. Toronto Mets catcher Andrew Yerzy was taken in the second round, 52nd overall, also by the Diamondbacks. OBJ hurler Jordan Balazovic followed in the fifth round, taken 153rd overall by the Minnesota Twins.

“With all our picks from the OBJ organization, we are extremely proud of these young men for what they have accomplished,” Steed said. “And the OBJ organization is glad that we could help develop Luke and give him the opportunities to reach this next step in his baseball career.”

Toronto Mets southpaw Matt Jones was taken in the 28th round, also by Minnesota. Great Lake Canadians right-hander Austin Shields was chosen in the 33rd round by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and GLC outfielder Jake Wilson was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round.