St. CATHARINES - There was laughter. Stories were told. Awards were presented. And what good old-fashioned baseball night would be complete without some tears.
The annual Brock Badgers banquet at the Quality Hotel Parkway Convention Centre covered all the bases and then some. Before they sat down the Badgers knew what a good year INF Shaun Valeriote (Guelph, Ont.) and RHP Kurtis Robinson (Mississauga,Ont.) had and the end of the evening athletic director Chris Critelli would present OUA championship rings to each player.
In between was a moving presentation of the Kevin Heins memorial alumni of the year award.
"Kevin Heins was a young man who served as our bat boy," coach Jeff Lounsbury told rookies, newcomers and others who never had the pleasure of seeing Kevin's love of the game. "During training camp Kevin's parents would drop him off at 10 a.m., he'd bring his lunch and we'd be on the field each day until 4 o'clock. He's shag in the outfield, do his work, not get in anyone's way and from the morning he arrived until the time he left the field each day, was a joy to be around. "I'd ask guys to play catch with him, you would and you have no idea how much a game of catch meant to a youngster. I do. My son, Tyler, was the bat boy this year and you did the same with him."
Heins was 14 in 2005 when his father, Gene Heins, picked up their new truck and were nearly sideswiped by another vehicle. The father said to his son, "If anything ever happens to me, make sure my organs are donated." Kevin replied, "Okay Dad, me too." Days later, Kevin was tragically died during a snowmobile accident. Gene and his wife Elenor told doctors at McMaster Children's Hospital of Kevin's wishes to participate in the organ donor program.
Seven of his organs were passed on to needy children, much like Michael Kim (Mississauga, Ont.).
"I'll never forget going to the funeral and they had the coffin draped in white with the red stitching to look like a baseball," said Lounsbury, his voice cracking with emotion. "We went up to the coffin and were all asked to sign the coffin ...and we looked in, there was Kevin lying there in his Brock Badgers uniform." And with that the coach lost it.
So, who receive the Kevin Heins memorial alumni award? "He was a guy who was close to making the team his first year and we had to cut him," Lousberry said. "I asked if he wanted to stay and work out with us. He did. The next year it was even tougher for a pitcher to make our staff. We had new arms -- Jamaal Joseph, Rylan Pranger, Mark Nicholson and Stefan Strecker -- and he was the 34th player on a 33-man staff. Again he stayed and worked out with us."
The next year Price was a Badger, as a fifth starter and reliever. He pitched in the 2007 OUA title game against the Western Mustangs getting the Badgers out of a jam and recorded three saves in 2008 Now enrolled in the paramedic program at Humber College, Price raised $2,500 for the 'Ride to Conquer Cancer' for cancer research and care for Princess Margaret Hospital patientscycling 200 kiilometres from Toronto to Niagara Falls.
Another thing Price has going for him is that he's the spitting image of current Badger Kyle Porter (Mississauga, Ont.), now a third-year student. The only blemish on the night was the guest speaker.
* * *
Outgoing athletic director Dr. Lorne Adams, who presided over 50 championships in various sports, including 31 provincial and 19 national titles during his 10 years as AD at Brock, also spoke. Dr. Adams recalled his days as the newest AD he was asked to preside over the newest sport -- baseball, "which I hadn't played since grade 8" and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"I practiced and practised after watching the parabolic arcs of some throwing out the first pitch," Dr. Adams explained. "Well, I had worked out -- but I did it off flat ground. When I got to the mound I threw a rope 15 feet in front of the plate. I felt better when the Laurier pitcher bounced five." Dr. Adams remembered when Brock met the Toronto Varsity Blues -- "they had some 27-yead-old pitching for them, he's probably still pitching for them," in the final OUA game when he was the convenor. "My rationale was that since it was the deciding game of the season even though all the games throughout the season had been seven innings, the final should be nine innings, why would teams not want to play a full nine full," Dr. Adams said. "Well, after seven Brock led 2-1 and after nine, U of T led 3-2."
* * *
In keeping with the theme of the alumni night James Gardiner, former Badgers pitcher and now trainer at class-A Lansing in the Blue Jays system spoke to the current players. "I've worked with Scott Richmond (North Vancouver, BC), he's a guy who never forgets where he came from," Gardiner said. "It's like thay saying 'You shouldn't forget where you came from because chances are you'll be back there some day.'" Gardiner won seven games in his first two years at Brock. The third year he showed to find more pitching talent. Gardiner switched to becoming a trainer and won an OUA ring.
* * *
Former infielder Adam Vella, unable to attend due to his work with Mizuno Canada, sent a very poignant speech to be read to the audience: "I didn't want to give one of those generic 'stay in school, play hard and everything will turn out roses' speeches. Having said that I'll talk about something I know well ... how NOT to play the game and how Brock helped shape my adult life"
"When I was here I probably had an ego bigger than the rest of the team combined. I played for one reason only and that was for myself. Now this speech is not for all of you because I know a lot of you probably play the game for the right reason, but if you can take something from this please do. I played because I ...
- Loved the way making a saucy play made me feel inside.
- Loved hitting a ball into the gap and 'Cadillac-ing it into second standing, because I know I looked cool doing it.'
- Played to put on show in batting practice and make people say 'wow.'
- Played so people would say look how much this guy doesn't care and still produces.
- Once stole eight bases in the first two or three games and got yelled at for not stretching a double into a triple. My response was to not steal a base the rest of the year. So selfish."
That was Adam Vella in 2003. This is the present-day Adam Vella, who works for Mizuno Canada. His words should be send out in the next Baseball Ontario, or coach's association memo and should be posted in each and every dugout.
"I didn't realize I was playing the game for the wrong reasons until I left Brock. I didn't realize until I was with the Brantford Red Sox, playing sparingly, and not enjoying my time on the bench that there are so many other reasons to play this game. You play this game because
- In training camp you're going to meet the guys through the next four years of your life.
- You're going to meet someone who's going to help you with an assignment when it's due, the next day and you don't know where to start.
- You might meet your best friend or your best man, or someone you'll know until the day you die.
- You play this game because it humbles you like no other, you've all heard this before but if you succeed at this game three of 10 games you're Tony Gwynn, if you are playing this game for yourself a 30% success rate will bury you.
- You play this game because being in a group of individuals working to one goal is the most satisfying feeling in the world. Imagine when you obtain that goal. You guys felt that last year.
- You play because the look on your teammates faces when he finally gets an at-bat and rips a single through the 5-6 hole, is absolutely priceless.
- You play for all the people who have taught you the game, every coach who took time out of their day to run a practice, or give you a hitting tip or to drive you across the border to play some Yankees. You play for them.
- You play because when you're having a rough day at school or work, this game gives you two hours to spend laughing and loving life when nothing else will give you that.
- You play because this is a family, they don't cook or clean for you, but they listen to your problems. I may be that distant uncle that lives 10 hours away, but we are all family.
- You play because that guy down the bench from you might give you a job some day, or this game may provide for your family some day. Baseball can be a career if you love it enough."
* * *
Lounsbury singled out his general manager James Parker for helping him become a better coach.
"We lost four straight championships," Lounsbury said. "James was a guy who gave me ideas. I'm so proud of James and where he is now" Parker was Lounsbury's sounding board. Parker is now an intern for the Jays. Lounsbury/s Badgers, won the CIBA title in 1998-99 and the OUA champions in 2002 and 2004, beating Western 5-1 in the 2010 final.
It ended a dry stretch for Brock, which failed to make the playoffs in 2009 for the first time in school history, was eliminated 2-1 by the McMaster Marauders in the OUA final in 2008; were swept by Western in the OUA final in 2007; were swept by Western in the OUA final in 2006; and were swept by Westion in 2005. When RP Justin Ayles got the final out and the Badgers threw the Mustangs from their back, Brock coaches -- Ron (Col. Sanders) Zimmerman, Marc LePage, Stefan Strecker, Jamie Trull, Pascal Giroux, Adam Cholewka and Matt Zimmerman -- hugged and shook hands with each other. There wasn't a single Tommy Lasorda "look at me, look what I've done" charging onto the field moment. The Badgers ninth annual Jason Guindon Memorial Cup was on display at the banquet. "I wouldn't be anywhere close to working for the Jays if it wasn't for Jeff and you guys," Parker said.
* * *
The other awards went to ...
The London Arms MVP Award: Valeriote.
Valeriote was the Badgers MVP and the OUA MVP for the 2010. making the OUA All-Star in his first year of OUA Baseball. Valeriote hit .519 with 10 doubles, four homers and 34 RBIs. Valeriote was selected over nominees Cameron Graham (Sarnia, Ont.) and Kurtis Robinson. Graham hit .342 with a homer and 11 RBIs, while Robinson was 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA, striking out 52 and walking 19 in 47 2/3 innings.
Next season the award will be named after Brock Hall of Famer Andrew Tinnish (Ottawa, Ont.), which we're sure means a hefty donation from the Blue Jays scouting director, especially if a statue is built on campus.
Top Pitcher Award: Kurtis Robinson.
Robinson was the team's top pitcher. In his first season with the Badgers he was 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA, striking out 52 and walking 19 in 47 2/3 innings.
Robinson bested the two other nominees Jason Champ (London, Ont.) and Ayles. Champ was 5-1 with a 3.25 ERA as he walked 17 and fanned 36 in 44 1/3 innings.
Mizuno Top Hitter: Valeriote.
Valeriote received his second award as the top hitter. His .519 average the highest average in Brock history, surpassing HOFer Tinnish, who hit .500 in 1998. His 55 hits were fifth best in Brock history behind Tinnish 73 in 1998, Colin Tyler 61 in 1996; Tinnish, who had 60 in 1999 and Raul Borjas, who had 56 in 1999. Valeriote was tied with Grant Giffin's total in 1998. Valeriote's 34 RBIs shared the club lead with first-year man Daniel Forte (Mississauga, Ont.). Matt Kissel (Whitby, Ont.) who hit .400 with 16 RBIs and Justin Parro (Brooklin, Ont.), .312 with 17 RBIs were the other nominees.
Rookie of the Year: Ayles. Reliever Ayles was 3-1 with four saves, striking out 21 in 27 1/3, while walking eight. He was also impressive at the CIBA tournament and earned OUA All-Star honours. Ayles won over infielder Chris Anderi (Tecumseh, Ont.) who hit .325 with five RBIs and outfielder Kyle Gappa (Hamilton, Ont.) who batted .296 with eight RBIs.
Mike Poleman Graduating Player of the Year Award: Justin Tamane. Tamane (Aurora, Ont.) won the Poelman award given to the top graduating Badger and is named after a founder of the Brock program. Tamane caught for three years with the Badgers, hitting .235 with two doubles, a triple and eight RBIs.
Jess Dixon Dedication: Parro.
Parro won the Dixon award, named after a man who helped establish the program at Brock and the award is presented to the player who best exemplifies courage, commitment and dedication to the team both on and off the field. Parro, who hit .312 with 17 RBIs, has been with the Brock program for four years and has been a standout every season, earning OUA All-Star honours in 2010. "I'm sad to see him and Justin go," Lounsbury said. "Brock is not about Ron Zimmerman, not about me. We've been to national championships and a reason is the commitment shown by guys like Justin."
Parro beat other nominees pitcher Steven Hough (Brampton, Ont.), who was 5-2 walking 14 and fanning 23 in 26 1/3 innings and catcher Tamane.
Top Scholar: Parro.
Parro received his second award as the team's top academic student. This award is chosen by the coaching staff with the assistance of the niversity's registrar office and is given to the athlete with the season. Parro had an average of more than 80%.
Buckner's Score for Sports Sportsmanship: Craig Jacques.
Jacques (Delhi, Ont.) was named the winner of this season's sportsmanship award, over fellow nominees Jacques was a Badgers captain hitting .207 with 14 RBIs.
The other nominees were Sean Mathe (Milton, Ont.), Garrett Fisher (Niagara Falls, Ont.), Valeriote and Graham.
The Parkway Inn Most Improved Player: Jason Champ and Matt Kissel.
Champ and Kissel split honours, as Champ was 5-1 with a 3.25 ERA as he walked 17 and fanned 36 in 44 1/3 innings. Kissel hit .400 with 16 RBIs. Also nominated were Fisher, who hit .347 with 11 RBIs, Tamane and Graham.
The Swiss Chalet Gold Glove Award: Graham.
Graham was the outstanding defensive, receiving the award after being a steadying presence behind the plate, helping a young pitching staff adjust to OUA ball. Graham hit .342 with a homer and 11 RBIs. He beat out the likes of
Jeff Kosta (Mississauga, Ont.), last year's winner Jacques and Valeriote.
* * *
Briefly: Next season Brock will stage a 16-team tournament on Labour Day ... AD Critelli, who played hoops at Old Dominion, played pro and played for legendary Team Canada coach Jack Donohue, says Brock hopes to build a ball diamond on campus. The university has had meeting with city officials from Thorold and St. Catharines about building an artificial field ... Lounsbury is engaged to wed Mary Pasquariello. "So, you're the lucky woman," asked a visitor. "No," Mary said. "He's the lucky one."
* * *
Finally: We asked Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos (Montreal, Que.) if Brock was his team'ss eighth affiliate behind triple-A Las Vegas, double-A New Hampshire, single-A Dunedin, single-A Lansing, single-A Bluefield, single-A Vancouver and rookie-class Gulf Coast? "Ninth," Anthopoulos said jokingly, "you forgot our Dominican Summer League team." After all Brock grad Tinnish is the Jays scouting director, who helped the Jays move from 27th over-all, according to Baseball America to fourth; the team MVP will be named in his honour; Brock grad James Gardiner is the trainer at Lansing; former GM James Parker is working in scouting as an intern until November.