The Cloverdale Nationals ended their regular season July 10 and head into the playoffs in second place in B.C.’s College Prep league (U18).
The Nationals, part of the Cloverdale Minor Baseball Association (CMBA) ended the season with a four-game set against the Kelowna Sun Devils. Despite dropping 3 of 4 over the weekend, Cloverdale is in a good position heading into the playoffs.
“These are playoff games,” said Bob Foerster, head coach of the Nationals. “The matchup with (Kelowna) is a good matchup going into the postseason.”
The Nationals finished second overall with a record of 29-10-1, behind the Chilliwack Cougars who bettered them by two wins. Now they’ll host the Trail Orioles for a best of three, first-round playoff series at Hillcrest Park July 16-17, with a doubleheader on Saturday and the rubber match, if necessary, on Sunday.
Overall, Foerster said he’s happy with the way his team’s 40-game regular season went.
“Even just getting to the playoffs is awesome for us,” he said. “The program has come a long way and the guys put in such a great effort all season.”
That long way includes overcoming some of the team and personal challenges the kids have faced because of previous COVID restrictions.
“This season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Foerster said. “There were lots of times where we’ve had injuries, or players are away playing on select teams, or sometimes these kids have work, so it’s definitely been a struggle, at times, just to contain people’s energy for that amount of time.”
Foerster said the Nats came out of the gate with bats blazing and the boys worked hard to elevate their gameplay. He said the kids started playing some really good ball a few weeks into the season, towards the end of April.
He said they’ll need to stay healthy, their bats will need to get hot, and they’ll need to play some solid baseball, if they want to win the title.
“We’re on the field five days a week,” he said. “The guys are very comfortable with the coaching staff. We’ve worked really hard with the guys and they’ve accepted a lot of our challenges that we’ve presented to them, which is all we can really ask for.”
Foerster said the team has a good combination of vets and rookies with seven seniors, five Grade 11s, and four Grade 10s.
“It’s a good mixture of ages and baseball IQs,” he added. “For the coaching staff, it’s been a fun challenge teaching these players to recognize different baseball situations they’ve never been in.”
He said the kids also played in some tournaments and had some exhibition games, so they’ve played about 65-70 games, so far. Getting in a ton of games in College Prep is all about exposure—exposure to the game and exposure to different colleges around B.C., Canada, and south of the line.
The season for College Prep starts in September. The kids get in about 15 games during fall ball. They usually train indoors for a bit, then head to Arizona in March for a week where they’ll play about 5 games. (Although they did not do that this year because of the border restrictions.) Then the 40-game College Prep season starts. They also may head to Washington State for some games.
“It’s all about getting these kids in front of college coaches and recruiters, so they can best evaluate the guys,” explained Foerster. “The goal for these guys is definitely to go to college. Whether it’s in Canada or the States, it’s trying to help these guys get to a place where they will succeed.”
Foerster said five kids from last year’s Nationals landed on teams in the Canadian College Baseball Conference and one landed on a U.S. college team.
“The program is growing. The name is growing,” he said. “From a coaching standpoint, we’re doing everything we can to get these guys as much information as possible, because if you’re in grade 10, and you’re going to be in our program for three years, you’re going to be put into situations that you have to try and understand.
“From a baseball perspective, we want to prepare them in every way for what it’s going to be like in college.”
Foerster noted one of the strengths of the program is that they get former players to return and help coach. Those former players then become mini-mentors in a way.
“That’s how you grow the program,” he explained. “That’s how you improve player development. That’s why our association is really keen on bringing these kids in to help. It’s real life experiences. All the help we can get from our returning players builds on that growth. What could be better?”
Foerster said his coaching staff has been great this year. And the College Prep team has been collaborating with the U18 AAA coaches to help develop players. Foerster oversees fall ball and he’s got AAA and College Prep coaches working together and all the kids playing together too.
“John Parker, our pitching coach, has been coaching ball for 30-plus years. He’s been an incredible asset to have,” Foerster said. “Then we’ve got some grad assistants that are helping: Nick Palmer, he works with our catchers. We’ve got our midget AAA coaches, Mike Dance, Chris Walters, and Ryan young. They’ve helped with both (College Prep) and with our AAA players. And John and I help out with AAA as much as we can.”
Foerster said the end goal is to collectively build a strong baseball foundation that helps young ball players grow from Peewee through Bantam right up to College Prep.
“We’re trying to mimic the college experience so the kids are ready. You go through the same motions, same exercises, same intensity, and we have the same expectations.”
Foerster’s excited to see how College Prep is gaining traction amongst players as one of the the top leagues in the province.
“College Prep is starting to grow by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Our association’s been working very hard to promote high-level baseball. We’re always looking for players who want to compete at a high level. We’re just trying to have a competitive program that could compete against any other team in the country.”
Opening pitches this weekend against Trail will be thrown July 16 at both 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and if necessary at 10 a.m. July 17. All games are at Hillcrest Park.
For more info visit cloverdalebaseball.com.