* Blair Kubicek, left, founder of the Prairie Baseball Academy, and Don Seaman were inducted into the Okotoks Dawgs Hall of Fame Saturday night. ... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list
By Bob Elliott
OKOTOKS, Alta. -- Don Seaman is a rich man.
And we don’t just mean his bank account.
A man who has touched so many young lives in a positive manner as Seaman has -- by helping the Okotoks Dawgs grow to their current stature -- can’t be described as any other way than wealthy.
“Helping out the Dawgs was an investment, a good one, I wish all my investments had turned out as well,” said Seaman in his acceptance speech as he was inducted as part of the Dawgs' inaugural Hall of Fame. He convinced his brother Doc to donate an equal amount for the construction of an $8 million facility, known as Seaman Stadium, where the Western Major Junior League team calls home.
Also inducted as a builder was Blair Kubicek, a builder in every sense of the word -- of both men and fields -- before a packed house of 450 at the Okotoks Centennial Centre. Kubicek earned praise from both Hall of Famer Pat Gillick and former Arizona Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter.
Seaman pointed out how 11 of 12 players on his son-in-law John Ircandia’s first graduating Dawgs team gained scholarships, and the next year more headed south: making it 14 of 16.
The Dawgs then fought the independent Calgary Vipers for playing time at Foothills Stadium.
“We had to do something, and that’s when John found Okotoks,” said Seaman.
After sitting out a year, the Dawgs moved to Okotoks in 2006 when progressive Mayor McAlpine welcomed the idea with open arms. The city of Calgary, University of Calgary, Mt. Royal University, Tsu Tina Nation and Munic District of Foothills all said no thanks to the ballpark idea.
Okotoks is a slice of heaven located south of Calgary.
After being nomads, the Dawgs had a home ... no more battling for field time with the Vipers.
“We used to call them the Snakes,” said Ircandia.
And now the Vipers are gone.
Ditto for the snakes.
Steamrolled out of town.
And Ircandia’s little hobby has grown to a college summer league (fifth in attendance in North America amongst summer college teams), a JDawgs Academy with five midget and bantam-aged teams, a state of the art Duvernay Field House for indoor workouts, and Tourmaline Field.
Now, Stockton Avenue, which runs in front of the stadium, will be re-named Don Seaman Way in honour of the man who helped make it all possible.
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In his heartfelt speech, Kubicek, 65, thanked his wife, Anne, who is recovering from breast cancer.
“I quit my $80,000 a year job, she quit her $50,000 a year gig with Premier Bennett in B.C., we sold all our stuff and moved to Washington state,” said Kubicek. “Anne allowed me to follow my dream. Even if I was making peanuts.”
His dream took him to Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Wash., where he coached, and then later to Alberta where he founded the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge where players played ball while attending college classes.
The Dawgs and the PBA played hundreds of games, yet not many moved on to the PBA.
“That was the man ... he was all about giving exposure to the kids,” Ircandia said. “Recruiters from other college teams would offer scholarships to our kids and off they’d go. So, in a way, by playing us he hurt his own program, but he knew it was best for Alberta kids.”
Victoria, BC born, now retired and living near Digby, N.S., he was baseball in Alberta for decades, and the diamonds he constructed will last for more decades.
Some Hall of Fames induct people into the builders category. Kubicek was more than a coach at the PBA from 1995-2010, the result of a behind-the-back stop conversation between Calgary’s Doug Jones and Kubicek at Optimist Park as the two watched a Midget provincial tournament in Calgary. Jones was president of Baseball Alberta, and Kubicek was scouting for the Cleveland Indians (he was also the Edmonds coach).
Jones asked if a Junior College program could survive in Canada.
And the ball began rolling.
Kubicek was literally a builder.
He built the PBA field, Nolan Yard in Lethbridge.
He helped out with the field at Jets Stadium in Vauxhall.
He built the Seamam Stadium field.
He built Tourmaline Field, with its turf infield and grass outfield where the Dawgs' three midget teams play. He built Conrad Field where the two Dawgs' bantam teams call home.
He built the diamond in Oyen, home of Jones’ new Badlands Academy Badgers.
No wonder Gillick nicknamed him the Johnny Appleseed of baseball?
He would not have been able to build without the funding:
Don and Doc Seaman each donated roughly $8 million. There were other donors like the Okotoks Rotary Club, William Tanguay and Ircandia.
Michael Rose acquired Fieldhouse naming rights for $500,000.
Rose contributed $1.75 million for Tourmaline, with more contributions from Peters & Company Capital as well as Ircandia.
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Ircandia remembers taking his teams to Lethbridge to play Kubicek’s PBA Dawgs.
“We’d win and after the game he’d always say that we had played his Jayvee team,” said Ircandia. “Sometimes if we scored a lot and it became really one-sided, he’d literally go for a walk and watch from the press box.”
Ircandia and Kubicek are life long pals. Like any good relationship, they had their disputes.
During the building of Seaman Stadium, Kubicek would spend long hours at the diamond supervising every piece of sod laid in the outfield, while making sure the dugouts were the right height.
And every night after finishing work at his Calgary law office, Ircandia would arrive to check on the progress. One night he drove in to see the foul poles erected -- inside the left and right field walls.
“I said 'that’s wrong,' Kubie said ‘no it’s not,’” Ircandia said. “It wasn’t until that night I turned on the TV to see all the foul poles outside of the fence.”
They argued over the crown in centre field. Ircandia said Kubicek said it should have been higher for drainage ... and the builder was right, Ircandia admits.
“Blair Kubicek is the biggest perfectionist I have ever met,” Ircandia said. “From the mound, to the length of the dugout, the bullpens, the base paths down the line, you name it.”
Ircandia said Kubicek was “from an era when the coach was the hardest-working man on the field.”
“At Stanford or LSU, the coach would coach,” said Ircandia. “Kubie took care of the field, made sure it was irrigated, looked after everything in getting the field ready, and then coached.”
* * *
Before the banquet started, a woman gave Kubicek a letter.
The woman was the mom of PBA grad Tyler Klippenstein, a Calgary slugger, drafted in the 13th round by the Oakland A’s in 2002.
“We were in a tournament, Oakland was following him, I think he had seven home runs, they were pretty excited,” said Kubicek.
What did the letter say, Kubicek was asked?
“He said I was the meanest SOB in baseball he’d ever met,” Kubicek said, and you couldn’t tell if he was kidding or if he said it with pride.
Whatever, a sweet thought for a player to pass on to a former beloved coach on this special night.
Now 32, Klippenstein is trying to become a pro golfer.
* * *
Alberta was not all rainbows and come-from-behind wins for Kubicek.
His son Tony was killed in a car accident at 10:30 AM on a Saturday morning south of Okotoks near High River.
“On Monday morning, Scott Berry phoned to say that Tony had the assistant coaching job at Mayville State in North Dakota,” Kublicek said.
So it was up to the father to give Berry the news.
* * *
Ircandia earned athlete of the year honours over his good pal Gary Picone in 1970-71 at J. Lloyd Crowe high school in Trail, BC.
“I only played basketball, but Gary played every sport, I’d win and he’d say ‘and you wouldn’t have scored if I hadn’t passed you the ball.”
Picone is now the athletics director at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Id.
Masterful MC Williams Gardiner, the silver-tongued devil, introduced Ircandia as “part Andy Pettitte, who maybe pitched a year or two beyond his prime, part George Steinbrenner, for reasons so apparent they don’t need mentioning, and part Tony Soprano ... John Ircandia, the Godfather of baseball.”
Ircandia, with his own father -- the head trail boss from Trail, B.C. -- and son Matt in the audience, introduced the Hall of Fame class with Kubicek hitting lead off.
* * *
At any gathering of baseball lifers, there are stories ... and time has not eroded all the memories.
Like ... the 1994 season at Edmonds.
Remember how the Oakland A’s had the checkerboard grass infield?
Kubicek had the same at Triton Field, home of the Tritons.
“We used a golf course mower by adjusting the blades, and in the outfield we used an old one they used to cut the fringe on a golf course,” said Kubicek.
He won the Diamond Award for the best kept field in college baseball in 1994.
* * *
Like in June of 1996, when the Arizona Diamondbacks came to Lethbridge -- two years before the major league team had its opening day -- to run a camp for its first affiliate, the Lethbridge Black Diamonds, in the rookie-class Pioneer League.
Arizona manager Buck Showalter was there, so was director of player development Mel Didier, and so were the first-year Diamondbacks ready and rarin’ to go, to show their new employers that they belonged.
And so were the rains.
It rained all day Friday.
It rained all day Saturday.
Henderson Stadium was a mess, about to float down river.
Didier, now a senior advisor to the Blue Jays, kept asking Kubicek, “when are you going to have this field ready for us to play?”
Finally Kubicek replied, “it will be done a lot quicker if you quit bugging me.”
Later on Sunday, Kubicek told Didier it would be ready at noon on Monday.
At 11:30 Monday morning, Kubicek walked into the crowded clubhouse and told the Diamondbacks' brass that the field was ready ... save for a little water in the outfield. Baseball people don’t care about water in the outfield, as long as the infield was dry.
It wasn’t an easy task: and besides the work load and one-hour of sleep sessions he managed, Kubicek backed up and fell into a drain which had the manhole cover removed and suffered a concussion.
"One thing about him he was a worker," said Didier from Scottsdale, Az. "That man was determined to get that field ready. T remember him saying one time 'I'll get it ready even if its under water.'
"He fought that rascal day and night."
Didier worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 16 1/2 years and on Jan. 5, 1997 he was told Peter O'Malley had decided to sell the ball club. So, that phoned Showalter who has pestered him the final two month of the year to join Arizona. "I flew to Phoenix the day day and haven't left since," said Didier ... well save for Jays assignments or scouting meetings in Toronto earlier this month.
In all 11 pumps took 160,000 gallons off the field.
Showalter now manages the Baltimore Orioles.
“I do remember the pride he took in his work, the off-season trips we took to banquets on some cold nights and trying to help get the new stadium built,” said Showalter from Baltimore. “I’m glad to see someone like him recognized. He deserves it and is an unsung hero of our game, one who allows us to do what we do for the fans of baseball.
“Blair is a true contributor.”
Rod Barajas, Jason Conti, Rob Ryan, Junior Spivey, Nick Bierbrodt, Vladimir Nunez and Erik Sabel of that 1996 Black Diamonds team all went on to play in the majors.
Kubicek was named groundskeeper of the year in the Pioneer League.
* * *
Like the night Mickey Hatcher was managing Great Falls, a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate, in Lethbridge during the 1997 season.
The rains came with Helena losing, and Hatcher said the field wasn’t playable. Kubicek said it would be in 45 minutes. The two argued -- manager and groundskeeper.
When the rains ended, Kubicek said “45 minutes” and it was ready in 45 minutes.
“We didn’t have a tarp for the infield or the mound, and the one on the plate had about 15 holes in it,” recalled Kubicek.
Great Falls came back and won, and the next day Kubicek said Hatcher sought him out in the groundskeeper’s area to apologize.
* * *
Like the night Kubicek’s PBA team took a 14-2 lead into the final inning in Coeur d’Alene, Id.
He looked up to find Aquil Samuels packing up the bats in the Dawgs' dugout. A definite no-no.
“Why you prairie piece of crap -- unpack the bats right now, you have probably cost us the game,” said Kubicek.
The PBA won ... a no doubter ... 14-13.
* * *
Like the night fellow groundskeeper Todd Hubka, now the PBA coach, told Kubicek to take the rest of the night off in the top of the ninth inning. He wouldn’t be needed.
If Kubicek remembers correctly, the game went 16 innings.
* * *
Kubicek has won the Alberta Centennial Medal, and he’s been inducted into the Lethbridge Sports Hall of Fame, but he called the honour from Ircandia the most rewarding.
His former players are everywhere: RHP Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.) is going to his first big-league camp with the Milwaukee Brewers, LHP Jay Johnson (Sussex Corner, NB) is on a fast rise through the Philadelphia Phillies' system, C Lars Davis (Grand Praire, Alta.) was at triple-A with the Colorado Rockies, LHP Shane Dawson (Drayton Valley, Alta.) is in the Blue Jays' system, and RHP Jared Mortensen (Abbotsford, BC) is in the Seattle Mariners' system.
“People ask me if I’m proud of Dustin, Jay, Lars and all those pro guys,” said Kubicek. “I am, but I’m just as proud of the guys who have gone on to become solid citizens.”
Not as proud as PGA grads and the Okotoks Dawgs are of Kubicek.