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Baseball man in a hockey town

Slowly, very, very slowly, the snow in the area has begun melting away. Not that this has stopped the boys of summer from kicking off the 2014 baseball season at all sorts of venues across North America.
Local youth coach and former NCAA ball player Jean-Gilles Larocque is also the founder of the Baseball Academy in Sudbury. File photo
Slowly, very, very slowly, the snow in the area has begun melting away. Not that this has stopped the boys of summer from kicking off the 2014 baseball season at all sorts of venues across North America.

Heck, in the eyes of Jean-Gilles Larocque, America's pastime is a 12 month a year adventure anyways. The local teacher and former NCAA player has spent the better part of the past five or six years working to revive baseball in Northern Ontario.

With countless irons in the fire, there is plenty on his plate at the moment. A week ago, Larocque left for Florida, selected as the Ontario coaching representative who would join five others from across the country to fine-tune their craft while working with the Canadian Junior National team.

"There are a limited number of people in this country who want to get to the next level in coaching baseball," Larocque said. "I'm hoping that there is something I can take from these guys and apply it to the kids that I work with."

Everything from pitching mechanics to in-game strategy and position-specific drills will be on the table as the group of six spend morning sessions in the classroom, taking to the field with the Junior Nats in the afternoon to put their new knowledge to work.

"Networking is another big part of it," Larocque said. "At the end of the day, I got into this for our kids here in the North. If I can help some of them get on the radar, then it's worthwhile."

The offer from the Ontario Baseball Association to take part in the Baseball Canada program came just days after Larocque was informed he had also been selected to assist with the Ontario Youth team taking part in the Canada Cup in Saskatchewan in August.

"I expect to be helping out with hitting and catching, though I could also be coaching either first or third base," said Larocque.

The founder of The Baseball Academy, a year-round venture that helps kids reach their potential on the diamonds, is one very busy man.

He sees the process as a payback for all that he received while chasing his baseball dreams.

"To me, it seems very selfish to have all of this knowledge and then just keep it to yourself."

Of course, that kind of sacrifice does not happen without the complete buy-in of an extremely understanding spouse. In many ways, Nicole is as much of part of these journeys as her husband.

"Every time an opportunity presents itself, we sit down and discuss whether it's do-able," Larocque said. "She has been incredibly supportive."

Yet, the coaching experiences Larocque will garner over the next few months are not even the highlight of his summer. Come June 21, he and a group of local volunteers will host the second Field of Dreams Dinner & Silent Auction.

This once-in-a-lifetime evening gives folks a chance to rub elbows with Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, Lloyd Moseby, Sandy Alomar Sr and former Expos and Blue Jays pitcher, Denis Boucher.

Much like Larocque, the assembled guests are driven by their desire to grow baseball across Canada. And much like Larocque, they tend to make the most of their time in any one location.

Their weekend in Sudbury will also include instruction at the Honda Super Camp, a two-day initiative in partnership with the Toronto Blue Jays, that will be run at the Terry Fox Sports Complex.

The crew also plan to be on hand when some of the north's top senior high school talent attend a workout session that might well see a couple of talented teenagers take part in the Tournament 12, a gathering of some of the best ball players from coast to coast, held at the Rogers Centre in September.

While an increase in numbers may lag behind the current push in local baseball, there's no denying the efforts being made by Larocque and others.

"People are starting to see that there might be a future in baseball," Larocque said. "There is a buzz that is starting."

And one final local baseball tidbit to pass along. Former Sudbury Star sports reporter Danny Gallagher has teamed with Bill Young to co-write "Ecstasy to Agony: The 1994 Montreal Expos."

The book chronicles the former Major League franchise from 1989, when Charles Bronfman sold the team, to their peak in 1994 and through the final ten years before the Expos eventually were moved to Washington, D.C.