Offseason? What Offseason?
ConU’s Baseball Team Stays Sharp With Year-Round Practices
When the Concordia Stingers baseball team’s 2012 season came to a screeching halt in the playoffs last October, there was little time to dwell over what could’ve been.
That’s because not even a month later, most players were right back to work, bulking up at the gym and training in the Stinger Dome week after week.
Aside from a short break over the holidays, they haven’t stopped since.
Team captain and pitcher/outfielder André Lagarde’s reasoning behind starting so early is simple.
“Everybody wants to. Everybody here loves baseball and wants to keep playing,” he said. “Our season only lasts a month and a half, and these guys just want to stay together and get their baseball fix.”
Ironically, the one who would prefer the players take at least a little time off is team manager Howard Schwartz.
“I would prefer to start in January, give the guys some time to get back in their academics and recover from the long sacrifice that they make,” said Schwartz. “But it’s their call—they’re the ones that want in.
They enjoy being with this group […] It keeps it in their head that there’s no ending to the season.”
It’s nonetheless the kind of drive Schwartz enjoys seeing from his players, and one which he says starts with a unified vision.
“It’s a matter of getting a good team philosophy and good program,” he said. “All the coaches on the coaching staff—all six of them—are former [Concordia] graduates themselves.”
Schwartz is quick to point out the offseason training sessions aren’t full-out practices, however.
“I don’t push hard,” he said. “March and April, I go a little harder, but right now we’re working on some fundamentals, making mechanical changes.”
“It’s more relaxed [than an in-season practice],” added Lagarde. “It’s basically just trying to stay in shape, stay together and work on some baseball drills throughout the winter.”
That primarily means working to improve the players’ weaknesses.
“I know I gotta work on [one player’s] hitting, so we’re working on getting him primarily to hit and perfecting his hitting technique,” said Schwartz. “One of our pitchers, we’re working on his delivery, and his ball is already going three to five miles per hour faster.”
Schwartz says what he focuses most on in the offseason, however, isn’t the physical improvements as much as ensuring good team chemistry.
“We do a lot of socialization,” he said.
“They’re always at my house for team meetings, we have Christmas dinner, Super Bowl—whatever excuse to get together and do something. It’s just a matter of keeping the psychological and mental part of the game, which is my big thing, really up there.”
Of course, his knack for recruiting doesn’t hurt, either.
“I travel out west every year to go to different baseball towns; I go to Boston, Cape Cod and Toronto […].
I go to these places anyway for family and friends, so I just turn it into some sort of baseball connection,” said Schwartz. “We’ve gotten a number of players [this way] that have made a difference in the team.
“This team would exist, it would function if we had nobody looking out for [recruits], just from the natural flow of guys coming to Concordia. But you can also push the envelope.”
This year, Schwartz was notably rewarded for doing so with the addition of two key acquisitions in former Middle Georgia College third baseman J.C. Paquin, who is already practicing with the Stingers, and Alex Johnson, a Toronto native currently pitching for the Douglas College Royals, who is expected to start attending Concordia in 2014.
“I got him indirectly through a scouting trip in Toronto,” said Schwartz of Johnson. “He had contacted me through the fact that I had distributed my information on the scouting trip and that’s just what you do—you make 100 cold calls and one of them is going to land.”
It was a similar case when it came to acquiring Paquin, who’s from Quebec City.
“As soon as I found out J.C. was [back in Canada] I contacted him, I spoke to him, told him what his commitments would have to be […]. He said he was very interested in playing ball and it fit.”
It’s the kind of dedication that has helped propel the Stingers from a little-known struggling team when Schwartz first founded it in 1999 into a perennial powerhouse today: The Stingers have made the conference playoffs in each of the past six seasons, reaching nationals in four of them and winning the National Championship in 2009.
Concordia’s most recent trip saw them win the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association Northern Conference last year, only to be stunned by the fourth-seeded Carleton Ravens in the conference semifinals.
“Going into the season we had lost five graduates, of which four were key starting players,” said Schwartz. “We had 12 rookies on the team and I was really concerned, but as it turned out, these rookies were young, but they were a bit more mature than what I’m used to.
“We ended up in first when I didn’t even think we would make the playoffs.”
Once there however, it all went downhill.
“That’s when the ‘rookie-ness’ came out,” Schwartz laughed. “They were able to play in the big leagues, but then the big league playoffs seemed to be a bit different than anything else: Balls were dropped that were not dropped ever before, tentativeness in the outfield […] and everybody else just didn’t do what they could do.”
As disappointing an end to the season as it was, Schwartz said the team’s overall strong play last year, coupled with the fresh talent added to the team, makes for some high expectations this upcoming season.
“It was a struggle to [make first place last year]. We did it, we deserved it, but I was still a little surprised,” Schwartz said.
“I think we’re going to do better next year—I’m expecting us to do very well.”
To try out for the Stingers, contact Howard Schwartz via telephone at (514) 944-2294 or via email at email@example.com. Practices take place every Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. inside the Stinger Dome (7200 Sherbrooke St. W.).