Five talented players from the St. Albert Minor Baseball Association (SAMBA) and their coach, Shayne Courtorielle, recently embarked on a journey to Arizona for the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Spring National event.
The young athletes, Tyler Diprose (14U), Lincoln Aubin (13U), Chayse Courtorielle (13U), Roman Paterson (12U), and Camryn Courtorielle (11U), joined forces with teammates from the Big League Experience (BLE) team for a weekend of working on their game under the welcome heat of the desert sun. The tournament took place in Peoria and Mesa on April 1st, and 2nd.
Before the tournament, the boys participated in a development camp with BLE and their team of professional coaches at the Cactus Yards facility in the Mesa/Gilbert area. This impressive venue features state-of-the-art Major League Baseball (MLB) replica fields, far from the snow-speckled diamonds back in their hometown.
The teams included players from Alberta and British Columbia, and despite only playing together for seven days, the boys formed friendships that the group says will last a lifetime.
Coach Shayne Courtorielle spoke about the value of participating in international tournaments.
"The chance for the boys to be able to go down and play in one of the two baseball meccas in the US was absolutely amazing. They were exposed to the high skill set of kids their own age who play year-round. I think it was eye-opening to them, but I feel it made them believe that if they work hard and put the time in, they too could perhaps play baseball at the collegiate level," Shayne Courtorielle said.
The BLE teams competed against travel teams from the US who play ball all year long. Unfortunately, the 11U and 12U teams were eliminated in the semi-finals. The 13U team, however, went undefeated, capturing the gold medal. Aubin and Chayse Courtorielle were presented with gold rings for the championship. The 14U team lost a close game in the championship and Diprose received a silver ring.
"Meeting new friends and playing in Cactus Yards were the most exciting parts of the tournament,” said Camryn Courtorielle. “Also, meeting Shea Hillenbrand and getting a baseball signed by him." Camryn added that competing in this tournament challenged him to improve his game by playing against kids with a higher skill level.
Roman Paterson of the 12U team shared similar sentiments.
"The most exciting part of the tournament and week was getting to know baseball players from around Canada and the United States."
Paterson felt challenged because he hadn't played a game since last summer and didn't know any of the other teams or his teammates.
For Chayse Courtorielle, winning the championship with his newfound friends was the most exciting part of the tournament.
"It makes me want to get better at baseball because I want to play at an elite level,” he said. “My dream is to play in the MLB."
Diprose of the 14U team found playing against teams from the United States and Mexico exhilarating.
"Being able to learn from and watch other players gave me a chance to use them as an example to improve my skill. I expanded my knowledge of the game a lot throughout the tournament while having lots of fun," he said.
Living in Canada, the boys have to contend with a different climate than their southern counterparts. They trained all winter with the St. Albert Cardinals Development Program in the Millar Field House to prepare for the tournament and the upcoming season.
Coach Courtorielle emphasized the importance of getting a head start on the outdoor season for Canadian players.
"The boys are chomping at the bit for the season to start. In the meantime, they will continue to practice each week with their respective teams at the Millar Field House until the snow melts and the fields are ready."
As the elder Courtorielle notes, the experience in Arizona provided these young athletes with valuable exposure to high-level competition, fostering their development and fuelling their passion for the sport.
“The boys enjoyed themselves immensely and represented their country, their city and SAMBA with professionalism, honour and pride.”