The College Avenue Knights will field their first TVRA varsity boys' baseball team for the 2016-17 season
When trying to create a team at the high school level, putting the foundation in place can often be the toughest aspect.
With traditional sports like soccer, hockey and basketball the common go to for athletes, others manage to slowly build and hope interest grows with each year until they become established.
The College Avenue Knights were one of two new baseball teams in Woodstock - with the St. Mary’s Warriors also fielding a team in the Catholic division - to be formed for the 2017 season.
“Last year was planting seeds with a few kids. We started doing a slo-pitch club to generate more interest,” coach Jerry Kleiner said. “Once (coach Sean) Latimer came on we had two teachers with (baseball) experience and 15 kids who wanted to play. The pieces came together.
“As long as the interest is there, someone will always step up to help,” he added.
Latimer previously helped London’s Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School setup a team eight years ago and had experience navigating what was necessary in getting a team going.
“This is my first year at CASS and I saw how Woodstock’s a hotbed for baseball… We got the numbers so we said let’s do it,” Latimer said. “We’re hoping it keeps growing from here… I noticed the last time I did it it started slow, but once kids heard about the team it grew each year. We’re hoping it’ll also happen here. You have to take a leap of faith and dive in.”
More than a year in the making, CASS’ team features a roster with a mixture of baseball and fastball experience.
While new, the Knights showed in their first game - a 6-5 win over Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute - they’ve got the arms to compete in a league where pitching normally comes out ahead.
“We pitched really well and a lot of runs are generated on walks in this league. Throwing strikes is key if you’re going to win,” Latimer said of the team’s first win. “Everybody contributed in some way to help the team and that’s what you want.
“I’m pretty excited about our team. We’ve got a couple of good arms we can use moving forward,” he added. “We want to win and we know we’ve got a good squad, so we’re hoping it stays that way in the coming years. It was cool to win our first game. IDCI’s one of the better teams we’ll play. We haven’t played everyone, but it’s a good start.”
Like other sports, club players are heavily relied on but with the spring season being done within a month and minor baseball picking up towards the tail end it can also serve as a spring training for players.
Pitchers have a 65-pitch limit, though with games lasting seven innings a couple of skilled arms can make all the difference.
With the quick turnaround in the five-game regular season condensed even further into doubleheaders following last week’s rainouts, any team that can string together runs in bunches and eat up innings on the mound can threaten for a playoff run.
After their opening game, the coaching staff said they’ve already seen the community to become more involved, which is necessary for any team to win.
“As far as starting a team, it feels good. When you get kids buying into a program, continuing to show up, you know you’re doing your job,” Kleiner said. “We’ve already seen community support with Woodstock parks and recreation letting us use the field, we had a volunteer that keeps score and others who came out to watch. We didn’t see that coming. All of a sudden the team is created and all these other pieces come out. That’s the nice thing about the community. There’s always people willing to help.”