Trail Little League All Stars coach D. J. Ashman believes destiny is on his team’s side this year.
The All Stars are set for the BC Little League Championship in Vancouver this week, 29 years since Ashman played for Trail in the 1990 Little League World Series. It just so happens that Trail won its fifth Canadian Little League championship in Stoney Creek, Ont. that year, and it is exactly 29-km away from this year’s site in Ancaster, Ont.
“It’s almost a surreal kind of thing,” said Ashman. “It’s probably just one of those things, but I feel really good about our group of kids, we have good balance, we’re pretty sound in a bunch of areas so I’m looking forward to it for sure.”
Ashman has coached the All Stars for the last 12 years, and added Darren McCarthy and Mitch Dobie as bench coaches this year, as well as Jordan Konkin from Nelson as pitching coach.
“We’ve had a blast coaching this summer,” said Ashman. “This is my first time without Mike Boisvert so it’s a little different mix. It’s been a good combination of guys. We have outfield, infield, pitching all that experience, and a couple of us are pretty good hitters too so it’s worked out good.”
The team is certainly prepared. The All Stars have been practicing relentlessly and competed in three tournaments in Calgary, Kalispell and Chewelah the past month. They amassed a 12-4 record, and rolled through the first two tournaments without a loss in the respective round robins. However, they couldn’t quite get the job done, losing in the semifinals in all three tournaments.
“I think we’re starting to peak at the right time,” said Ashman. “Our M.O. is not to go to the tournaments and necessarily win, it’s to get our pitchers in and move the kids around, and see who is going to fit. If we coached a little bit differently, I think we could have won every tournament.
“I told the kids, ‘Winning the tournaments doesn’t define who we are, it’s going to be how we do at provincials.’”
The All Stars have only one veteran player returning to the team this season in shortstop Owen Dickson, who is quietly confident heading into the BCs.
“I was able to see what they brought to the table last year, so now we know how to go in and what to do,” said Owen. “It’s a good group. But we have to go in and play as hard as we can. There’s going to be some good teams, but I think we can match them and beat them. We’re bonding really well, and I think we’ll do good.”
Dickson also echoed coach Ashman’s thoughts on the team’s depth on the mound. The All Stars have a strong rotation led by Fruitvale ace Carson McInnes.
“Everyone can throw,” said Carson. “If we need anyone, they can come in and do it.”
The process of competing for a spot on the All Star squad and playing through the two-a-day practices, tournaments, and travel has been physically and mentally demanding, yet the players have grown accustomed to the regime and now relish it.
“We have tons of morning practices, hitting, fielding, everything we can do to get ready for provincials,” said Carson. “But D. J. is a great coach and he makes everything fun. Just hanging with your team, eating with them, and just doing everything with them, they’re like your family, and it’s the greatest thing.”
McInnes says his go-to pitch is his fastball, up-and-in, and he can’t wait to unleash it on the hitters in Little Mountain Baseball’s Main Diamond this week. Coincidentally, the diamond sits kitty-corner to the fabled Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Vancouver Canadians where pros like Kevin Pillar, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Troy Glaus, Jason Giambi and Rickey Henderson once honed their craft.
Seven teams will compete in the event including Dunbar, Coquitlam, Highlands, Hastings, Layritz, Trail, and host Little Mountain. It’s a refreshing new cycle of teams this year, as the usual suspects like White Rock, Whalley, and Beacon Hill failed to advance out of their zones.
Despite the changing of the guard, the competition will be fierce as the BC champion has gone on to win 13 of the last 14 Canadian Little League titles.
“I expect there are going to be some pretty good teams,” said Trail fielder/pitcher Raiden Dobie. “But they probably expect us to be pretty good too. I’m not too worried about the other teams. I think we have a good shot and I believe we’re one of the better teams, we just have to prove it.”
The winner of provincials will advance to the Canadian Little League Championship in Ancaster. The Canadian champion goes on to compete at the 2019 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The Trail All Stars open the BC Championships on Saturday at noon against Coquitlam.