A Home-Run For Canadian Baseball

By Pirasanth Gunasekaram

It was only three years ago when there wasn’t a Canadian collegiate baseball championship tournament. This year, the Durham Lords beat the Thompson River University Wolfpack 2-1 to win the 2019 National College Baseball Championship (NCBC).     

The Lords beat the Wolfpack on Saturday Oct.25.

 “It’s an amazing feeling,” says Lords pitcher Riley Gray.

He also won Player of The Game, All-Star, the top hitter award and Most Valuable Player award.

Photo by Pirasanth Gunasekaram.

“We started out the year, two and six,” Gray says. “To make it here {and} win it all, it’s pretty impressive.”

“I think it’s definitely grown in the last 10-20 years.” says Liam Shibata, Wolfpack Infielder, on baseball in Canada.

Lords pitcher Riley Gray says it’s a growing sport.

“I mean, just the talent that was all over here this weekend was pretty impressive. And I just think it’s going to continue to grow well,” he says. “It’s always just a great experience to see how other provinces play the fame and get to compete against them.”

Shibata says it’s good to have events like the national championship.

Third baseman Conner May pitching during the Durham Lords and John Abbot Islander game. Photo by Pirsanth Gunasekaram.

“Being from B.C., we get to come out here and experience {how} some of the baseball is played in Ontario,” Shibata says. He also says there are teams from Quebec and Prince Edward Island participating. 

The NCBC is an invitational only event for six colleges across the country, that was picked by the host, to have an opportunity to win the national championship.

Participants in the NCBC this year from outside Ontario were: Thompson River University Wolfpack from Kamloops, British Columbia, the John Abbott Islanders from Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec, the Holland Hurricanes from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and the Lionel-Groulx Nordiques from Sainte-Thérèse, Québec.

Humber College hosted the tournament for the second year in a row and Wolfpack head coach Ray Chadwick says Humber College has done an excellent job hosting the tournament in the last two years. 

“I don’t know if anybody could do it any better,” says Chadwick. “It’s been a treat for our guys to travel this far to play and they make they make us right at home.”

Durham Head Coach Sam Dempster says the tournament is growing bigger and bigger each year.

“This is the first national tournament we’ve had where we’ve had teams from the east coast and the west Coast,” Dempster says. “I imagine next year there’ll be teams from the who Midwest might want to be in.”

Durham’s Statistician Larry Pierce says the growth is very good, especially in Ontario.

“{The} league is very competitive,” Pierce says. “We’re up to seven teams now, possibly an eighth next year which makes it that much better.”

Ken Babcock, Durham College Director of Athletics and Recreation, says he’s very excited to see collegiate baseball continue to grow in Canada.

“This is just another step to keep moving forward and offering a national opportunity for baseball at the Canadian college level,” Babcock says.

With the NCBC running its annual invitational tournament, collegiate baseball is getting bigger, especially in Ontario.

  Collegiate baseball didn’t even exist in Ontario until six years ago when the OCAA created its baseball league. 

“In 2013, there were enough schools {six teams} to start the OCAA baseball circuit and that’s now grown to where we’re at today,” says Babcock.

In 2019, there are now seven teams, with Lambton College joining this season. Matt Ferreira, Mohawk Mountaineers Director of Athletics and Recreation, says the league is taking steps to increase the competition.

“You’ve still got kind of a couple of traditional teams in St. Clair and Humber that {is} doing well,” he says. “Then some teams that are really starting to turn a corner {like} Seneca isn’t off to a great start this year {and} George Brown has really started to take that next step.”

Gray says the competition is getting really good, Seneca haven’t made the OCAA playoffs until this year.

Ferreira also says the league has more quality players than in years past.

“{It’s} a testament to the schools and the coaches recruiting,” he says. “There’s a couple of former junior national team players that are now in the league on some different rosters.”

 The former baseball Humber coach says he is still an avid fan and watching the league. 

“More kids are playing baseball, more kids are going to college and more kids are getting drafted in the MLB than ever before,” says Babcock.

It may seem surprising that baseball is popular in Canada despite the Toronto Blue Jays missing the playoffs the last few seasons, and losses of star players. Sports are usually popular with the city when the team is doing well.

Babcock says that popularity came from the 2015-2016 playoff run.

“Through 2015-2016, the Jays were a real serious contender and that captivated the country,” says Babcock. “We saw that the growth of the younger kids who get to see those players. The Blue Jays playoff runs are now growing through the baseball system because they got introduced to that.”

Ferreira says it’s not surprising the Jays  are still popular because of their 2015-2016 success.

“The Jays were very successful up until a couple years ago, {and} were putting a tremendous product on the field,” he says. “They’re exciting to watch now with a lot of the young talent that is coming through their system.”

When comparing the first OCAA season to this current season, Babcock says that there is now parity in the league. 

Infielder Taylor Van Ham (10) fist bumping Vance Fode after hitting a home-run during the Thompson River University Wolfpack and HollandHurricanes. Photo by Pirasanth Gunasekaram.

“It’s highly competitive, and no one’s running away with the league so it should be a real battle for the season before they get to the conference playoffs,” says Babcock.

Ferreira says the last six or seven years, baseball has seen more parity across the OCAA and Canadian Collegiate leagues.

“The quality across the league, in terms of the level of competitiveness has definitely increased,” says Ferreira.

Chadwick says the team would love to come back in the future despite that their league and university aren’t supporting them financially. The players have to pay for their flights and hotels.

“My team wants to come and they want to play,” he says.

According to Ferreira,  to be part of the CCAA championship, the formula is simple. 

“It’s conference representation, and having conference representation,” he says. “That would be the biggest piece right now, getting that full conference representation from across the country.”

Shibata says it would be great to see other provinces represented. 

“Just right now there’s just one team from BC, so it’d be great if there could be teams from Alberta or Saskatchewan,” Shibata says.

“We’re excited to keep that national event going as we grow the game, not only in Ontario, but we’d like to see the CCAA adopt baseball one day as an official CCAA national sport,” Babcock says

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