The year of planning, renovating, organizing, and practicing is finally at its end, now execution is key.
The B.C. Little League Major baseball championship has arrived in Trail and organizers, coaches and players are primed and ready for the week long event.
Thanks to volunteers, the City of Trail, and local contractors, Andy Bilesky Park received an extensive makeover and is all set for the biggest baseball event in Trail this summer.
The 11-12 year old Trail All Stars have gone 18-2 since forming early last month, including 15-5 and 17-7 wins on Tuesday against Bonners Ferry in their first games at the newly renovated park.
The kids are ready, said head coach D. J. Ashman, and a positive attitude pervades the Trail dugout as they look forward to a tough week of baseball against B.C.’s best.
“I’m feeling very optimistic,” he said. “But I’m trying to keep my bar not too high so I don’t get disappointed. But I have to be honest, I definitely think we have a really good shot too.”
After coming off consecutive tournament wins and a 16-game win streak, Trail’s record shows a team that’s dialed in and confident.
“Based on our play, and the kids that we have are very experienced – their heads are in it and that’s the biggest thing.”
The team has only one 11-year-old, and enjoy a veteran presence past teams lacked. The All Stars also possess certain intangible qualities that can’t be taught, but must be experienced through team building and just plain having fun.
The enthusiasm starts with coaches Ashman, Jason Startup, and Mike Boisvert who engage the players and parents in activities that promotes team bonding; such as a talent show and ‘Fear the Beard’ of Boisvert who has resigned himself to growing a patchwork of struggling whiskers until the team loses.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Startup who joined the coaching staff this year. “It’s a big commitment, but the kids are great and really working hard, I love it.”
Ashman can’t say enough about the support he has from his coaches, another element that makes this team special.
“I’m very happy with our knowledgable coaching staff,” said Ashman. “I mean between us we’ve got all facets of the game covered. It’s the best overall coaching staff I’ve had in a long time.”
Five veteran players from last year’s All Stars lead the squad; Derek Green, Jon Ballarin, Brendan Makay, Ross St. Jean and Kian Johnstone will be counted on for their experience. Trail also enjoys a deep starting rotation with six reliable pitchers that can go at any time. Good defence and even better hitting should make the host team a threat.
Yet in spite of recent success, the provincial tournament is a different season and the team will need to make adjustments this week.
“Our strategy has to change because we’re basically going from Cal Ripken rules to Little League rules. Pitch counts . . . you can only throw 20 pitches every game, so in a tournament like ours with no days off in between, we have to be really smart on how we use them,” said Ashman.
Pitchers can throw up to 20 pitches per game without having to take a days rest, but depending on how many pitches a hurler throws over that amount, determines a one to four day rest period.
“You have to make sure you have your best pitching left over to get you through the semis and into the final, so it becomes a really hard thing to think about, but it is that important.”
The All Stars play what could be their two toughest opponents right away.
Hastings is the only other returning team from last year’s provincial tournament where Trail finished the round robin with a 2-4 record.
Dunbar, Forest Hills, and Beacon Hill round out the teams.
The winner advances to the Canadian Championship in Edmonton Aug. 4 and from there to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.
Event organizers are pleased with the volunteer turnout but can always use more, said co-chair Shannon Morris Ballarin. To volunteer go to www.traillittleleague.ca.