The local baseball landscape is about to change in a big way with the launch of the Fraser Valley Baseball Academy.
Shawn Corness and Corey Eckstein, two men who have been on opposite sides for years, are the central figures in a merger of Chilliwack and Abbotsford baseball.
Five organizations are coming together under one giant umbrella: Chilliwack-based ‘The Yard’ Baseball Academy and University of the Fraser Valley baseball team along with Abbotsford’s Sandlot Baseball, Yale Baseball Academy and the Abbotsford Cardinals Baseball Club’s senior, junior and bantam prep teams.
The idea started with a conversation four years ago between Corness and Eckstein. Some baseball observers call it a minor miracle that these two arch-rivals are in the middle of this merger, but Corness said their relationship was never as bad as it was made out to be.
“There’s been a misnomer out there with people thinking Corey and I had big issues, and really, we never had anything off the field,” he said. “It was always about baseball and both of us wanting the best players and the best programs.
“That conversation four years ago was about not wanting to butt heads about that kind of stuff anymore and trying to bring something together.”
Eckstein agreed that any tension between the two men was all baseball related.
“For me, it was more territorial than anything because we had two competitive guys in pretty close proximity, trying to run the best programs possible,” he said. “We butted heads from time to time, but people blow things up to be bigger than they are without ever checking with the source.”
After that initial conversation, things went back to the status quo for another three-and-a-half years. Six months ago it came back in a serious way, with Corness and Chilliwack businessman Brian Finnie reaching out to Eckstein, who in turn reached out to the Abbotsford baseball groups.
“The Abbotsford Cardinal piece, with the three teams we’ve run for close to 20 years, convincing those people was the biggest challenge at first,” Eckstein said. “But the more we met, the more they started to see the bigger vision.”
But what is the vision?
The Fraser Valley Baseball Academy combines the venues and resources of the five organizations. FVBA has secured contracts with the City of Chilliwack for Fairfield Island Park and the City of Abbotsford (Delair Park), and will operate private facilities as well.
The coaching staffs are merging, giving FVBA a heavyweight lineup.
Corness brings his UFV coaching staff to the table, including Jordan Lennerton, Wes Darvill, and Kyle Lotzkar.
The Abbotsford side includes Shawn and Cole Besse, Derek Florko, Bryan Arthur, Taylor Bratten, Jay Pankratz and Adam Revel.
“To build a project like this you need the structure and the coaches, and I think we have that,” Corness said. “I think we now host maybe the best coaches in the country and that’s very exciting.”
Notably absent in the intitial partnership is Chilliwack Cougars Baseball, which Corness helped build into one of the province’s top associations.
“At this point they’ve decided to run their college prep program themselves, so I won’t be part of that coaching staff this year,” said Corness, who coached the College Prep Cougars to back-to-back provincial titles in 2016 and 2017 and a league title in 2018. “Hopefully down the road it becomes something we can discuss, but at this point that’s not where it’s at.
“Hopefully people see the value in the Fraser Valley Baseball Academy as we continue to grow this program.”
The long-term vision is ambitious and includes turning the Yale Baseball Academy into a full-fledged high school academy. The current program serves between 35-50 junior and senior players every year with training outside of school hours.
“Full-fledged basically means it would be an elite travel team, where the program is part of the curriculum and students can train during school hours,” Eckstein explained. “There’d be more travel to the United States and the package for the players would be more extensive.”
The vision includes a partnership with Challenger Baseball, a division of Baseball B.C. that offers opportunities to youths with cognitive or physical disabilities.
FVBA is also developing a plan for female baseball, hoping to bring in players from across Canada to train in Chilliwack/Abbotsford and compete nationally and internationally.
Currently, there’s not much for local female players beyond Baseball B.C. Select camps and tournaments.
“I think it’s time,” Corness said. “There’s been growth in Canada with women’s baseball. There’s the Canadian National Team and several select and club teams that play for championships and it’s something the Fraser Valley could offer.
“It’s something that could serve aspiring female baseball players who want to keep playing baseball and not venture into softball, and it’s always exciting to look at trying to do something new.”
Find more info online at fvbaseball.ca