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By Andrew Hendriks
It may have been the second week of January, but you wouldn’t have known it had you been inside the Rogers Centre last weekend.
As a blast of icy weather wreaked havoc on the streets of Toronto, a group of 600 coaches from across Canada gathered under the roof at One Blue Jays Way to take part in the third annual National Coaches Clinic hosted, in partnership, by the Blue Jays Baseball Academy and Baseball Canada.
The event, which ran from Jan. 10-12, provided coaches of all levels a unique opportunity to learn an array of valuable techniques and processes from some of the country’s most influential instructors, national team luminaries and Blue Jays alumni.
At a cost of $160 per applicant, participants were treated to two days of on field instruction in addition to a Friday night coaches social and a chance to take part in an array of National Coaching Certification Program modules that focused on specific instructional elements within the game.
Aimed at providing attendees a unique experience to further expand their knowledge, the annual clinic also helps shake off some of the inevitable rust forged by an excruciating six month off-season within the great white north.
For coaches, the three day program served a welcome reprieve from the rigors of a baseball-less Canadian winter.
“Any time you get an opportunity to talk baseball in January, it’s hard to pass up.” said Drew Thomas, a Kids on Deck instructor at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St Marys, On. “It’s great to simply be at a ballpark again while getting your mind back on the game and learning some insightful techniques from such an outstanding collection of individuals.”
In addition to an impressive core of baseball savants including former major leaguers Chirs Robinson, Adam Stern and Stubby Clapp, Blue Jays greats, Duane Ward, Brian McRae, Rance Mulliniks, Homer Bush, Candy Maldonado, Lloyd Moseby, Pat Tabler, Tanyon Sturtze and Devon White all joined in the action, lending their years of knowledge and experience to those in attendance.
Having put together a pair of these events in the past, organizers had this years workout down to a science.
“A program like this is very important to us because we do the camps and work with the kids but when we leave, it’s the coaches that are left to further teach the kids” explained T.J. Burton, program coordinator for the Blue Jays Baseball Academy. “Having the coaches here so we can give them the knowledge and have them pass it on further down the road, that’s what we think is the most important element to this clinic”.
As the list of Canadian standouts including the Seattle Mariners James Paxton, Cincinatti Reds Joey Votto, the Milwaukee Brewers Jim Henderson and the Blue Jays trio of Russell Martin, Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey, continues to grow, the American past time has never been as relevant as it currently stands north of the border. Saunders took part in a Q and A along with Jays broadcaster Pat Tabler, McRae and Baseball Canada president Ray Carter.
With the continued efforts of the Blue Jays Baseball Academy, in addition to a a variety of similar programs that run nation wide, intentions are to continue developing top-flite talent across Canada, and the coaches in attendance at last weeks clinic in Toronto hope to be on the cutting edge of this progression.
Of course, having the opportunity to lace ‘em up and take batting practice on the field was only an added bonus to the jam packed itinerary for many of the coaches.
“I’ve always wanted to take BP at the dome” explained Thomas. “Growing up and watching guys like Fred McGriff, Joe Carter and Carlos Delgado play pepper with those seats in the 100 level outfield, the kid in me wanted to see if I too could take advantage of the parks hitter friendly confines”.
Over the course of the weekend, pride emerged as a main topic of discussion among those on hand for the event. Pride that stems from having an extensive Canadian program in place … a program that’s starting to pay dividends at all levels of the game.
“There has been a lot of growth up here since I’ve played” said McRae who finished his 10 year career in the majors with the Blue Jays’ in 1999. “Lots to be proud of for baseball in Canada”.
Organizers at the Academy certainly feel the same way, and with this years coaching clinic now in the books, they hope that the work done on a cold weekend in January leads to even more on field success for this country in the future.
-Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)