(Photo courtesy of Ian Wilson, Alberta Dugout Stories)
DS: You’re about to open up your second season as bench boss for the Okotoks Dawgs, what was it about Year 1 that made the decision for you to come back so easy?
MS: Honestly, the support all around. From the community, from the staff of the Dawgs. It went all the way from the top, from John, to the assistant coaches – Dave Robb, Joe (Sergent), the Academy coaches – we all live together there as far as using the facility. They made it very easy. Great group of guys, and all the way back to behind-the-scenes stuff … it was just an unbelievable experience. When DR said ‘Once you’re a part of the Dawgs organization, you are a part of the Dawgs family,’ there’s no doubt that I was going to return. Hopefully Year 2 will be just as successful on and off the field. I appreciate it, thank you guys.
DS: Another quality season in 2018, 35-12 record, ending the year on an 11-game winning streak. From your perspective, how did the team come together down the final stretch of the season?
MS: It came from the entire coaching staff putting together the right group to have on that team. These kids, young men, they were very loyal to each other, they got along. I’ve been around a number of summer teams. I’ve never seen a summer team get along as well as they did. And obviously, with a couple of Bellevue guys that I coach currently, they still have their group chat together where they communicate on a regular basis, so I hear a lot from a number of the guys. That’s why they came together – they trusted each other, they wanted to play for each other. They had a lot of fun being around each other. And as a coaching staff, it made things easier for us. The 11-game winning streak had nothing to do with the coaching staff, it had to do with the players wanting to get out there and win. These guys all came from winning programs and they all wanted to get after it.
DS: If you could look back to 2018, was there a moment/game that sticks out to you?
MS: Me being me, what’s going to stick out to me forever, is the pregame ceremony where Zach, Louis, and Lennon (family of Tara Smith Roe) came out, and the boys got to go with me to home plate and give the lineup card and throw out the first pitch. For the community of Okotoks to come together to support the Dawgs the way they do, and for them to include them and show how much they think about their family and the tragedy that happened to them, it shows the Okotoks community is bigger than just baseball, bigger than just hockey, they’re out there to take care of everyone and anyone. To see those two boys have the smiles on their faces that they had, for them to come back and say ‘Hi,’ it’s knowing that, we were able to help them out.
DS: Thoughts on the changes coming to the league this year?
MS: Me personally, what I see is, the Western Canadian Baseball League compared to the Western Major Baseball League, it’s going to give us an identity when we go ahead and go out and get kids, not only for this year, but for future years. They’re going to see that the league is not a recreational league, it’s serious. It brands Canadian baseball for the summer. You have the Cape Cod League, you have the Northwoods League, this puts us up within that naming right, where it should. I believe it will bring the league up a little. You’re going to see more kids wanting to come up from the States and throughout Canada who are going to school in the States instead of going to Ontario or the West Coast, they’re going to want to play in the WCBL.
DS: How would you describe coaching at Seaman Stadium after your first year in Okotoks? Ranking third in terms of attendance in North America is pretty special.
MS: It is special. It’s something special not only for me as a coach, but it’s special for these kids. Some of these guys play in front of 50-75 people at their colleges. Some of the guys, they play in front of 1500. But to play in front of 4000 every night that we play a home game and the support that they give us. Okotoks is something completely different where the baseball IQ of the fan there, is very very high compared to a lot of the places you’re going to watch a summer baseball game. They are just going there to hang out, have a few beers, in Okotoks, they’re going there to have fun, but going to watch good baseball, and they know good baseball. It is special.
DS: Looking to the roster, you have a few key members of the 2018 team coming back to Okotoks. How important is it to have smaller turnover in a compact collegiate summer season?
MS: When we have the same guys coming back, what it does, is it takes out that time period of having to get familiar with each other, trust each other, and that’s a big thing. The summer teams out there that are successful, it’s because they have a core group of guys that trust each other, that rely on each other. It’s baseball, it’s a youthful game, these guys are young, and you have to think about it, for them to play and feel comfortable, they have to trust each other. When we don’t have a large turnover … they’re going to know what each other can do.
DS: How does one manage expectations in an organization that expects a championship each year? What kind of potential does the 2019 version of the Dawgs have?
MS: I wouldn’t have taken the job in Okotoks if it was a mediocre program, or if it wasn’t an organization that was striving to win every day. The thing is, the fans don’t deserve to have a team that’s not winning ball games, I don’t want to coach a team that’s not winning ball games. As we all know, winning is fun … a lot of things happen when you start losing. As we had our losing streak last summer, guys were afraid they were going home, fans weren’t happy, but then we started winning some ball games, specifically the 11-game winning streak, things started coming around. Attendance went up, you could see the guys out on the field having fun, and those expectations, if you really want to accomplish something in life, you’re going to have those expectations. So, I take it as a challenge, I take it as a need. If we didn’t have those expectations, it wouldn’t be worth doing what we are doing.
With the large core group coming back that know our expectations and the high quality of new players, we are expecting to jump right back on the winning road. To note that the current guys (new and returners) on the roster are having good years to this point in the collegiate season points to a good carryover to this coming summer. Overall, the coaching staff is very excited to see the baseball progress of our returners and the opportunity to watch the steps our new players take.