Long time coach and mentor D.J. Ashman was honoured by BC Minor Baseball at the end of the year wind-up at Andy Bilesky Park.
Trail Little League president Dawn Rhynold and vice president Steve Robinson presented Ashman with the Honour Roll Award recognizing his incredible contribution to Trail Little League, BC Little League, Trail Youth Baseball and the City of Trail.
“Even now I’m so emotional,” said Ashman. “I had no idea it was coming, it was just super special. I don’t even know what to say.”
Ashman played little league in Trail, and was part of the All Star team that won the Canadian championship in 1990 and competed in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
His excellent play and love of the sport took him to the Babe Ruth World Series hosted by Trail in 1995.
His passion and expertise helped make Trail Little League one of the best in the province, his dedication to baseball and each and every player makes Ashman special, much like his own coach and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Andy Bilesky.
“It was really nice to see a bunch of the young kids, but I was too emotional to say much,” said Ashman. “I just told the kids I love being out here and hope I get to coach each and every one of you one day.”
The Trail native has been coaching youth baseball for more than two decades and has led the All Star team since 2008.
“I love it. You can fish and golf and you can do all these things for the rest of your life, but you can’t play little league forever.
“This is where it all starts, this is where young boys turn into young men, where us as coaches can help their parents get them to the next stage of their maturity and growth as a young human, and I feel honoured to be a part of that.”
Quest for a District banner
As he heads into his 15th year leading the Trail All Stars, Ashman is looking forward to his upcoming District 8 playdown against the Cranbrook All-Star Bandits in the best-of-three series this weekend, July 7-9. The winner advances to the BC Little League championship in North Vancouver.
“Right now we are a good team, but we’re working to where we can be great,” said Ashman. “There are lots of little things we need to do.”
The All Stars are made up of six Greater Trail players, four from Nelson and one from Castlegar, and have four returning players from last season, with nine 12-year-old and three 11-year-old players on the team this year.
“We are trying to get the kids to just bond together, and that’s been the biggest challenge, but that’s where we’ve come a long ways.”
The All Stars returned from a tournament in Medicine Hat last weekend where they finished with two wins and two losses, their third tournament in as many weeks. Since forming in early June, Ashman says the team is developing and improving with every game.
The team’s pitching is solid and consistent and has been one of the bright spots. As for hitting, there is room for improvement.
“Hitting is a work in progress still, but a lot of kids have made some strides and that’s why we are out here tonight (Monday) hitting and doing all the fundamentals so that we can get there.”
Trail beat Cranbrook in its first District play-down last season, and Ashman expects an even better Bandits team this year.
“Last year we played them in a tournament so we knew what to expect, this year we really don’t. We hear they have two really big kids that can throw hard, but that can be overcome by lots of little things in the game.
“We have to take care of business. And I like that we have to play to get in now.”
Previously, the All Stars received an automatic bid to the provincial championship, but last year Cranbrook stepped up and committed to field a team, creating a District 8 playdown, and a chance to win a District banner.
Like Ashman, his All Star teams are marked by dedication and hard work, but also a love and appreciation for the game that every one of his players carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“The common theme is that we work hard and we’re gritty,” said Ashman. “We are those blue collar, lunch-bucket guys that get dirty and go to work.”
The winner of the District 8 playdown will advance to the B.C. Little League championships in North Van from July 14-23.
The Trail All Stars last won silver in 2016 when North Van was host, in a close 3-2 loss to Whalley in the final.