Fraser Valley Group brings new college team to Chilliwack

By CJ Penttland
Canadian Baseball Network

There’s about to become another post-secondary option for Canadian ballplayers.

The Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) will welcome the Fraser Valley Collegiate Baseball Group this fall, expanding the league from five to six teams. The new program had been in talks for about a year now, and after the group submitted an application to the CCBC in April, they were accepted one month later.

“We see some tremendous potential for that college-aged baseball in this province,” said Lee Rogers, a long-time Chilliwack Minor Baseball coach who will serve as the program’s general manager. “We hope that it leads to great things for baseball in BC. We just want to be part of that building block on the way to that – it’s really what we see this as.”

The program has hit the ground running after learning of their acceptance. With local businessman Brian Finnie leading the way financially, Fraser Valley has been recruiting for about 2 1/2 weeks now and already confirmed 22 names for the upcoming season, largely due to new head coach Shawn Corness. Corness had been with the University of British Columbia program since 2006, and had previously served as the head coach at Kwantlen University. He already has a connection to the Fraser Valley as well, having run his Batter’s Box Baseball Academy out of Chilliwack.

“I think with some of the new things that are happening out at UBC it was a chance for me to maybe take a look at something new and different, and I’ve been out in the Chilliwack area for a number of years now, so it seemed to be a good fit to look at a college program,“ said Corness. “I think it’s much needed in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley area, so I think adding another team to the CCBC was a good fit and it all just kind of came into play. It was a good opportunity for me to go back to being a head coach again where I think I need to go, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Corness has seen several of his past players go on to be drafted, including Kyle Lotzkar and Conor Lillis-White, and he sees the potential for more Canadians to come out of the CCBC; a few have been signed out of the conference in the past couple years, including pitchers Shane Dawson and Andrew Case in the Blue Jays system. Yet moving players on to the next level is not the only goal for the program and the conference.

“It’s kind of a package deal,” said Corness, who plans to expand his recruiting out to eastern Canada. “You’re going to get some kids that might have the ability to want to play pro baseball, and that’s certainly what we’ll try and do for them, but it’s also a place for kids to come and get a college experience and get a Canadian education. I think it would be a good mix of both – make sure the kids understand the importance of academics, and if they have the ability to go on and play pro baseball, we certainly have the avenues to make that happen.”

The next step for the program is to see if they can affiliate with the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). They put in an application on May 26, and are hoping to meet with the administration at the end of July to get things squared away. If affiliated, the team would be known as the UFV Cascades, though they are keeping options open in case another road needs to be taken. 

Of the other five teams in the conference, three come from BC and the other two from Alberta. The Prairie Baseball Academy, based out of Lethbridge, has won the past five CCBC championships, while the other Alberta program is the University of Calgary Dinos. In BC, there are the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack, the Okanagan College Coyotes, and the Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners in Nanaimo. Both Rodgers and Corness are optimistic that further expansion could perhaps be on the horizon.

“Our hopes is that with Shawn’s background in baseball we can become a little bit of a model for others,” said Rogers. “We’re not going to keep any secrets about what we do; if we do something well, we want to share that with everyone in the league.”

Though the 2015-16 season will an exhibition year for Fraser Valley, they already have 12 games lined up for the fall and are booking games for the spring. Come the following season, they’ll become a full member and able to compete for the CCBC championship. As of right now, their home games will be played at Fairfield Island in Chilliwack.

“I’m real excited,” said Corness. “I’m excited that the CCBC has opened its doors for another franchise, and I think it’s going to open the doors in the future here for us because of our connections back east – that it’s going to open the door for a lot of Canadian kids, as well as Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland kids.”