By Lethbridge Herald on April 10, 2015.
The Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs get their Canadian college baseball season started on Saturday. The organization, housed at Lloyd Nolan Yard and coached by Todd Hubka, are the four-time defending champions of the Canadian College Baseball Conference. Theyâ€™ve won every year since Hubka was named coach in 2011.
â€œThe fellas feel that pressure,â€ said Hubka on Thursday at Lloyd Nolan Yard while his players warmed up for practice. â€œThey donâ€™t want to be the team to break the streak. Itâ€™s good, but I want them to be their own team. I think thereâ€™s a point in the season where they just start to play baseball and get used to the pressure but I donâ€™t know if weâ€™re there yet.â€
The PBA Dawgs leave Lloyd Nolan Yard prior to each CCBC season to battle against U.S. college competition, a trip which always includes a run through Las Vegas. Itâ€™s a team-building exercise and a humbling reminder all at once for the program. Hubka said itâ€™s a chance for his players to match up against American players who have already been in game action and have already enjoyed nicer weather than the generally housebound Dawgs.
â€œIt was good, our pitchers battled, they played good,â€ he said. â€œI thought they kept us in it but our hitting wasnâ€™t quite as good as weâ€™d like but I think that was more finding some consistency than anything else.
â€œBut we kept it close in the games, so it was good to see that we can compete with that level of competition.â€
The Dawgs will face Thompson River University Wolfpack at 10 a.m. at The Yard on Saturday, then the Calgary Dinos at 3 p.m. The junior varsity Dawgs play a game at noon at Spitz Stadium.
Both Dawgsâ€™ squads are back at it at the same times on Sunday.
â€œI hope the weatherâ€™s good,â€ said Hubka on a clear-skied, windless Thursday. Hubka was happy for the nice weather as the Dawgs entertained their annual Spring Training camp for youth ballplayers Tuesday-Thursday.
Itâ€™s one of a number of positives the community has reaped thanks to the PBA program. Aside from dozens of out-of-town university and college students each year, a surprising number of Dawgs have made their homes in Lethbridge after their careers end. Easterner Ryan MacDonald, the PBA strength coach and a PBA assistant, not only coaches the youth camps but is also the head coach of the Western Major Baseball League Bulls. Those same Bulls hire many PBA players to play during the summer baseball season as well as employing PBA players and coaches as groundskeepers at Spitz Stadium.
More permanent residents include Winston Churchill High teacher Omar Kadir, the vice-president of the cityâ€™s high school baseball league and an American Legion coach himself. Chalk up Hubka, a Claresholm transplant who arrived to work for the PBA in its first season, as another out-of-towner who chose Lethbridge to stay. Thereâ€™s also former Winnipegger Duncan Sourriseau, whose Under the Lights Entertainment company is helping bring the cityâ€™s baseball promotions into the 21st century. Jesse Sawyerâ€™s a former Dawg who volunteers with local baseball and is also the JV coach at the PBA.
â€œThereâ€™s lots,â€ said Hubka, adding local coach, businessman and former PBAer Wade Pearce to the list. â€œI think thatâ€™s something I hope the city realizes. Weâ€™re doing more than teaching baseball and winning championships. We do that, but itâ€™s important that these guys go to school and learn about the community, too.â€
And, Hubka added, itâ€™s something the city should be proud of.
â€œLook at me, look at all the guys that have stuck around and I think it says something about Lethbridge,â€ he said. â€œI mean, itâ€™s getting bigger as a city and these guys are staying because theyâ€™re finding wives or girlfriends or jobs and lives here that make them want to stay and thatâ€™s a good thing for the city.â€