By Martin Cleary
Whether it’s a game, a meeting or even a dripping faucet, Jim Dean loves Little League Baseball.
As Dean picked up his phone for a scheduled interview with High Achievers on Wednesday morning, you’d think the retired 61-year-old high-tech manager would be settling into his second cup of coffee.
Instead, he was driving to the Canadian Little League Baseball headquarters on Prince of Wales Drive in Ottawa. There was a leaky faucet in the office and it needed to be repaired.
There’s no mention in any job description where a District Administrator with 18 years experience and especially the newly elected Canadian member to the Little League International Board of Directors should be compelled to put down his bat, ball and glove and pick up his plumbing tools.
But that’s Dean. If something needs to be done, he’s willing to step forward and volunteer. The leaky faucet didn’t stand a chance.
In the future, there will be more important issues than faucets for Dean as he settles into a four-year term as the Canadian nominee on the Little League International Board of Directors. He was elected by Canada’s 27 district administrators in September and welcomed earlier this month by Little League International in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Little League Baseball was founded in 1939 and has communities in every U.S. state, across Canada and in more than 80 other countries. Its purpose is to teach life lessons, leadership and teamwork that build stronger individuals and communities through baseball and softball.
For the past 53 years, Dean’s life has been invigorated by Little League Baseball, whether it was playing in the former Carlingwood program (now Ottawa West Little League) in the 1970s, volunteering for various roles when his son played the game or accepting multiple, key administrative positions over the past three decades.
At age nine, Dean registered for Little League Baseball at the minor level. It seemed natural as his father was a Little League umpire. He played until he was 16, serving as a pitcher or shortstop and being recognized on occasion as a player of note.
He thoroughly enjoyed pitching, learning how to throw the different pitches, having control of the game and relying on his craftiness, location and movement rather than his speed.
“I don’t remember the wins or the losses. I just remember being happy,” Dean said about playing the game. “My mom tells the story of when I was 12 and playing in a championship game. I was walked intentionally with the bases loaded. The manager of the other team didn’t mind giving up a run. My mom said I cursed the opposing manager all the way to first base.
“I remember I loved being at the baseball field. When it rained, I was totally Charlie Brown, standing on the mound and wondering ‘where is everyone?’”
Once his youth playing days were finished, he joined the Ottawa Recreation Baseball League in 1983. He was a team rep for meetings and became league president in 1989. A year later, he helped his league merge with the Senior Interprovincial League to form the National Capital Baseball League, which became the largest baseball league in Canada at the time with 34 teams. The NCBL still thrives today.
By 1993, Dean’s volunteer life as a player, president and event organizer was clashing with family responsibilities. He stepped down as president, which was starting to burn him out, anyway.
When his son started playing Little League T-ball with the Pinecrest association (now Ottawa West) in 1995, Dean signed on as a coach and a variety of volunteer roles.
A decade later, Ontario Little League District 2, which governs the West Ottawa region, needed a District Administrator. Dean asked if he could fill that vacancy, since he had experience as a baseball league president.
He was accepted and his first duty was to attend a Little League Ontario meeting, where he became vice-president, another position no one else wanted.
Dean has served as the District Administrator for District 2 for 18 years and recently started another four-year term, which he feels may be his final session as he hopes to retire at 65.
“Baseball, like other youth sports, suffers from a lack of volunteers. The last three to four elections, I’ve run unopposed,” Dean explained. “When I first took the job, I barely knew what the job of the D.A. was.”
In 2019, Dean was called up to the Big Leagues as he was asked to become a member of the Little League International Advisory Board. His four-year term ends this year.
“We’d meet once a year and talk about changes, but we couldn’t make policy,” he said, adding the advisory board summary would go to the international board of directors for consideration.
“I loved it. I’m a rule-book guy. It was fascinating. You can only serve one (four-year) term. That disappointed me. But then a position opened on the board.”
There are 24 members on the Little League International Board of Directors and each one serves a four-year term. Kevin Kvame, a D.A. from Alberta, was stepping down this year and Dean submitted his name to fill that position.
In September, Dean won the right over another District Administrator to serve as the Canadian representative on the international board of directors, which meets three times a year. The board also has international reps from Indonesia, Mexico and Sweden as well as 20 from the United States.
Dean will carry a heavy workload as he has been named to five committees. He feels comfortable being on the bylaws committee, the rules committee and the operations committee, but it will be “a learning experience” as he sits on the audit committee and the investment committee.
“I’m happy, proud and delighted that I can keep serving. It has been a big part of me since I was nine years old,” Dean said.
“I watched my dad umpire and the adults use their lawn mowers to cut the grass on Saturdays so we could play. I learned about leadership and, to be part of that, my heart is full.
“I know this sounds corny, but I was never more proud than when I got my Little League uniform with the patch on it. I loved the patch.”
Dean loves everything about Little League Baseball, whether it’s being a player, a coach, an administrator or even a plumber coming out of the bullpen to save a faucet.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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