Oh, Canada! How we enjoyed your presence at Diamond Nation

 

By Bob Behre

When Ken Danekyo was selected in the first round of the NHL’s Entry draft by the expansion New Jersey Devils in 1982, he admits he had to look at a map of the U.S. to see where New Jersey was located.

Daneyko grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, a western Canadian province, so you could understand his consternation about a move to New Jersey. Daneyko, it turns out, would set down stakes in the Garden State and never leave.

So we forgive the young or geographically challenged if they cannot place British Columbia without the aid of a Google Maps search. For the record, British Columbia is the westernmost Canadian province -- just to the west of Danekyo’s Alberta -- and hard by the Pacific Ocean, boasting the beautiful seaport city Vancouver and British Columbia’s capital, Victoria.

Geography lesson aside, one would wonder, what would bring a baseball team from the outer reaches of western Canada to Diamond Nation? Sure, Diamond Nation has lured teams from most of the contiguous states, including California and Texas, and the Flemington, N.J. facility has played host to plenty of teams from Canada, but mostly from cities in Ontario and Quebec that are a five or six hour drive from New Jersey.

A team arriving at Diamond Nation from western Canada struck some observers as odd. A frequent question asked of the players was, “So, did you guys drive here?” The response? “Umm, yeah, from the (Clinton Holiday Inn) after flying across the country!”

Team BC sent two teams about 3,000 miles by plane to New Jersey to compete in separate age group tournaments in recent weeks.

“We had to win our provincial championship to earn the trip to Diamond Nation,” said Team BC coach Luke Yam. “The prize for winning the championship is the trip to Diamond Nation.”

So, Team BC brought some serious heat to Diamond Nation from the chilly northwest. Team BC’s 15U squad reached the semifinals of the 15U Summer Finale tournament on Sunday and the organization’s 18U squad drew another Canadian squad, the Terriers from Ontario, in the 18U College Elite Showcase Wood Bat tournament championship game on August 23.

The Team BC vs. Terriers Blue clash in the College Elite Showcase was the first-ever tournament final in the Diamond Nation's nine-year history pitting two teams from north of the border. And a great clash it was as the Terriers squeaked out an entertaining 3-2 victory. The Terriers, in fact, went 5-0 and outscored their tournament opponents 23-3. Team BC’s 18U entry was an impressive 4-1-1 with a 27-16 runs advantage.

“The facilities were first rate, the staff was nothing short of all-stars and the umpires we had were professional and very competent,” said James Raymond, Team BC’s administrative director. “The teams we faced were strong and pushed us to play at our peak. It was well worth the commute from the Pacific Coast. We’ll see you next year!”

Yam’s 15U squad had a heck of tournament to cap an amazing run from April-through-August that left the Canadian club with a gaudy 54-9-1 record.

“We pride ourselves on player development,” said Yam. “We want our kids playing in different tournaments, so they have the tools to proceed beyond this level. We’ve made a big effort to bring in mature kids and good families. We really want a team-first environment with no animosity. I thought we had a great year.” Yam should know the professional manner in which his team carried itself was noticed by many at Diamond Nation.

Yam’s 15U boys were quite a watch, coming from behind to win three times in the Summer Finale and one of the those victories was a no-hitter pitched by Team BC’s big horse, righthander Cody Hendriks.

“Cody’s done very well,” said Yam. “He’s one of the players back from last year’s team.” Hendriks, the team's main shortstop, returned to Team BC with Max Yuen and Taiki Suzuki. "All three were intrumental in the team's success this year."

Team BC’s 15U squad was certainly tournament tested, having survived a grueling tournament to win the British Columbia provincial championship.

“We played the top 10 teams in British Columbia in a championship format,” said Yam. “It’s set up so the winner gets to make the trip to Diamond Nation. It’s something we’ve worked toward all year, to represent our province.” The team is known as the West Coast Cardinals when competing in Canada and came to New Jersey at Team BC, of course, the province’s champion. Team BC is based out of Vancouver and Coquitlam.

Team BC opened the Summer Finale at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning with a convincing 14-5 victory over the Eastern A’s despite still fighting a bit of jet lag and the lingering effects of the team’s tour of New York City the day before. Later that day, Team BC found itself in a 2-0 hole against a strong Team Select team despite Hendrik’s no-hit bid. But Team BC rallied for three runs to not only secure the win but help Hendrik nailed down the no-hitter.

The Canadian team’s third pool play game was another thriller that saw Marc Rogers deliver a clutch two-out, two-strike, two-run single up the middle in the fifth inning to give his team a 3-2 lead over Frazier’s Downtown Academy. An inning later, Hendrik gave Team BC an insurance run when, attempting to steal home, he caused the pitcher to balk. Tyler Wright allowed just four hits over six shutout innings and struck out five to help deliver the victory that gave Team BC a 3-0 record in pool play and qualified the team for the semifinals.

A rugged Titans National team, however, put a sudden end to Team BC’s magical weekend. The Titans rolled to a 6-0 victory and then defeated Triple Crown Baseball, 7-6, in the championship game. The Titans are based in South Jersey.

“The Titans were a very good team,” said Yam. “Most of their players are 2020 grads and most of our kids are 2021 or ‘22. That was a challenge.”

Ontario’s Terriers Blue defeated Team BC’s 18U entry, 3-2, in the College Elite Showcase Wood Bat tournament that wrapped up last Thursday.

Matt Ward drove in Austin Gomm with a single in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Terriers Blue a 3-2 lead it would not relinquish in Diamond Nation’s first-ever All-Canada championship game.

The Terriers were dominating on the mound, pitching three shutouts on the way to the championship. Tournament Most Valuable Player Owen MacNeil shut out the In The Zone Knights, 3-0, in the tournament opener. Andrew Hynes followed that with six scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over the Manalapan Braves. And Stephen Phillips was lights out in a five-inning 10-0 shutout of Long Island Elite Baseball in the semifinals.

Yam explained that club baseball in Canada is much bigger than high school baseball and all the big tournaments are centered in the club circuit. He said, “Basketball and football are big in high schools here.” Hockey is, of course, enormous in Canada and is played only at the club level where the best players are in a pipeline to the NHL.