Baseball Canada’s decision to cancel national championships again has ripple effect locally

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Some local teams never even got to the plate before having the season’s big prize ruled out.

For the second year in a row, Baseball Canada has cancelled all national championships this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I thought they could have held out to the second week of May,” Windsor Junior Selects’ manager Al Bernacchi said. “Everything is driven at the junior level and the senior level by the nationals and it trickles down from there.”

The Selects have won nine provincial elimination titles in the last 13 years and been to the Canadian championship 10 times over that stretch and securing nine medals at the national level.

“I feel bad for my players,” Bernacchi said. “We’ve had a lot of success here with the juniors and think they believed they had a reasonable shot of going again.”

The Selects aren’t the only local powerhouse disappointed by the news. The Tecumseh Thunder has won five of the last six provincial senior men’s elimination tournaments while earning four national medals over that stretch.

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“It didn’t surprise me knowing what needs to be done to prepare for those types of tournaments,” Thunder manager Jamie Kell said. “I think it was probably the right call, unfortunately. It’s probably toughest on (on the players) because that’s what they play for.”

For Baseball Canada president Jason Dickson, there were too many potential obstacles with the virus not to make the move now.

“We realize that the decision to cancel our championships for a second time in as many years is not ideal for the athletes and teams that have been working hard with the goal of playing in them,” Dickson said in a release. “When you consider all of the elements that go into a national championship, including provincial qualification events, inter-provincial travel, shared accommodations and the strain that running championships in a safe manner would entail for the host committees, this was the best decision for all parties involved.”

However, what Baseball Canada has yet to address is what the long-term impact of the decision to call championships off again will have on some host centres.

The Riverside Minor Baseball Association was set to host the boys’ 13 and under national championship last year. When the event was called off, Riverside allowed Woodstock to remain on schedule as host of this year’s event and took on the host role in 2022. Now, it’s unclear if Baseball Canada will keep Riverside as host next year or extend Woodstock the offer to host the event a year later.

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“We’re set for ’22 and I don’t want to lose that,” said Tom Laporte, who is schedule to serve as convenor for the Riverside event. “Plus, our current 12 and under team is set to play in it and if we got bumped, they would lose out.”

Baseball Ontario is expected to address elimination provincial tournaments later this month.

“I think there’s a meeting on April 18th where it will be discussed,” Kell said.

While new provincial restrictions have taken players off the field again, there remains hope that a season will be played at some point once the virus is more under control and more people are vaccinated.

“Our provincial members and local associations proved in 2020 that by working with their local health officials in providing a safe environment that a baseball experience can be enjoyed for participants,” Dickson said. “We are confident that our membership can enjoy or sport again in 2021.”

And while baseball won’t be entirely back to normal this year, Kell is already working on ways to try and keep his players motivated going forward. Red Deer, AB was to host this year’s senior national tournament and the event is scheduled for Sydney, N.S. next year, but Kell is considering making a bid for the 2023 championship.

“We’re getting up there,” Kell said. “Our main squad is like (age) 27 or 28 and it’s two years in a row that nationals have been cancelled and we’re trying to hold on and get a couple more years. That’s what the push is going to be and that’s why we’re talking about putting in to host.”

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