*Doug Jones, prairie whirling dervish, who founded the Badlands Baseball Academy, shown here with councillor Alice Booth ... 2012 Canadians in the Minors 2012 Canadians in College 2012 Canadians draft list Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
OYEN, Alta. -- Doug Jones is the former president of Baseball Alberta and former general manager of two of Alberta’s Canada Games teams.
He’s also the former top man at the Prairie Baseball Academy and a former president of the Western Major Baseball League.
Jones is the former mayor of Oyen and former president of the riding Honourable Shirley McClellan, former Alberta Deputy Premier, who held for 20 years.
And it appeared as if Doug Jones was about to become the former Doug Jones on Friday, March 19, 2010.
“I might have been working a little too hard,” said Jones, sitting at the front of the Badlands Badgers Academy bus.
“Oh really?” says his saintly wife, Yvonne, the way loving wives can say to their long-time husbands.
Jones, coach Jeff Amos, assistant coaches Elliott Shrive and Chad Marshall and the Badgers were headed west out of Oyen, near the Saskatchewan border, towards Calgary to practice and play against junior college schools at Pasco, Wash. on their February trip.
Going back two years Jones had been in Lexington, Ky. for the Little League World Congress.
He flew into Calgary, arriving at midnight and drove to Camrose, where he had an 7 a.m. meeting, then two more morning meetings in Wetaskiwin and Olds.
This wasn’t any problem for Jones, who puts 80,000 miles on his car a year, and as a driver has been compared to Dario Franchitti, Richard Petty, Michael Schumacher or Tony Stewart -- take your pick.
After a few hours sleep, Jones was up and on his way. He met with Bill Persley of Lac Le Biche’s Athabasca College at 7 a.m. and then on to Wetaskiwin to take a look at a bus he was considering buying from a man named Gord. ("Sorry, don't recall his last name," said Jones.)
Now, it was back on the road to drive to Olds College in Olds for 11 a.m.
“I was tired, I get two miles out of town and I feel this pain,” said Jones. “It felt like half heart burn to start. Then, I began to sweat. It was like I had a rock laying on my chest.”
“I was trying to phone Clint Dunford, I had been following his car,” Jones said. “So I called Shirley McClellan for Clint’s number.”
Piped up coach Jeff Amos listening to the tale he’d heard a dozen times before, a few rows back: “You know Doug, we DO HAVE 911 service here?”
“But I was fuzzy, Shirley’s number was the only number I could remember,” said Jones, who served as president of Drumheller-Stettler riding for McClellan, elected to the Alberta Legislature Nov. 23, 1987 and held her seat until Jan. 15, 2007.
After obtaining Dunford’s number Jones called, asked where Dunford was and Dunford determined he was 15 minutes ahead of Jones on Highway 13.
“Turn around and go to the RCMP car we saw on the side of the road about 1/2 a mile back,” Dunford told Jones.
Yet, when Jones arrived the RCMP car had re-located.
So, he pulled over directly across the road from Reynolds-Alberta Museum which interprets the impact of technological change in transportation, aviation, agriculture and industry from the 1890s to the present. On display are vintage autos, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, tractors, agricultural implements, aircraft, industrial equipment and stationary engines.
And Jones was stationary.
Jones called Gord who said he’d be there ASAP.
“When he arrived I was sweating so much he couldn’t see in the car, the windows were fogged up, he thought someone had taken me to the hospital,” Jones said. “Finally, he helped me out. We get into his car and we’re driving through red lights.”
About this time Bert McFadden from Acadia Valley called.
Jones answers, saying: “Sorry Bert, can’t talk now, I’m having a heart attack.”
The doctor told Jones “no, you’re not.”
Replied Jones: “I don’t give a hoot what you say, I’m having one.”
The nurses asked the usual hospital question ...
Sir, on a scale of 1-to-10 with 10 being the highest, how much pain are you in?
“I answered five, I must have answered five maybe 100 times,” Jones said, “then they agreed they gave me a clot buster. Soon the pain was 4 1/2, then a 3 1/2.”
Jones was placed on a gurney and headed out the door ...
“Now, I feel like I’ve having another one,” he said before blacking out.
This second emergency trip to the hospital was a matter of feet rather than miles
When he awoke Jones phoned his wife, Yvonne.
As he was lying in bed he heard someone call the Grey Nun’s Hospital in Edmonton to check on the availability of a bed and if Jones could be moved there.
And when told there wasn’t a bed available, he heard “well, it looks as if he isn’t going to make it anyway.”
But Oyen’s John Wayne wasn’t going out easy, this bundle of prairie energy fought back and was soon was on his way to the emergency room in Edmonton with a police escort.
Doctors put in a stint since an artery had 100% blockage.
Of course, Jones was instructed by doctors not to talk on the phone during his four days in hospital:
How did this go-go, 24/7 man handle all this?
“Stood in the shower and talked with a plastic bag over my head and the phone inside the bag,” recalls Jones with a laugh.
After he was released Jones returned to the Wetaskiwin hospital to thank the staff.
The reason Jones was so sure he was having a heart attack was because the year before his brother-in-law Billy Mills had the same feeling and used the “rock laying on my chest” analogy.
“Billy saved my life,” Jones said.
George Jones was known as “No Show Jones” when his bus was stuck in traffic and he missed a couple of shows.
Now, the Badlands president is known as “Can’t-talk-now-I’m-having-a-heart-attack” Jones.
* * *
Dawson Ruschkowski is from Oyen. He attends South Central high. When new Badgers coach Jeff Amos began tryout at the high school team Ruschkowski went out for a look.
Ruschkowski was wearing his Levi jeans and had his new Rawlings mitt from True Value Hardware on Main in Oyen.
“First he was happy to be on the high school team, then he played some,” Amos said. “Finally, he comes up to me one day and asks ‘so what kind of players are you guys looking for at this new academy?”
Amos looked Dawson in the eye and said “players like you.”
Ruschkowski went from being the best South Central High Scorpions to one of the Badgers.
“The kids on the Badgers catch the ball better than our high school team,” Ruschkowski said.
The highlight of his fall season was making a diving catch against in a 2-1 loss to the Okotoks Dawgs.
What a compliment!
Especially from a true baseball ball man like Lehman, a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Newport Beach, Yorba Linda and all points south.
Ruschkowski had never heard of the Hall of Fame New York Yankees centre fielder.
“I’ve been told he was decent,” said Ruschkowski, who says playing for the Badgers has helped his confidence.
A grade 11 student he spends time at the hitting facility after school, rather than helping his father John, who owns a nine-acre farm with 300 head of Red Angus and Semential cattle.
Although he’s always there during “calving” season. Ruschkowski has two older siblings Luke 23, and Dakota, 19.
“I only hit about .200, I need to bring up my batting average,” Ruschkowski said.
Oh one other thing about Ruschkowski, who showed to his first practice wearing Levis and a new mitt from True Value. He runs a 6.7 60-yard.
Do you know how many Canadians are that fast?
Well, we can think of Jacob Robson of Windsor and ... and ...
* * *
The bus driver keeps a steady hand on the wheel and he keeps the green and white luxury liner between the lines.
The bus driver is Chad Marshall.
Marshall of Paris, Ont. played for the coach Danny Thompson’s Ontario Terriers and gained a scholarship to play for the Stoney Brook University Sea Wolves. He studied multidisciplinary studies.
What’s he doing driving a bus?
Well, the infielder came west to coach to try and earn extra cash. He took lessons and now hacks up meats at the local butcher shop (“will that be pork loin or porter house today Mrs. Smith?”). He took a driver’s ed course and gained his bus driver’s license (“are we there yet?”).
Now, he drives the Badgers bus, throws batting practice, works with the infield ... and gets to eat for free when the bus pulls into a rest stop.
He also shuttles hockey teams around the prairies.
Marshall had an excellent career at Stoney Brook earning America East Conference honours: first team in 2011, All-America East second team in 2010 and 2009 and 2008, plus all-rookie honours.
Amongst Canadians he earned Canadian Baseball Network honourable mention honours in 2011 behind Canisius’ Sean Jamieson (Simcoe, Ont.), Pier-Olivier Dostaler (Mont Carmel, Que.) of the Lamar Runnin’ Lopes and Jon Cotter (Moose Jaw, Sask.) of the Colby Trojans, CBN honours again in 2010, behind Georgia State’s Carl Moniz (Laval, Que.), Jamieson and UBC’s Sammie Starr (Toronto, Ont.) and CBN recognition again in 2009 behind Michael Mutcheson (Morden, Man.) of New Mexico Jr. College, Connors State’s James Kottaras (Markham, Ont.) and Moniz.
Some highlights from 2010 ... he hit .299, with 32 RBIs and seven home runs, scoring 43 runs. He went 5-for-15 (.333) with three RBIs in three games at America East tournament
In 2009 ... he started all 50 games he appeared in, ranking second on the team with .354 average, leading team with 68 hits and had four hits in the America East tournament against Vermont (5/22).
And in 2008 ... he started at second base hitting .285 with 27 RBIs to earn Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honours, as he was 19th toughest player in country to strike out (1/per 20 AB).
With the Terriers he won the Premier League and the 18 and under Sandlot World Series in Nashville.
* * *
Justin Kehler hails from Swift Current, Sask., home town of Reggie Cleveland, who won 105 games during his 13 years in the majors.
Kehler’s best outing of the fall came when he pitched three scoreless against the Okotoks Dawgs without a walk in a 2-1 loss.
“Chris Reitzma had really helped with my delivery,” Kehler said, of the former first-round pick.
A grade 12 student, Kehler has suitors: Trinidad State Community College, Iowa Central, Lamar, Wayne State University, plus Merced and Monterey Peninsula in California. His Team Saskatchewan coach Leo MacDonald has had success placing players with the Lobos of Monterey Peninsula.
His fastball has been clocked at 87 MPH.
“The Alberta kids tease me about being from the gap,” said Kehler.
“The gap between Ontario-Manitoba and the western provinces of Alberta and BC -- where there’s nothing in between,” said Kehler.
Well, outfielder Terry Puhl (Melville) played 15 years in the majors and had 1,361 hits.
Cleveland came from Swift Current, who started a World Series game for the Boston Red Sox in 1975. Another Canadian didn’t start until LHP Jeff Francis (North Detla, BC) started for the Colorado Rockies against the Red Sox in 2007.
* * *
Oyen is a town of 973 people located near the Saskatchewan boundary, north of Medicine Hat, near where Highway 41 meets Highway 9.
Oyen has a grain elevators, farm equipment dealerships, stores, a golf course and a museum.
About five east sits a former hog barn, which has been out of business for about 10 years. Jones had the vision and saw an indoor facility.
The building is 15,000 square feet with three full-length, hitting cages and two pitching mounds. New artificial field turf has been laid and the building is long enough for pitchers to throw long toss. It’s the longest indoor training facility we’ve seen in Canada.
“Hog heaven,” is the way it’s been described by visitors.
* * *
Jones’ loves are his family, politics and baseball. He’s a lifer on all three.
He was a former big shooter as Vauxhall Baseball Academy which started the high school acadmey boom and
Driving from Calgary to Oyen, Jones stops off to show a first timer all the sites in the Drumheller Valley:
The world’s largest dinosaur, which stands 86 feet tall, the Badlands Historical Centre, the Royal Tyrrell Museum with dinosaur skeletons on display, the Atlas coal mine national historic site, home to Canada’s last-standing wooden tipple mine and the hoodoos, 5-to-7 metre sandstone pillars on a thick base of shale and are capped by a large stone, which took millions of years to form.
His interest in baseball goes back to the Oyen Pronghorns.
Jones was president of Baseball Alberta, GM of Alberta’s 1997 and 2001 Canada Games teams, founded the Prairie Baseball Academy, the Lethbridge Bulls of the WMBL, was president of the WMBL, helped get Vauxhall Baseball Academy off the ground, starting the high school academy boom and now has the Badlands in its first year.
Jones started the college program with the help of high school principal Keith Jorgenson, former New York Yankees scout Dale Tillman and a $25,000 grant from the provincial government in Lethbridge in 1995. The PBA has had over 300 athletes graduate with college or university degrees in the past fifteen years. Blair Kubicek was there to coach and built the field.
“I spoke the Ed Cheff,” said Jones, the Hall of Fame former coach at Lewis and Clark State in Lewiston, Id. “He told me we were better off not being tied to a college. Then, the kids would get a free year of eligibility.
The Lethbridge Bulls got off the ground in 1999 and in 2011 played their 12th season.
Jones helped start the WMBL, a summer collegiate baseball league, with Lethbridge, Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Weyburn and Regina in 2001. This league now has 12 teams: five in Alberta and seven in Saskatchewan.
And while backing a winner on the diamond, the Baders are just his latest project, he was instrumental in McClellan maintaining her seat as Minister Responsible for Rural Development, Minister of Health, Minister Responsible for the Wild Rose Foundation, Minister Responsible, Minister of Community Development, Minister of Community Development, Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, she served the Assembly as Chair of the Treasury Board and Vice-Chair of Agenda and Priorities Committee.
* * *
To get Badlands off the ground Jones turned to Blair Kubicek, formerly of the PBA to build a ball park and begin recruiting.
The always upbeat Amos, who runs the program, has 10 years coaching experience, including leading the Inter County Brantford Braves to their first trip to the Baseball Canada national junior championship in Quebec City. Amongst his former players are: Oakland A’s minor league Sean Jamieson, Cincinnati Reds minor leaguer Mitch Clarke, former Seattle Mariners minor leaguer Colin Buckborough, plus collegians Billy Martin, Canisius, Branson Joseph, Canisius, Jordan Tiegs, College of Charleston.
“Schooling is important here,” Amos said. “We’d rather have a player stay at school for half an hour to get his work done and be late for practice, than to show for practice on time.”
And if the marks aren’t there, Amos calls the parents, as promised during recruiting sessions.
“We had three students who didn’t make the grade first time the marks came out,” Amos said. “I was a little nervous phoning the parents. I made the calls, told the parents that the boys had to stay away from ball for a week to work on school ... all three players’ parents thanks me.”
Elliott Shrive -- no relation -- was an all-star with the Guelph Silvercreeks of the junior Intercounty playing for coach Scott van de Valk.
* * *
The second annual Badlands fund raiser at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall before 200 baseball enthusiasts was a success save for the guest speaker.
A total of $30,000 was raised, including $5,000 from TransCanada.
Jones made sure the players presented billets with roses, including one player thanking his adopted family with “don’t tell her, but you are a better cook than mom.”
The three $500 scholarships winners were Justin Logan, Dawson Ruschkowski and Justin Kehler.
The Badgers play their first home game Saturday April 21 against the Calgary Red Birds academy high school team.
Only once will their be a first class at the Badlands ... and after visiting it’s obvious the Badgers are first class.