By Martin Cleary
When the 2023 Little League Baseball season starts in Ottawa, Paul Bloomfield will be right there as his grandson Oliver makes his debut in the senior division.
But don’t expect to see Paul on the diamond again, serving as a coach for Oliver and his teammates. Those days are now history.
Instead, he’ll be on the other side of the protective diamond fencing, sitting in the spectator area as a cheering, supportive and proud grandfather.
Bloomfield will turn 70 next year and he’s determined the time is right to step away from the commitment, concerns and celebrations of being a Little League Baseball head coach. He started coaching his son, Michael, in 1984 and over the past five decades has spent 25, or is it 30 years, it’s hard for him to remember, for his part in the world-famous baseball organization.
But Bloomfield’s final year was certainly a grand way to ease into coaching retirement as the dozen, talented 14-year-olds who comprised the East Nepean Eagles won the Ontario District 2 championship, the Ontario title and the bronze medal at the Canadian championship.
When East Nepean president Bruce Campbell learned about 18 months ago the junior team needed a new head coach for the 2021 season, he contacted Bloomfield, a stalwart in the Eagles’ organization.
Bloomfield accepted the volunteer appointment on one condition. He knew his grandson was a candidate for the team and he hoped they could spend the summer on the diamond. But he also knew Oliver would have to earn his uniform like the other 11 members of the team.
Last December, Bloomfield began assembling his team with indoor tryouts. There were 15 players vying for the dozen roster spots and by early June the Eagles’ lineup had been finalized for a potential, intense summer season.
“There were some tough decisions. We had 15 kids who were legitimate players at the tryouts. The last couple of cuts were difficult,” Bloomfield noted.
“But with Little League, the bonus is they play spring ball. There were seven weeks of games, practices and tryouts (to evaluate the players). Some teams were picked by May 1, but ours was in June. I always told the players, it’s wonderful to catch the fly balls and grounders, but it comes down to what you do in the games.”
When the auditioning period ended, Bloomfield and assistant coaches Andrew Morris and Jeff Maika were confident they had a quality team with Justin Morris, Jacob Elyea, Cameron White, Reid Maika, Nelson Kaluza, Nolan Beelen, Grayden Larose, Charlie McDougall, Evan Tao, Evan Campbell, Oliver Bloomfield and David Kelly.
“I knew they were a good group,” Bloomfield added. “Certain positions were solid, like shortstop, catcher and pitchers. I felt from the start we had pitching depth and that’s the key. Hitting was above normal from top to bottom. We were confident.”
At the District 2 championships, the Eagles swept West Ottawa Twins in a best-of-three series.
The six-day Ontario junior championship tournament in Cornwall was equally successful as the Eagles went undefeated in five games. The Eagles rallied from a 3-0 deficit in their final round-robin game against Oakville Whitecaps to win 5-3 and qualify directly to the championship game. In the final, East Nepean shut out Oakville 10-0.
By winning provincials, the Eagles qualified for the 11-day Canadian Little League Baseball junior championship in Lethbridge, AB., which has been the long-time home of that national championship in a true stadium setting.
All 20 games were played in the 3,000-seat Spitz Stadium, the home of the Lethbridge Bulls in the Western Canada Baseball League, a summer collegiate loop for Canadian and American players.
“If you want to experience a Canadian championship, that’s where you want to be,” said Bloomfield, who added his players had as much fun mingling with the other teams after the games as they did competing against the best Little League teams in Canada.
The players were housed in townhomes on the Lethbridge College campus. Each townhouse had a living room and a kitchen and accommodated four players and one coach, who each had their own bedroom. All the teams lived in side-by-side residences.
Breakfast was served in a building across the street. The players from the different teams made friends with each other off the diamond by playing wiffle ball, soccer or just chatting with one another.
On the field, the Eagles started strong, defeating Medicine Hat, AB., 14-5, the Atlantic region rep from Cape Breton, N.S., 14-4 and host Lethbridge 13-4.
South Vancouver handed the Eagles their first loss by scoring one run in the seventh inning for a 7-6 decision. East Nepean finished the round-robin with a 16-6 victory over Quebec.
“Our biggest game (against South Vancouver) affected the way we finished (the round robin),” said Bloomfield, noting that South Vancouver, East Nepean and Lethbridge all tied for first place at 4-1.
Under the tiebreaker system, organizers needed to go to the third option to sort out the top-three teams. East Nepean disputed the interpretation of the third tiebreaking option and subsequent decision of the organizing committee. In the end, Little League International Headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, made a firm and final ruling.
As a result, East Nepean finished second and played third-place Lethbridge in the semifinals. Unlike the round-robin game, Lethbridge recorded a 12-2 win.
“These kids are 14. There was pressure. We saw it in the warmup. They were nervous. It was the first time they would play in a big game,” he said. “We had an off day.”
But the third-place game against Quebec for the bronze medal was totally different. East Nepean scored three runs in each of the first two innings, eight in the third inning and one in the fourth for a 16-6 win in a game that was called after 5.5 innings.
Nelson Kaluza had a four-star day for the Eagles in the bronze-medal game with four hits, four RBI, and four runs scored in four at-bats. Oliver Bloomfield was the starting pitcher and went four innings, allowing seven hits, two runs, and one earned run as well as adding one strikeout.
‘I’ll admit there were anxious moments when my grandson was up or pitching,” said Bloomfield about coaching Oliver throughout the tournament season. “But he is laid back and that made it easier on him.”
Each player had at least one family member in the stands. Three families made the trip to Alberta’s third largest city by driving.
“The team was successful because they’ve had good coaching since they were young from Matt Beelen,” said Paul Bloomfield, who also acknowledged the team’s depth.
“The 12 guys all contributed with big outfield plays or timely hitting. Three had never played before in playdowns. The fact that they were able to be successful was huge, whether getting a big hit or making a big catch.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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