Wall-to-Wall Coverage

It’s not easy keeping track of the dozens of young Alberta baseball players who have decided to ply their trade south of the border in college.

Whether it’s heading to each school’s website for the latest box score or hoping to see a highlight or two on social media, it can feel like a daunting task.

EnterĀ Kevin Wall and the CB Players website.

What started as a personal plan to keep tabs on some family friends has turned into a reliable resource of information for players, family, coaches and fans to get the latest updates on the standout performances of Canada’s college contingent.

In a recent episode of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, Joe McFarland chatted with Wall about the idea, the work that goes into it and what’s to come.

Q: Let’s talk a little bit about the very beginnings of this idea of tracking the progress of Canadian-born players in the college ranks down south. Where did this idea come from and what was the goal initially?

A: It started quite modestly. My son, when he was in high school, played baseball pretty much every day. If we weren’t at practice, we were at games and we got to meet a lot of people. Over the years, we came across lots of people and their kids and we’d see each other every day at the park and on the travel circuit. When it came time to graduate high school, we started asking the question about how are you going to follow these people?

The kids were going all over the place. It turns out in the U.S. there are about 1,700 college-level schools. So, if you wanted to follow the progress of these people you came to know, it was very difficult. I found myself going to a lot of different websites. Sometimes something happens, sometimes something didn’t happen and I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be cool, with all these computers, if I could somehow put in the players that I cared about and then the system would tell me when one of these players I was tracking did something cool?”

Maybe they started a game, maybe hit a home run, maybe got signed up by a school. So it got started modestly to track friends of our family and people who played baseball and it kind of grew from there. So, what we do now is we’ve expanded it to do all Canadians so we check the rosters of 1,700 schools. When we find Canadians, we add them to a list. When these boys are playing in games and they do anything cool we tweak if they have an achievement and we make daily reports.

Each morning when I get up I can have a cup of coffee, check my Twitter to see if anything cool happened and go to one web page and see a daily report. I will check the report for the players I like and say, “oh, John hit a home run … oh, Steve started a game,” and instead of me hunting for web pages, I can just go to one page and see everything there while I drink my coffee.

Q: So, is this all algorithms on websites or how does that all work in the grand scheme of things?

A: Oh, good question. Well, first of all, it all runs on a little laptop. It’s actually an older laptop that I have. But today on the software side, everything’s very cool … technology is pretty amazing now.

So these computers can rifle through data like crazy.

Q: What’s fascinating to me is watching the updates that pour in on a daily basis like that. When it comes to tracking the players individually, how does that all work? How do you manage to input all of the different players in? Is it a matter of you having to manually do it or is there a way that there is an algorithm that tracks Canadian-born players on each of the rosters?

A: More of an algorithm. So it’s a proprietary algorithm I developed using very standard industry tools. I’ve had the benefit of a lot of good online instruction from a lot of courses and schools and what have you. And this is kind of like standard first-year computer science stuff. So, somebody goes to a computer science course today, they may learn languages like Python and tools like Pandas and other things.

What we’re doing here is actually very, very simple. But like you said it’s very cool and I find it practical because I myself am a very lazy guy. I like to drink coffee and like you I’m amazed when these tweets come in. And then I go to this report and I can see all their names, plays. If I like something I can click on a link and get a deep dive and I can do this while I’m doing my real job and just as I’m having a cup of coffee.

READ MORE: Scouting Alberta

Q: Talk a little about the reaction to this tool because I assume a lot of, not just family and players enjoy it, but I assume there’s probably a few scouts and that kind of thing who are able to track players through your site without actually needing to do their own legwork as well.

A: Well, it’s still very new. But there has been a lot of sincere thanks from parents because the name of the game for us here is to promote Canadian achievement. These Canadian boys, you know how hard it is to play college ball? You got to go to school you’re traveling. When you do something, it’s a great relief, you know what I mean? It makes it all worthwhile. So my favourite reactions are when a player will usually make a correction, like send an email and say something like “you have my hometown wrong and, by the way, when I come back from practice I like going to your site so I can catch up on my friends who are all over the place.”

So, it’s a quick way for them even though they’re friends and everything just to see what their friends are doing without spending a lot of time. The reaction has been very modest but very sincere. Parents liking things, players liking things. Some newspapers like yourself and media outlets liking things. It’s all driven by what these players are doing. It’s amazing. And our goal is to help make sure these amazing things can be recognized by people who want to follow it.

Q: Does it surprise you at all to see the sheer number of Canadian kids that are playing ball stateside or anything along the way, as you’ve developed this, that has taken you by surprise or you had that moment of “wow, didn’t see that coming”?

A: Well, to be honest I’m pretty much surprised on a regular basis. When I started this, I didn’t know anything about baseball. College in the U.S. right? I had no idea. I thought there is NCAA. So, then you start coming across all these organizations.

One of the first things that surprised me was how big college baseball is down in the States. 1,700 schools, 60,000 players. It’s huge. The passion fans have was this thing that we had in high school. People who love baseball and see what these kids are doing, whether it’s in minor league or high school or college. It’s amazing.

The passion and the care and how hard everybody worked and to be honest, almost everybody is a nice guy, right? Like everybody is working really hard. So, what surprised me was how big it was and how similar people were in their love for baseball and watching it. And if you follow baseball there’s a lot of failure right. You do strikeout. You do make errors. Baseball is a grinding thing. So when you see these boys do things and persevere and come back the next year and the next year. The surprising thing is it’s amazing and it’s so common between people and it’s something I enjoy very much.

Q: Talk a little about what the future might have in store. Have you ever thought about how it might expand or be refined or anything that is on your to-do list on on this project in the years ahead?

A: We’re just absorbing a big transition from a static website. Last year in the 2018 season, we were running a blog with principally the same data but it was static pages on a very difficult to find URL.

For 2019, we launched a new website, where all of this stuff is interactive, like on a dashboard so Canadian players have one page and from there you can see every Canadian that’s hit a home run and every pitcher that started a game. So, in one simple click so you don’t have to be a technology expert. You just have to know a web browser, go to a web page and when you start seeing the names of the boys you know, the technology fades into the background and you see the players, their pitches, their scores and you remember how small they might have been. Now you look at the picture you go “Wow! 6-foot-5! I remember driving them to the game.” So, the big goal for 2019 is to absorb this and make sure that Twitter is providing value to the followers. The website is clean and not technical. We want to upgrade the graphics. Right now, our site is pretty challenged. We don’t really have a nice logo. So we want to stylize it for 2019.

Then for 2020, it kind of goes beyond Canada, so to speak, but we also do other countries right. We’re doing Australia and Cuba. We can basically do any group of player on any criteria. So, it leaves our promoting Canadian players a little bit. But say we wanted to know left-handed batters in junior college Division One. We could have all the reports doing just that. So, you’d come to your website and see, what our mantra is here, your favorite players. Are they Canadians, are they Albertans or are they in a particular organization? It’s your favourite players, not someone else’s. So you would be able to sign onto the website, pick your player criteria either by name or by property like where do they hail from or that kind of thing. Then you set your criteria then all of these reports would be only for your players. So that’s where it’s going. And we are pretty much there but we’re taking it one step at a time.

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