With nine wins in 30 games, the South Okanagan Minor Baseball Association Tigers would like a few more Ws.
Just ask veteran Tiger Brett Fleming.
“Going into each game, we know we can compete with every team in this league,” said Fleming of their play in the B.C. Minor Baseball under-18 midget AAA in which they are eighth at 9-21-0. “We should be in the top half of the league. We go into it to win. We expect to win.”
If it doesn’t happen, the team talks about it and moves on.
Tigers coach Junior Deleon said the focus of their program is on development. Working with kids aged 15 to 18, the hope is to move them up prior to their Grade 12 season. An example of that is Dustin Houle, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers after joining the Langley Blaze in the B.C. Premier Baseball League. Other players who have also moved on to Alberta or to college. In the past eight years, the Tigers have 17 players who reached college baseball.
“There are maybe one or two other midget AAA teams that have that type of record,” he said. “The program here is intended for kids to move on to college. Some kids move on before their Grade 12 year to better programs.”
Another goal is to make provincials for the top eight teams.
As Deleon said, once you get there, any team can have success. When looking at the standings, three teams have strong records, while the others blur together.
“You can beat anybody on any given day,” he said. “The goal is to make provincials with what you have learned as opposed to going out and beating everybody and not learning anything.”
The Tigers resumed play July 12 and lost to Vancouver at Mt. Boucherie 2-1. They faced Kamloops in Kamloops on July 16 and West Kelowna on Wednesday. Deleon has seen improvement, but other teams will be better too. The talent that joined Deleon’s younger core is better than years past.
“Right off the get-go we were able to be in a lot of closer games than last year,” he said.
Deleon is in his eighth year coaching the Tigers and he enjoys it. Watching them develop into good players, but also good people.
“I go back to a story where we have a senior now who showed up his first year as a bantam wearing his socks up, but the wrong way,” he retells. “He had his socks holding up his pants as opposed to his pants holding his socks. Last fall we had a new kid come in and that same senior was the one that took him aside and explained to him how to wear his socks. There is a full circle come around. That’s what basically keeps me going.”
Fleming, who is in his final season with the Tigers, said his development is going well. It’s sped up with more playing time the last two years. Last year and this season have been important to ready him for college. Fleming said Deleon is a good coach who works with players when they struggle. He knows this all too well as he went through it with his hitting.
“He will take them off to the side and work with them for a few practices, then let them go on their own,” said Fleming.