When the winner was crowned at the 16U level of the Canadian Premier Baseball League for the 2019 season, the circuit saw a new champion, with the Great Lake Canadians taking the trophy.
From the beginning of the off-season last year, Great Lake’s 16U manager Jeff Helps saw flashes of what could be from his team, and hoped that they could put it all together so that he and the Canadians staff might see what their potential could do on the field.
“We had a good fall and you could start to see little glimpses of this group being pretty special, whether it was offensively or on the mound,” Helps said. “It started off early with a bang and the boys kept rolling all summer.
“They went down and had some tough games against some older teams in some of our US tournaments but they kept the ball rolling and especially for the championship tournament. It was one of those things where it was in our hands and the boys played good baseball.”
Great Lake started its postseason weekend with a win over the Ontario Astros, before taking on the Toronto Mets and Ontario Blue Jays to secure two more victories. In the final, the Canadians squared off against the Mets and took them down to secure the trophy.
“The most impressive thing about this group is probably the offence,” Helps said. “One through nine or 10, all the guys in the lineup that day. It was a pretty scary offence, and that showed in the last few games where we won by mercying the other teams. It was really electric, where one inning you’d all of a sudden see an extra-base hit, extra-base hit, homer, extra-base hit — it was a really explosive offence that was our staple for most of the year.”
Some of the players who joined Helps were winners before the year even began, with several securing the 15U championship with Great Lake during the 2018 season and others from the team that topped the regular-season standings last year, with a few new additions to round out the trophy-winning squad.
“There were a few from Derek [Bloomfield]’s team and some of that group of kids stayed together, but there were also a few from Shane [Davis]’s team as well,” Helps said. “It’s one of those things where you combine two really good teams and make them into one and usually you end up with a pretty special group, with the pieces we added from the outside as well.”
When the playoff weekend came to an end with the final win of the year for the championship squad, seeing his team hoist the trophy and celebrate was a special moment for Helps and the rest of the Great Lake staff.
“It was pretty cool,” Helps said. “It was one of those things where this group had the ability to do it, but you never know in the game of baseball. You can play whoever you want and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. With this group though you knew they were smelling it. They were feeling it. It was pretty cool. These guys were so offensive and so explosive that they just took it down.”
The win at the 16U level for the Canadians was one of four championships the program won at the end of the 2019 season, with Great Lake also securing trophies at the 14U, 15U and 17U divisions, and the Ontario Blue Jays winning at the 18U level.
“It shows the strength as a whole, as an entire program,” Helps said. “And from top to bottom, the quality that these kids are performing at. It’s pretty cool as a whole, as a group, as a program, to see that success.
“It’s one of those things where you feel like you’re doing things the right way. Winning isn’t necessarily everything, but sometimes it’s a little feather in your cap where you’re doing things right and it’s being proven on the field.”