Corness takes reins of midget baseball program in Chilliwack

Chilliwack Minor Baseball is bringing in Shawn Corness to head up the midget AAA program.

In an effort to keep young ballplayers in Chilliwack

In an effort to keep young ballplayers in Chilliwack

Chilliwack Minor Baseball is bringing in Shawn Corness to head up the midget AAA program.

Corness, who operates the Battersbox Baseball Academy in Chilliwack, will be a paid coach with a specific mandate — build the program into something that will keep local talent in Chilliwack, now and well into the future.

“I had the thought in the summer, with a number of kids I work with who were looking to leave Chilliwack in the search for something a little more competitive and developmental,” Corness said. “It makes no sense to me that Chilliwack develops these kids from tadpole up the ladder, and once they get through bantam it’s, ‘Well now where am I going to go?’”

Chilliwack has had midget AAA baseball in recent years, but it was on life support this summer.

The core of the most recent midget AAA team, the same core that won the bantam AA provincial and western Canadian championships in 2012, was slowly moving on or graduating from minor baseball. And  with them went three dads — Chuck Peeling, Dave Riediger and Bill Lamb — who did  amazing behind-the-scenes work to keep the program going.

“We didn’t have anyone coming into back-fill who has, even remotely, the same skillset of those fellows,” said Lee Rogers, who will act as the team’s general manager. “Everyone was looking at that, hemming and hawing and saying, ‘What is going to happen to midget AAA next year?’ So when the concept of a paid coach was floated, they all said, ‘Good idea.”

The paid-coach idea is new in Chilliwack, but commonplace elsewhere.

The BC Premier Baseball League does it.

Even the BC Minor Baseball League, which Chilliwack plays in, has at least one team (Tri-City) that pays its coach.

Corness’s salary and the team’s heavy travel expenses will be covered through player fees, fundraising and, hopefully, corporate sponsorship.

“Our program was going to die on the vine due to lack of coaching,” Rogers said. “Shaun more than fills the hole with the resume he has. The connections he’s got, the programs he’s been affiliated with, he immediately puts a beacon on our program.”

There’s no doubt Corness has a resume that brings instant credibility.

As a coach, he guided the Kwantlen College Eagles to a BC College Baseball League championship in 2003 before joining UBC as the pitching coach in 2006.

The T-Birds won an NAIA Super Regional championship that year, and UBC’s pitching staff is perennially one of the nation’s best.

Corness has helped seven of his students get drafted by Major League Baseball teams.

Two of them have been first rounders. Jeff Francis was picked ninth overall in 2002 by the Colorado Rockies.

Kyle Lotzkar was picked 53rd overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2007 draft.

Corness became UBC’s full-time assistant coach in 2010, and has since become the  program’s recruiting coordinator.

He moved to Chilliwack five years ago, bringing his Battersbox Baseball Academy with him. He’s also been the lead instructor for the Sardis secondary school baseball academy since 2010.

The team he takes over has spent the last few years in the BC Minor Baseball League, a nine-team circuit that includes the  Vancouver Mounties, Tri-City Indians, South Okanagan (SOMBA) Tigers, Victoria Selects, Kamloops RiverDogs, West Kelowna D-Backs, Richmond City Chuckers and Cloverdale Spurs.

It’s a good league, and that’s where they’ll stay under Corness’s guidance. It doesn’t have the glitzy rep of the BC Premier Baseball League, which is seen as the place to go for aspiring ballplayers.

Guys like Brett Lawrie (Langley Blaze) and Justin Morneau (North Delta) Blue Jays have helped forge that rep.

But, in his capacity as UBC’s chief recruiter, Corness knows midget AAA can be a viable option. It’s a matter of helping players realize it.

“I think there’s a lot of misnomers out there about the PBL, and people are told that’s where you have to go if you want to succeed,” Corness noted. “I truly don’t believe that. There’s kids across the country who don’t play in the two PBLs (in BC and Ontario), and go on to pro ball.”

“If you’re in a program with good coach and scheduling, if you have the talent to go on, you’ll get the opportunity.”

Corness admits it will take time to build the program to where it will change the minds of show-me parents.

“Once they see the product on the field and the development that’s going to go on, with time we’ll prove that you can come here and get every opportunity that a PBL player gets,” Corness said.

Between the lines is one thing, but Corness also feels he’ll add off-the-field value that didn’t exist before.

“When it comes to scholarships and things like that, it’s not whether you’re highly scouted or not,” he said. “You have to recruit yourself, send out the videos and things like that. I have a lot of connections across BC and Alberta, and hundreds down south as well. Whatever a player wants to do, I believe we can help make it happen.”

Winter training started this week.

Corness feels he starts with a solid base of players and he doesn’t believe in ‘rebuilding’ years.

He plans to hit the ground running and have immediate success.

“It’s just by nature as a coach that I don’t go into things just hoping for success. I’ll expect us to compete on day one,” Corness said. “People will see right away that we’re a competitive program that’s developing good young baseball players.”

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