“We’ve never played a game of fastball in our lives — but we’re going to the provincials!”
That’s about how it went for the U-14 Hope Dodgers, a group of 10 boys who combined their athleticism with good coaching… and almost won a game or two at the playdowns in Surrey two weekends ago.
“All boys’ teams qualify for the provincials, because the numbers are so low,” said head coach and Chilliwack native Gerry Dyson. “There were eight teams in the U-14 group.
“Our guys had never even seen a lined field or an umpire before,” Dyson continued, chuckling. “But we got so many compliments because they improved so much over the weekend. One of the umpires asked if he could speak to the team, because he was so impressed with their play — and on Sunday, a coach from South Surrey asked to speak to the boys.”
The boys had been practicing all spring, but with the bulk of boys turning to hardball in the larger centres, it’s hard to find fastball opponents without putting in a lot of travel.
Dyson said the last time Hope sent a team to the provincials — peewee champions, in fact — was in 2007, the year before Hope Minor Softball took a long break before being resurrected last year.
Dyson, who graduated from the old Hope Secondary in 1970, now lives in Chilliwack.
He and his wife Susanne have extensive experience in fastball and they offered to help Hope Minor Softball get back on its feet, sharing their own coaching skills and bringing in other expertise.
“The Dodgers uniforms the boys wore on the weekend were donated by Langley Baseball through George Morneau (father of Justin Morneau, first baseman for the Colorado Rockies),” said Dyson. “George was one of Susanne’s first coaches and when he came up to Hope in May to do a coaching and player clinic he brought a number of uniforms and baseball gloves to donate to Hope Minor Softball.”
The Hope Dodgers may have been short on real game experience — but the Dysons and assistant coaches Don Wiens and Rob Tiessen had been working with the boys to bring up their skills.
One big issue was getting the batters up to pace with the kinds of speeds they’d be seeing in competition.
“Hope Minor Ball has a pitching machine and we knew what speeds we needed, so we set it up for that,” said Dyson. “And Susanne was one of the top pitchers in Canada at one time, so she pitched to them, too. The boys were really keen.”
With only eight players, the team picked up Devon Higginbottom and Tyson Goglin from the U-12 team.
At this age, all 10 players were on the batting rotation, though only nine could play in the field, said Dyson.
When Goglin hurt his ankle after the second game, there were no spares.
Marcus James handled most of the pitching duties, with some help from Brandon Pennell and Damon Campbell.
The first three games were forgettable, as the boys learned their way while playing the top teams of the tournament.
Vanessa James said of Saturday’s three games, “They lost 15-5 in the first game but came close with a score of 7-6 against Cloverdale in the second game. We were under a time constraint for that one, otherwise we might’ve had them. We had a 20 minute break then played the same team again. We lost 7-4 that time, but it sure was an exciting game.”
Game MVPs from the four round-robin games were Marcus James, Devon Higginbottom, Owen Tunnicliffe and Damon Campbell.
Boston Bar’s Jerome Campbell got the team’s best hit, a triple. He also won the slugging competition, with a hit of 192 feet (58.5 meters) in the air, said the coach.
Kade Hansen, Dawson Pelletier and Creighton Tays rounded out the roster.
Plans for next year?
“The boys were talking with their buddies but it was too late to sign them up,” said Dyson. “We’d like to form a U-14 and a U-16 team next year — and if there’s enough interest, we will run pitching clinics in the winter.”