Mississauga North Baseball Association has a long and successful history of baseball in Canada. In fact, the earliest documented game saw the Union Club of Streetsville defeat Brampton 70-9 (Brampton Times July 3rd, 1868).
There have been changes of names from Thistles to Tigers and expansion of geographical boundaries, but the constant through the years has been the tradition of excellence.
At this year's Baseball Canada Awards banquet, MLB catcher and lifetime Team Canada member, Chris Robinson commented, "Yeah I remember playing the Tigers growing up, you guys kicked our butts."
Chris along with Adam Stern and the rest of the gang at Centrefield Sports in London, Ontario have done a great job to ensure that there will be no more butt-kicking, but Mississauga North is still striving for excellence with their new facility, The Den.
With a vision to provide an optimal training space from the 4 year old beginner to the Major League athlete, The Den is designed to make every player enjoy "the grind".
PROVIDING A SPACE FOR LIFE
One of the missions at The Den is to grow our athletes, help them achieve the next level and provide a space for them to continue to train after they have hung up their Tigers jersey.
Recently, Toronto Blue Jays prospect Dalton Pompey and Team Canada Junior National player Royce Ando stopped by The Den to check it out.
Pompey is a 21 year old outfielder who is looking to move up to the Dunedin Blue Jays this year. Ando is the Ontario Blue Jays shortstop heading to Dunedin this spring with Team Canada.
Both players attended John Fraser Secondary School and spent their youth wearing the Mississauga North pinstripes.
"To have a place like The Den creates endless possibilities to improve", said Ando. "When we were young we crammed into small gyms and were really limited to what we could work on. With all of the cages, 60 foot infield, and workout area, you can get all of your work in under one roof.
Pompey echoed the sentiment. "Growing up we had to use the batting cages at Playdium. This place offers a huge benefit to players because they can work on all areas of their game with lots of space and comfort."
When asked if The Den would be good enough for an elite level baseball player, Dalton's answer was a resounding "I'll use it !"
"With the clay mounds and fielding area, you can use the space like a real game."
Both players recognized that the Canadian disadvantage is our environment. Players down south have the benefit of getting in more real game opportunities.
The Den provides a space for players to simulate game like situations. By using The Den, Canadian players can gain an advantage over the snowy winters.
GIVING BACK TO COMMUNITY BASEBALL
"I remember growing up and not knowing about too many Canadians that were drafted.", Pompey remarked. "When I saw a guy that got drafted and recognized that I could be just like him, it motivated me to try and make it a possibility."
"I want to offer that for Mississauga North.", Pompey continued. "If I work out at The Den, I can set an example for the younger players that they aren't much different than me. If they go through the work and practice hard, they can be the next Mississauga boy to be drafted."
When Royce was asked why he has spent the last 3 years volunteering to help grassroots players he replied, "I feel its important to give back to the organization that gave me an opportunity to play. From a personal standpoint it helps me to build communication and leadership skills that are sure to help me in all areas of my life."
Before Ando and Pompey left, they both hit some balls off the tee in the cage. In a snapshot that embodies the mission we have at The Den, the players had a chance to exchange advice and tips on improving their game.
Alongside their cage was a few 11 year old players just beginning their journey of excellence at The Den.
"It's important for players to come to practice with a goal they want to accomplish. If they set goals, they will maximize their workout and improve dramatically.", Ando said.
Pompey continued, "The Den provides everything for them. Everything except doing the work. If they do the work, they will get better here,"
Both players are an example of what we can grow all across this country. Once again, it goes beyond baseball. It's about a 16 and 21 year old having goals and living to fulfill their dreams. It's about having hope and providing hope for the next generation.
The Den can provide them everything baseball. But it also provides them an avenue to become better people and share their disciplined lifestyle with rest of their community.
The Den can provide the space, but they are doing the work.