* Learning under the lights at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Az., former spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox. Ontario Terriers coach Rick Johnston shakes hands with RHP Austin Skelhorn (Aurora, Ont.) after hit outing, while coach John Milton explains the finer points of play to INF Reagan Manley (Peterborough).
By Matt Betts
The Ontario Terriers fall trip to Arizona was an overwhelming success according to John Milton, the 17u assistant coach.
The players and coaches spent four full days on the professionally manicured fields at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, the former spring training home of the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Four days of total focus on workouts, skill development and playing games. Milton described the facilities as “the best the players have ever experienced and is definitely one of the best baseball complexes in the USA.”
The 15u and 16u Terriers went 1-3, while the 18u Terriers were winless – but lost three of their games by one run, including a 5-4 loss to the Nogales Apaches. The Apaches have won numerous state championships and were 2014 state finalists. The Terriers also faced the Tucson Badgers, the Tucson Express and the Tucson Dirtybirds. Following their only win (5-1 over the Dirtybirds), the 16u players from both teams got to know each other better at a lunch served in the private stadium suites.
The Terriers played in the 11,000 seat Kino Veteran’s Memorial Stadium with the beautiful mountains as a backdrop. Milton that the Terrier’s were “treated like big leaguers as we were provided with our own clubhouse where each player had their own locker stall.” The experience was made possible with the support of Angel Natal of “Visit Tucson” along with Chris Bartos and his staff at the Kino Sports Complex.
The Terrier players had the privilege of having MLB International Envoy Bill Percy and Minnesota State University associate head coach AdamChrist join the team as guest coaches. At the end of the second day, Christ held a valuable College Baseball Q&A for the players and parents.
As well, former major leaguer and current University of Arizona assistant coach Shelley Duncan took time to speak to the teams as well as to individual players about his baseball experiences.
Another highlight for players was a chance to meet legendary University of Arizona head coach Andy Lopez, three time National Coach of the Year. He led Arizona to a NCAA National Championship in 2012.
It was a jam packed, busy four days. Milton feels the competition was some of the best the Terriers have ever faced. Milton says that the teams they played “were extremely sound fundamentally.” He was quick to add that “it was good test for our players to play against teams of that caliber. I was happy that our players didn’t feel intimidated and we certainly weren’t overmatched.”
Terrier players were able to showcase their talent during the four day trip. Ben Abrams (Georgetown, Ont.) was a standout on the mound and caught the eye of coach Lopez according to Milton.
Former major leaguer George Arias, a University of Arizona alumni and 1993 Anaheim Angels draft pick, who played five years in the majors with the San Diego Padres and the Angels was also watching closely. He currently coaches the 16u Tucson team.
“Through my experience of playing pro ball for 14 years, I’ve been fortunate that baseball has allowed me to play in different parts of the world,” said Arias. “I have seen different types of competition at all levels, some were good and some were still learning.
“What really impressed me with the Terriers teams, was not only their ability to play the game, but the discipline, drive and respect they had while playing the game. This only comes through good coaching. (The coaches) are doing a great job with their teams and I sure do hope parents really understand how good they have it with this team.”
Milton points out that “These types of trips are an important part of the overall development of our players and our program. It allows our players to play the best competition and train at the top facilities in the USA. This is what separates our program from the rest. It also fosters partnerships with other organizations like Visit Tucson, the Kino Sports Complex, and the Arizona International Baseball Consortium.”
Randy Jacob, Arizona’s International Baseball Consortium managing member/business development, was impressed.
“AIBC’s vision has always been to foster true, youth, international competition,” Jacob said. “We have developed a strong relationship through our Vamos a Tucson Youth Fiesta de Beisbol tournament as well as several ‘friendly” games over the years with youth teams in Northern Mexico.
“We are very excited to offer this international competition, in the context of our exceptional weather and unique city, to the Ontario Terriers as well as other teams in the Canadian youth baseball market. We look forward to continuing to build on our relationships in Canada.”
A testament to the Terrier program and the way both players and coaches represent Canadian baseball.