Dunedin, Florida – The Toronto Blue Jays treated the iCASE Baseball Academy like royalty on Friday, with Director of Minor League Operations Charlie Wilson leading a tour throughout the Blue Jays training facilities, followed by inspirational messages from Blue Jays’ roving hitting instructor Steve Springer as well as fellow Canuck and field manager of the Dunedin Blue Jays, Stubby Clapp.
The morning began with a discussion in the board room led by the charming and affable Wilson on how the organization works and what exactly goes on in Spring Training. Wilson is a Canadian who interned with the Blue Jays, put in a million hours behind the scenes, and has blossomed into the organization’s top dog in Dunedin.
“Mr. Wilson was so open and friendly to us, and he answered every question we asked,” said Mexico City product Ricardo Suarez, an iCASE left-handed pitcher and first baseman.
“He also proved to us that you can have a career in the baseball industry even if your dream to be a player doesn’t come true.”
Before touring the facility, Clapp told his story to the iCASE team, and explained what it takes to make it, and stay, in the major leagues. It starts and ends with hard work and getting dirty, and Clapp was the most unliked player by anyone who was responsible for laundering the uniforms.
“As a scout, I was never so happy to be wrong about a player as I was about Stubby,” said iCASE field manager/GM Tom Valcke, who was a Supervisor with the MLB Central Scouting Bureau for a decade.
“Stubby was a player from my hometown of Windsor who I admired and respected, but I just couldn’t get there as far as projecting him into the Major Leagues. Did I want my son to grow up like him? Yes. Did I hope my daughters would marry a guy like him? Absolutely. After his family, nobody cheered louder then me when he donned a St. Louis Cardinals major league uniform!”
Springer, who was cut from his high school team, and like Clapp, did what it took to improve himself, never gave up, and wound up with a 1,600+ hit major league career. His story had the iCASE players on the edge of their seats. Springer, a gifted motivator, also educated the group about every player being “two players”, the confident version and the non-confident version. He explained the difference, and when Valcke mentioned that iCASE had a 15-player roster, Springer countered by saying, “No coach, you have a 30-player roster.” One thing Springer did for sure was add 15 followers to his Twitter account @qualityatbats.
“I have always played better when I went up to the plate with some success earlier in the game, maybe having made a catch to snuff a rally, or having a hit or two already in the books,” said Mississauga’s Colton Gill, the iCASE centre fielder and lead-off hitter.
“But now I understand better how to believe and achieve success between the white lines, even if I haven’t been having a great day so far.”
Wilson then gave the players a tour of the Dunedin facilities, where all of their minor league players were training. The iCASE players were allowed to listen to some of the instruction going on, as well as perch themselves on the observation deck, and elevated tower that sits in the middle of the clover leaf of four baseball diamonds.
“It was amazing to see more than one hundred pro players all doing the exact same grunt work on their fundamentals as we do. It proved to me that there is no limit to how many times proper mechanics need to be repeated,” said Ottawa’s Yanik Leroux, an iCASE pitcher and corner infielder.
For Thunder Bay’s Cameron McDougall, iCASE’s catcher, the experience was an eye-opener.
“Mr. Wilson told us that there were only 15 catchers present, and I bet there were at least 50 pitchers. Seeing these guys in person told me that if me or anybody aspires to be a major league catcher, you have to be prepared to catch a lot of bullpens, and be prepared to work tirelessly in that gear all day every day.”
“Coach Valcke tells us that the only machine that gets stronger with use is the human body, and the catchers in this camp sure prove that theory – they are amazing athletes!”
iCASE, a full-time, student-based baseball academy that operates out of Stratford Northwestern Secondary School in partnership with the Avon Maitland District School Board, will close out its Spring Break training trip with taking in Team Canada 18u versus the Detroit Tigers at Al Lang Stadium Friday afternoon in St. Petersburg.