There are a lot of ways to tell dedication in the sports world but on a cold, windy February evening in Chatham, none resonates louder than the smack of a baseball as it hits a leather glove.
Weeks before their major league counterparts reported to spring training, members of the Chatham Peewee Diamonds were stretching their arms and honing their batting eye in the Field House at Rotary Park.
The Diamonds have shown they’re among the best group of baseball players in Ontario.
Now they have their sights on proving they can play with the best in the world.
The Diamonds have been selected to play in Cooperstown Baseball World International tournament in Cooperstown, New York this summer.
During that tournament, the team will play seven games in eight days against teams from across North America.
“It will be a real test for us and a great opportunity for the boys,” said coach Jason Chickowski. “It will be like playing professional baseball with games each day.”
Chickowski called his team “a special group” that combines talent and character.
“They have been together for the past three seasons and are back to back to back Ontario Champions, at three different levels,” he said. “In 2013, they won Ontario “B”, 2014 in “A” in Stratford and last summer they won “AA” in Brampton. “
He said the team’s character was on display last year at the 2015 Ontario AA Championships where the Diamonds allowed four runs against the Leaside Leafs in the first inning.
“The guys could have hung their heads,” he said. “Playing a team from Toronto could be intimidating but they dug in and came back to win the game 23-5.”
From there, the Diamonds caught fire, winning five games in a row against large centres such as Milton, North Toronto and Oshawa. They defeated
Brantford twice in the tournament.
“We truly have no one kid that is superior to any other,” Chickowski said. “We have speedsters, power hitters, those that excel in the field with the leather, an assortment of options on the mound and of course those who play hard core, down and out in the dirt baseball. “
Beating teams from larger centers is nothing new to the Diamonds.
In 2015 at an AAA tournament in the Toronto area, this group defeated the previous years’ Ontario 2014 AAA Champion (Kitchener) and the eventual 2015 AAA Champions (Mississauga) in the same weekend en route to a semi-final defeat against the best AAA teams in the province.
“When they play, they play as a team with each player excelling in different areas, which in the end, leads to the team being able to compete with and even beat the top teams in the entire province,” he said.
Chickowski said the players are excited to play in Cooperstown, the site of the Baseball Hall of Fame of which Chatham’s Fergie Jenkins is a member.
“We have some pride knowing that the best Canadian player ever came from here,” he said. “We want to live up to that kind of reputation.”
In addition to the Cooperstown trip, he said the team’s goal for the coming season is to play a consistent AAA calibre schedule in order to attempt to qualify for the AAA Ontario Championships in the Toronto area on Labour Day weekend.
“The tougher the opponent, the more you learn,” he said. “If you want to beat the best, you have to play the best.”
The Cooperstown trip will require the team to raise some $20,000.
“The boys and families have been fundraising throughout the winner,” he said. “We’re about halfway into our goal and we thank everyone who has helped us so far.”
Chickowski, president of the Chatham Minor Baseball Association for the past five years, knows a thing or two about titles, having won provincial championships and a silver medal in the 1997 Canadian Senior Baseball Champions in Newfoundland.
“These kids have what it takes to be champions,” he said. “They’ve proven themselves and they’re not satisfied yet.”