Ontario Nationals looking ahead to promising 2017

Photo: Alexis Brudnicki

Photo: Alexis Brudnicki

By: Alexis Brudnicki

Canadian Baseball Network

With a year under their belts in the Canadian Premier Baseball League, the Ontario Nationals are excited for what the future holds, growing their program this off-season and eager to head into a new year in the circuit.

“The CPBL, in the first season, went great from an organizational standpoint and as well as a league,” said Jeremy Jayaweera, recruiting coordinator for the Nationals program and newly appointed associate scout for the Angels. “We were very happy with the competition. From Day 1 to the last weekend of the CPBL playoffs it was a battle.

“Our 15U team had some ups and downs last year, but at the end of the season were battling some of the great older 16U teams down to the wire. Our 16U squad struggled with injuries but managed to stick with it, and lost a nail-biter in the CPBL semi-finals. Our 18U team went above and beyond with minimal pitching. They were finalists at a tournament at the University of Michigan and were quarter-final bound in the CPBL, eventually losing in extras.

“We were very proud of the teams in our league, especially with the players moving on to college and even professional baseball. I’m sure this goes for every program in the league, but the level of competition in the CPBL amps up the work ethic that our players bring in each day and just shows that the CPBL is the real deal.”

The Nationals have made a number of additions throughout the winter months, increasing their number of teams and staff at multiple age groups, and expanding their footprint in the CPBL.

“We have added 11U, 12U, 13U and 14U teams this winter,” Jayaweera said. “Our 11U to 13U groups will be playing in their respective leagues trained by the Ontario Nationals staff and the 14U will play in the CPBL this upcoming season. We had a lot of players turn out to tryouts and requests to play. We sat down as a staff and decided that in order to build this program the right way for the future we have to start teaching at a young level. We are developing our young players through practice. We have come out with our Long-Term Development Plan that is facilitated by Baseball Canada. We are very happy with the results so far and each family’s dedication to our program.

“We have also added some coaches and instructors to our program. Jackson Martin, Nationals alumni who played four years at Eastern Michigan University has decided to coach with our 14U squad this season. Mitch Clarke, a 19th-round Reds draft pick in 2009 has also decided to help out with our pitchers, and coach with the 14U team. Aaron Hornostaj, a Giants draft pick, will be instructing with us during our winter workouts and hopefully able to help manage a team during the spring or summer.

“With these additions, we have brought experience, talent, and bright minds to help our players, to add to what we already have in the minds of Shawn Gillespie, Dan Mendham, and our other coaches who put in a tremendous amount of time to help these players. We know we will be ready come spring.”

Heading into the second CPBL season, just getting into their indoor baseball workouts on Saturday for the first time this year, Jayaweera and the Nationals are looking forward to continuing getting ready with some time in the sunshine down south after enjoying their pre-season tournament time so much last spring.

“We are going to Florida in March, once again to Vero Beach, Dodgertown,” the program’s recruiting coordinator said. “The organization had a blast last year, so we wanted to try it again. We are working out during the winter at Playball Academy Canada in Kitchener, Ontario and the players also go to Sport Specific Training Waterloo for strength and conditioning.”

Knowing what the CPBL has to offer, the Nationals program is excited and more prepared for the upcoming year, looking forward to bringing their best to the table among the best in the province and making consistent improvements along the way.

“Our expectations for the season for each team and each player is to improve each week,” Jayaweera said. “We are not worried about winning a championship or how many wins we can get in a single season. It is about the players, the development, and building success by doing the right things on and of the field.

“We know the competition can speak for itself in this league, which assures us that our players will be ready each weekend. We know we cannot focus on what other organizations are doing, we have to come together as a group and make sure our players are ready on May 1st. The Nationals have made heavy strides the past couple of years to change things up within the organization, and the hard work is paying off.”

With the majority of their players returning to the program after this CPBL season, the Nats are ecstatic for those who have made and are in the midst of making their commitments to colleges south of the border, knowing more will come as they get out on the field.

“We have had a couple of commitments this winter, with Carson Burns heading to Western Texas Community College and Rhys Cornell heading to Colby College in Kansas,” Jayaweera said. “Both guys have worked hard over the past couple years. Both really came into the picture last season with breakout stats. The organization could not be happier for both players and their families. We have a few more players who have not decided on schools yet and more than a handful of players who will be returning to the Nationals program in the fall of this year.”

Alexis Brudnicki

Baseball has been a part of Alexis' life since her parents took her brother to sign up for Eager Beaver Baseball in London. Alexis wanted to play and asked to sign up, too. Alexis played ball until the boys were all twice her size and then switched to competitive fastball. Her first job was as an umpire for rookies with the EBBA and since then Alexis has completed her education with an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and graduate studies in Sports Journalism at Centennial College