Elliott: Nicholson, Canada's best shortstop in over 100 years, best 13U coach

By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network

Switch-hitting shortstop Kevin Nicholson had the perfect teacher when it came to the ups and downs of hitting from both sides of the plate.

His infield coach with the Stetson University Hatters was Larry Jones, whose son could switch hit ‘a little bit,’ as the old timers say. His son, Chipper Jones, a former first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves is likely Cooperstown bound next January. 

Nicholson told us back in 1997 how he “learned a lot from coach Jones,” and how “he doesn’t lecture, he points things out, keeps it short and simple.” 

“What helps is that Chipper is a switch hitter, not to compare me to being on the same level by any means, but coach Jones can explain how Chipper handled things, the drills he did and how not to neglect my natural hitting side.”

Nicholson must have picked up a thing or do about teaching from Stetson coach Pete Dunn and Jones’s father. Now coaching North Langley, Nicholson was honored as the 13U coach of the year at the annual BC Baseball Coaching Conference awards luncheon at the Langley Events Centre. It is the longest running and largest convention in Western Canada.  

In the 1997 draft, Nicholson became the first Canadian first-rounder since all Canucks were made eligible in the draft for the first time in 1991. He was selected 27th over-all by the San Diego Padres and legendary general manager Kevin Towers.
 
A lot of impressing has to go for a player to be selected in the first round. And Nicholson did that. Like the night against South Florida when he hit a homer from the right side and doubled from the left side. Against Miami, Nicholson homered from both sides of the plate a la Mickey Mantle. The shortstop hit 10 doubles, three triples, three homers and knocked in 20 runs in 59 games. He batted .316 with an .806 OPS and went 15-for-22 stealing bases.

Before his junior year, the 5-foot-10 Nicholson won MVP honors playing in Cape Cod for the Wareham Gatemen with a .315 average, 13 homers in 38 games driving home 23 runs and stealing 12 of 13 bases. Of his 47 hits, 22 were for extra bases, including 18 doubles, one short of the league record.

Assistant coach Rick Hall saw Nicholson at a tournament in Ft. Lauderdale and the courting began. 

RHP Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) was previously the highest Canadian ever taken -- selected 33rd overall by the Boston Red Sox in 1996. 

Scouts compared Nicholson to a cross between former White Sox second baseman Scott Fletcher and Cards infielder Mike Gallego.

Leading into the draft Nicholson was wooed by agents -- an autographed picture from World Series hero Joe Carter arrived from the Blue Jays outfielder one day, an MVP sent a note and he received phone calls. Nicholson finally settled when a knock came on his dorm room door. Boston’s Greg Clifton, new boss of Bob Woolf’s old management team, had hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr stop by for a visit. Done deal. 

The best from the 1997 draft’s first round were Lance Berkman, who went 16th to the Houston Astros, J.D. Drew, second, Philadelphia Phillies, Troy Glaus, third, California Angels, Jayson Werth, 22nd, Baltimore Orioles, Vernon Wells, fifth, Blue Jays; Jon Garland, 10th, Chicago Cubs; Adam Kennedy, 20th, St. Louis Cardinals; Michael Cuddyer, ninth, Minnesota Twins; Jack Cust, 30th, Arizona Diamondbacks and Jason Grilli, fourth, San Francisco Giants. 

Shortstops are not what our nation produces. Nicholson made 24 starts for the 2000 Padres, which is the most since 1894. He had six doubles, a triple, one homer and eight RBIs as he batted .216 in 37 games with a .585 OPS. The next year he spent the season splitting time at triple-A Portland and Colorado Springs. Nicholson played eight years in the minors retiring in 2006.


Most starts at shortstop by Canadians
1. Arthur Irwin, Toronto, Ont. 947 starts 1888-1894
(Philadelphia Quakers, Providence Grays, Worcester Rudy Legs, Boston Reds, Washington Nationals)

2. Milt Whitehead Toronto, Ont., 95 starts in 1884
(St. Louis Maroons, Kansas City Cowboys)

3. Kevin Nicholson, Surrey, BC, 24 starts in 2000
(San Diego Padres)

4. Dave McKay, Vancouver, BC, 19 starts 1975-82
(Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins). 

5. Peter Orr, Newmarket, Ont., four starts 2005-13
(Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals)

6. Danny Klassen, Leamington, Ont., three starts 1998-2003
(Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers)
  
Some Padres fans may say Nicholson was a failure playing only part of one year in the majors. Yet, he was the best from this country in 116 years. 

Nicholson almost hit a game-tying three-run homer in the semi-final of the 2004 Athens Olympics. Pinch hitting for Simon Pond, Nicholson broke his bat and then asked Adam Stern the next hitter to pick up his bat. When the ball left his bat, replays showed Cuba 3B Michel Enriquez hanging his head ... he was sure that the pal was gone.

Yet Frederich Cepeda tracked the ball at the wall. Had Canada tied it up and beaten Cuba -- as it did in the pre-tournament staged in Nettuno, Italy -- it would have faced Australia for gold.

So near and yet so far.

The honor roll from the program

Coach of the Year
13U – Kevin Nicholson – North Langley

In Kevin’s inaugural season as a head coach he led our 13U Pee Wee AA team to a very successful season. In just the association’s second full season with BC Baseball and thee first fielding a 13U Pee Wee AA team, Nicholson, along with his assistant coaches, Dave Wood and Josh Peters, exceeded all expectations by leading the team to a first place finish in the summer season. The team qualified for the Provincials and their hard play resulted in a 2-2 record.

His baseball accomplishments are impressive to say the least. He was originally drafted by the California Angels in 1994, however chose to attend Stetson University where in 1997 he was named Conference Player of the Year. In 1997 Kevin reentered the MLB draft, where he was selected in the first round, 27th overall by the San Diego Padres.

He spent three seasons in the minors before make it to the majors where he played 37 games for the Padres in 2000. He later spent time with the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburg Pirates organizations.

Nicholson was also a member of Canada’s National Baseball team representing our county on three separate occasions; in 2001 at the Baseball World Cup, in 2004 at the Summer Olympics and at the World Baseball Classic is 2006.

He is back as the 13U Pee Wee AA coach for the upcoming season and looking forward to improving on the successes from last year.

15U – Luke Yam – Vancouver Minor Baseball
In 2013, while Yam was playing in Midget for Richmond he started coaching at age 17, he was assistant coach for Richmond 13U Pee Wee under Wayne Pulis. In 2014 at 18 he decided to make a big jump to a Head Coach position for the 13U Pee Wee AA Chuckers under the guidance of Scott Lunny. He made provincials in the first year as Head Coach.

In 2015 he was the Assistant Coach for the 15U Bantam AA Chuckers, winning the Cloverdale Boulanger Tournament.

In 2016 at age 20 Luke became Head Coach of Vancouver Minor 15U Bantam AAA Expos. He gathered players from all over the boundary, from Trout Lake Little League, South Van Little League, Vancouver Minor 13U AAA and three imports to make a roster of 13 players and bring 15U Bantam AAA back to Vancouver Minor after being dormant for a year.

18U – Mackenzie Whitford – Ridge Meadows
Whitford grew up in Maple Ridge and played his minor baseball with the Ridge Meadows Minor Association. After graduating he immediately transitioned in to coaching as he became an assistant with the 18U Midget AAA team in 2005 as a 19 year old. That year the team won the
Provincial and Western Canada Championships. In 2007 he began a successful three year stint coaching the team with his longtime friend Nor Ljunggren which culminated in the team winning another Provincial and Western Canada Championship during the 2009 season. After spending a couple of years coaching at various levels throughout RMMBA, he helped to
revive the 18U Midget AAA team as head coach in 2014 after the program had been on hiatus for two seasons. After a fairly successful first year back, the 2015 edition of the Royals dominated the league with 38– 4 regular season record en route to another provincial championship. In 2016 the program continued to achieve a high level of success as they finished in third place in the regular season before falling in the Provincial final. Whitford brings not only a strong passion for the game of baseball but also an intensity that rubs off on his players. He sets high expectations for not only his players but also himself and his fellow coaches. He takes pride in seeing his players achieve success both on and off the field, which includes seeing a number of his players continue to play college baseball after graduating from the program. He is dedicated to developing baseball players of all ages and his achievemen

Athletes
Player of the Year
13U – Mitchell Coxon – Kamloops

In leading Kamloops to the 2016 13U Provincial championships Coxon led the Riverdogs throughout the six games with an astounfing nine home runs and 24 RBIs.

15U – Sean Sasaki – Delta Tigers
He was the leader of the team on and off the field. Despite battling injuries all year, Sasaki was committed to not only making himself better, but making his teammates better every day. His “do anything it takes attitude” has been passed on to our new leaders who had the opportunity to play and train with Sean last year as rookies. Sasaki is the prototypical five-tool player. He lead the team in almost every statistical category including wins (10), batting average (.446), hits (62), home runs (four), stolen bases (41) and outfield assists (eight).
His leadership and commitment were instrumental to the team reaching its goal of winning a Provincial Championship.

18U – Broden Bydeweg – Cloverdale Nationals
Bydeweg is a complete baseball player. Smooth as silk at shortstop with the ability to get to balls most players are envious of reaching, plus the hands and arm strength to make the play when he gets there. His feet are the difference maker though. We should all be lucky
enough to have his footwork for just one groundball! On the offensive side of the ball, he  brings a complete level unmatched by many. A leader on and off the field through his work ethic it’s no surprise that he has been a team captain for the past four years.

His highlights to date include;
15U Bantam AAA Provincial Championship – Silver medal at the 2013 Canadian Nationals
Pacific Northwest player representing BC in 2013 and 2014
Team Captain 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016

Perhaps more important than the achievements on the field is that Bydeweg is an even better person off the field and has represented Cloverdale with distinction.

He also received a BC Minor Scholarship.
 
Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year
Presented by Marty van der Loos and Rob Ross – coaching staff – 16U Female National Selects Teams.

Jessie McKay ... Photo: Lorne White.

Jessie McKay ... Photo: Lorne White.

Jessie McKay – West Kelowna Minor Baseball
McKay has been a part of the Girls program since 2013 and is a power pitcher and hitter who can hit the long ball … but also hit for average.

McKay has gotten better with every year and her hard work has paid off when she was invited to a Team Canada prospects camp in 2016.

McKay has also become a great mentor for the younger girls and has the competitive drive and a willingness to learn what’s need to be successful at the highest level, making coming to the ballpark a pleasure.

There is no doubt she will be successful in her future endeavors on the ballfield and will be missed by her past coaches and teammates.

 HARRY HUNT PHOTO
B.C. Girls Selects team member Jaime Young of Cloverdale goes to bat against the Cloverdale Bantam A boys in their game Sunday, July 6 at Aldergrove Athletic Park. The Selects are top female players from across the province and have a busy road schedule of three games a week all over B.C.

Elizabeth Bampton Memorial Award – Unsung Hero, Presented by Eric Toneff
Vicky Ross – Aldergrove

Ross has been part of the girls program since 2011.

Being a catcher, she has learned to lead on and off the field.

Having been mentored by previous winners of the award has been a big bonus to her and she has been a sponge for wanting to learn and grow as a player.

Sometimes the catcher doesn’t get the recognition he or she deserves, but the leadership shown has helped the pitcher and team stay focused through many tough games at the highest level.

No matter how hot or humid the weather, no matter how many times she got hit by foul balls or blocking the pitches in the dirt, She always wanted to be behind the plate.

Catchers of her quality as a person and player don’t come around often and she will be greatly missed by her coaches and teammates. 

Wayne Bampton Rookie of the Year Presented by Eric Toneff
Taleesha Hall – Greater Victoria

2017 will represent Hall’s ninth year playing under the umbrella of Greater Victoria Baseball.

Hall started to participate in the girls program by coming to practices and
tournaments on the mainland in 2014 and becoming a full-fledged player/member
in 2015 with the 14U Pee Wee squad that went to Saskatchewan and brought
home the Gold. Some of her more notable achievements have been;

2013–14U Pee Wee Summerball – Victoria
2015–14U Pee Wee Girls program – Western Invitational in Yorkton, Sask. – Gold medal
2016–16U Bantam Girls program – National Tournament in Vaughan, Ont. – Bronze medal
Batting – five games - .333 – one hit – one RBI – two stolen bases

Nursing a sore shoulder/arm she saw only one inning pitched against Newfoundland/Labrador but struck out two players before giving way. Hall also players centre field, right field and has two put outs for a perfect fielding percentage.

We look forward, with great anticipation, for “Hollywood” to make her return to the 16U group this year.

Most Valuable Player
Presented by Marty Van Der Loos and Rob Ross – coaching staff – 16U Female National Selects Team
Kate Rogers

The 2017 season will represent Rogers’ ninth year in baseball, she played most of her baseball with Mount Seymour Little League and it is expected that this year she will be playing with BC (Minor) Baseball’s newest association, the North Shore Baseball Association.

Rogers started participating in the Girls program by coming to practices in Burnaby and participating in both 14U Pee Wee and 16U Bantam tournaments. She became a full-fledged player/member in 2015 and lead the Nationals Tournament in Ontario this past year with the teams best batting average. Some of her more notable achievements have been;

2015 – 14U Pee Wee Girls program – Western Invitational in Yorkton – Gold medal
2016 – Little League Junior Nationals in Lethbridge
2016 – 16U Bantam Girls program – National Tournament in Vaughan, Ont. – Bronze medal
Batting .556 – 10 runs – 10 hits – 4 RBI – three stolen bases

Rogers started two games and went 1–1 against Nova Scotia and Ontario, when she didn’t pitch she played centre field and had two put outs and two assists during the tournament.

We look forward, with great anticipation, for Kate to make her return to the 16U group this year.

Team of the Year
11U AAA Tier I – White Rock Tritans, Todd Nadon, Manager

The story of the 11U White Rock Titans was one of perseverance in 2016. After failing to advance beyond pool play in their first two tournaments of the season and winning just two of its first six league games, the Tritons opportunity to even qualify for the Provincials was in doubt.

With a strong work ethic, ability to learn the hard lessons of the game and willingness to come together as a cohesive and very tight knit group, the boys began to show their true potential, winning their last four consecutive league games which qualified them for the Provincials with good momentum.

The boys took their game to new heights on the last day of the tournament with a gutsy come from behind, walk-off victory in the semi-final and an extremely tough battle with the tournament favorite in the final resulting in a somewhat surprising but well-earned Provincial title.

The team learned to come together and support each other through anything the game threw at them. They learned to make their opponent earn everything they got and became a difficult team to play against.

They learned that no matter what their individual role was that their time would come then they would be called upon to contribute to help the team succeed. Lastly, they learned to accept failure and always look forward with the confidence to succeed the next time.

A story of perseverance and a story of 12 boys coming together as lifetime friends.

13U AA – Oceanside – Coach Rob McGorman
The 2016 Oceanside Reds were in their 4th season of playing together.
They had been together since first year Mosquito and made the Provincials every year, but in the 2016 season it all came together. Countless hours of practice, fall ball, winter ball, time in the batting cage and a five day a week dedication to the team paid off. As individuals and as a team they adopted the saying “attitude is everything”. Once they embraced the mental side of the game they started to play with more confidence and they should shake off the pressure and just play hard. Their energy and positive approach to each situation is infectious. Always competitive, always battling, always striving to better themselves. Playing the game the way it was meant to be played. With an undefeated regular season and sweeping the AA Provincials the Oceanside Reds had an amazing year, but it’s not what they did it’s how they did it.

15U – Delta Tigers
After a successful inaugural season in 2015, the Delta Tigers were adamant on taking their program to the next level in 2016. With an emphasis on off-season training and development the Tigers went all out last winter and it showed. After a good start to league play, the Tigers entered the Queen Victoria May long weekend tournament confident and rolled through all five opponents en route to a championship win over host Richmond. It is clear that that boosted their confidence as they continued their win streak to fifteen games following the tournament. They also had six players and two coaches selected to represent Zone 5 at the BC Summer Games where they captured a gold medal. After closing out the regular season with a
22-9-1 record, the Tigers capped off a memorable season

18U – Cloverdale Nationals – Garnett Pawliw
Cloverdale launched the Nationals in 2016 to provide an elite 18U program as part of the inaugural season of BC Minor’s 18U College Prep League. Run in conjunction with the Cloverdale 18U Midget AAA program, players were afforded the opportunity to compete at the highest level without having to leave the BC Minor Baseball program.

Led by Pawliw and his committed support staff, the Nationals had a hugely successful first season

League champions, winning the BLE Spring Break in Mesa, Az. and Norm Caig Invitation tournament – Kelowna, BC

The Nationals worked throughout the year to educate players on College Baseball opportunities and the recruiting process. The Nationals as an organization are most proud of the fact that five of our six graduating seniors went on the play college ball, with hree attending Vancouver Island Baseball Institute and two attending Fraser Valley College

Overall the year could not have been more of a success and Coach Pawliw expects the 2017 edition to be stronger both on and off the field.

Builders Category:
Presented by Mike Sarai – President, B.C. (Minor) Baseball
Dan Marriott – Richmond City

Over the almost 25 years Marriott has held various volunteer positions within the Richmond baseball community including President of West Richmond, the community was divided into multiple Associations many years ago. 

As a Vice President of West Richmond, he was one of the representatives that aided in merging the last two associations Richmond Baseball and West Richmond into the current Richmond City Baseball Association in February 2008. Marriott continued in his position with our Association and has helped build content for the Risk Management program over the years including Coaches Code of Conduct which now includes Social Media, Parents Code of Conduct and Criminal Record Checks management. 

He also looks after the Coaching Development aspect of our Association too. He organizes coaching certification clinics, coach training series, mentoring programs for new coaches and recently added first aid and concussion training. The Association is now seeing the fruits of his labour with alumni now coming back into our Association to give back and coach our youth.

Not only has Dan been a volunteer at the Board level for RCBA, but a coach. Dan has coached both of his son’s through the years in Richmond. First was Eric who finished playing a few years ago and graduated from our 18U Midget AAA program. Eric currently provides Coach Training sessions to RCBA and other local association. Dan’s youngest son Matt just played his last year of 18U Midget for RCBA and completed his first year as an assistant coach for RCBA 11U A team.

Nicholson has been there for thousands of players, “his on-field sons” that have passed through Richmond baseball over the past 25+ years. Dan’s knowledge, leadership and stability are irreplaceable on our Executive Board for which he retired from in October of 2016.

Keith Oslie – Mission Minor Baseball
Oslie has been a coach for 15 years, an umpire for 15 years and a member of the Mission Minor Executive for over 20 years taking on the Treasurer and Vice President jobs. For the last four years he has been the Umpire in Chief, mentoring the younger umpires while umpiring himself and while doubling up as the allocator.

As with all small organizations there is always a core group that wear many hats each and every year. Keith is one of those people with his commitment to Mission Minor Baseball continuing on well past the graduation of his son from baseball. The players and by extension the community have benefitted greatly from his dedication and selfless giving of time and effort.

Mike Davision – Mission Minor Baseball
Davision has given over 30 years of service to Mission Minor. He was a coach for 20 years, Head Coach for 20 years, umpire and tireless worker with only one goal in mind; make Mission Minor the very best program for kids in Mission. To that end Davision is the innovator that made the changes to Mission’s U7 T-Ball and U9 Tadpole divisions that have been recognized as the “gold standard” in grassroots programming. He is always looking to move the game ahead within the association, assessing the programs at every level, running clinics for coaches and helping coaches run effective and fun practices. Davision has a passion for youth baseball that few can lay claim to. If you have met him at any time if the last 30 years you know three things right away; 1) He is not shy about sharing his opinion on the game as it relates to youth, 2) his opinion is always well presented and 3) when truly considered his opinion makes sense and is always focused on making all involved; players, coaches and administrators of the game better at their respective roles.

Sonny Sangara – Vancouver Community – Coach
Sangara has been a coach for just shy of 30 years and prior to that he coached hockey. Like many he started out as a guy coaching his son in Little League. As his son went through various playing levels he continued to coach him right on up through 18U Midget AA in the early 90’s. By then he had moved over to Vancouver Community Baseball coaching
with them starting in their inaugural season.

Sangara continued coaching at VCB at the highest levels first in 18U Midget and then 15U Bantam up through the 2012 season. He’s been fortunate to coach five teams to provincial championships starting as John McLeod’s “dark horse” pick in the 1995 18U Midget AA championships in Mission. After that he added two Provincial 18U Midget AAA banners and two provincial 15U Bantam AAA banners. He has also spent time with Vancouver Minor Baseball and Tri Cities organizations.

As a coach Sonny was a study in contrasts. To the players he was the rally guy, the guy who stirred the boys on to playing at their highest ability. But he was also the quiet strategist who could focus the team to deal with the situation at hand. As the first base coach he rarely displayed that same level of emotion nor would he ever show up an umpire, he’s rather walk over to him after the heat of the moment and try to convince the umpire that perhaps he might have missed that one call.

Even at over 70 years, Sangara can still swing a bat although lately he’s switched from the outfield to the infield fungo. As the elder statesman of the coaching staff he still commands respect from the players and his work ethic is a testament to many players he’s coached over the years that in order to be successful, you have to work at it. The players
who probably appreciated that the most are the ones he supported out of his own pocket or from the funds he personally fundraised. He has long argued that no player should be denied the opportunity to play ball because of their inability to pay the fees.

Finally, Sangara is that last of a dying breed. He’s a volunteer who has never accepted payment to coach youth baseball. That just goes against his sense of what it is to be involved with youth sports. He started coaching during a time when it was the right thing to do to help out his son and his friends. But his spirit of volunteerism and his commitment to coaching carried on long after his son hung up his cleats. If ever there was a man worthy of the roll of honour, that man is Sonny Sangara.