When manager Jeff Lounsbury announced his retirement from Brock Baseball this past year, it took many by surprise. Lounsbury managed the Badgers program for 20 years. He racked up 507 wins for his career, becoming the second manager at a Canadian school to reach the 500 milestone. Lounsbury also won two CIBA National Championships (1998 and 1999), four OUA Championships (2002, 2004, 2010 and 2014), three OUA Coach of the Year awards (2005, 2012 and 2014) and he coached the program to a regular season first place finish 15 of his 20 seasons.
The long-time Badger manager, now field manager and assistant general manager of the Burlington Bandits, also coached seven players to the yearly OUA top hitter award. Two of the seven players won it twice, Shaun Valeriote in 2010 and 2011 and current OUA star Justin Gideon in 2014 and 2015. Lounsbury also coached Ryan Pranger (2004) and Justin Ayles (2014) to OUA Most Valuable Pitcher awards.
The players were shocked when Lounsbury told them about his retirement late last year, but everyone wished the coach well.
The new face to Brock Baseball however, is a familiar face. Marc LePage, joined Brock as an assistant coach in 1995. He worked alongside Lounsbury as the team hitting coach and assistant coach. LePage left the Badgers in 2000 for a quick two-year stint as manager of the Guelph Gryphons. He coached the Gryphons to their first CIBA National Championship appearance before returning back to Brock.
“As a team we want to challenge our athletes to be competitive and we want to continue the winning ways,” said LePage, as training camp for the Badgers is set to begin in just under a week’s time. “We also want them to be engaged with the school, the community and we want our alumni engaged with the team as well.”
LePage repeated multiple times that he enjoys the winning aspect of the game, but the program is going to take a new approach to making sure the student-athletes strive in academics and within the community. He plans to set-up some community initiatives for the players, which includes helping the grade school and high school baseball players in Niagara. The team will also shift some of its off-field workouts to the campus, so students can see their baseball team first-hand.
“We want the players to have fun and enjoy the student-athlete experience, but they still need to be responsible and accountable, and that’s where you are going to see the cultural change in the program,” said LePage. “We are really big on the student aspect and the athlete comes after.”
LePage also mentioned that he’s been in communication with some of Niagara’s baseball centres and is looking into starting a Junior Badgers affiliation. Knowing the season is only five weekends long, LePage doesn’t want to see his team disappear during the winter, which is why the community initiatives will keep the team active.
The Badger manager couldn’t mention what his roster may look like as he promised the assistant coaches that they would begin with a clean page. However, key players from last season that have graduated are Ryan Beckett, Phil Owen, Ricky Ferri, Brandon Beattie and Ryan Laird. Other players from the 2015 roster will not be coming back as well, but LePage preferred not to mention names.
Over the last two seasons, Beckett had a 3-5 record as a Badger with a 2.31 earned run average and 24 strikeouts. Owens graduates after becoming the Badgers all-time saves leader with 16 total saves. Ferri was the team’s center fielder, and over the past two seasons batted .285 with eight extra-base hits, 20 runs batted in and 23 stolen bases.
The Badgers have lost a majority of their starting position players, including their entire infield, their defence up the middle and a platoon left fielder. However, LePage believes with the guys returning and the new players coming in, the Badgers will be as competitive as they have been in the past. The team is expecting 60-65 players at training camp.
“It’ll be very competitive because we have a lot of starting positions up for grabs,” said LePage. “We knew we lost a large majority of our team so we are very aggressive at getting a big group attending camp.”
Some key returning players for the Badgers will be Gideon, Dennon Koziol, Jeff Baggaley and Chase Porter. Also expected to be at training camp are two recruits from British Columbia, another from Calgary, a couple transfers from down south and a member of the Honduras national team. No names were given.
“Camp is by far the best part of the season for me. We always catch a few guys at the beginning and they work hard and make the team,” said LePage
“We don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t see Brock in the top again like in the past. We are confident we will be able to put a team together that will work hard – we’ll out work everybody that’s for sure.”
LePage also added two assistants to his coaching staff, and expects multiple other part-time and volunteer coaches.
David Davidson will be the Badgers new pitching coach. The St. Catharines native is a former MLB pitcher, who had short stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Florida Marlins. Davidson also played for Canada’s National team in 2008 and 2009.
Jono Marcheterre is a former Badger player, and was part of the 1999 National Championship team. He’ll be an assistant coach under LePage.
One big name that could possibly join the Badgers for a practice during the season is Toronto Blue Jays assistant general manager and former Badger Andrew Tinnish. LePage mentioned Tinnish as one of his closer friends, and said they speak almost every other day. Tinnish continues to have a passion for the Badgers program and would be a huge asset with his MLB experience.
“Davidson loves teaching pitching, Marcheterre is a teacher by trade, I love teaching hitting and Tinnish, when you get him in a room all he talks about is technique and how we can improve performance,” said LePage.
“The alumni are very passionate. You are really going to start seeing the alumni start to get involved with the team and get involved with the school again, and that’s what a school and program need.”
Training camp for the Badgers will run between August 29 and September 2, with the season beginning on Sept. 10 with a doubleheader versus Queen’s at home. The Badgers will get a shot at revenge on October 2, when they host the Western Mustangs after the London school beat Brock for the OUA Championship last season.