When it comes to the Okotoks Dawgs and Dawgs Academy, Connor Crowson has just one more notch to add to his belt.
An original member of the first peewee (now 13U) Dawgs team, the infielder has played on every Academy team, with the only stop left to make being with the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) Dawgs.
That opportunity might come sooner than he thinks, after he announced in November that he had committed to Bossier Parish Community College of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
The Okotoks native will be joining fellow Academy grad Justin Breen with the Cavaliers, adding yet another name to the list of players from the current Dawgs team to make their commitment announcements.
“Connor is a very underrated baseball player and has developed into one of the top pure hitters we have,” Dawgs general manager Tyler Hollick said. “He has advanced strike zone awareness, great bat-to-ball skills and a high baseball IQ, which will all serve him really well at the next level and beyond.”
He says there’s a lot to like about Crowson, especially how he was raised.
“In a lot of ways, Connor is like the poster child for our academy on the development front,” Hollick continued. “He has played on every single team in the program and the next stop for him will be getting time on the college team. We are all very proud of Connor as he moves onto college baseball and beyond.”
Here’s what else Crowson had to say during our conversation for Episode #117 of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
Q: Let’s start off talking about your commitment decision. What went into making that decision and walk us through what made you decide this was the school you wanted to go to?
A: First time would have been at T-12, a few of my teammates like Dryden Howse who plays at Dawgs Academy, Ricky Sanchez and Matt Wilkinson were talking to Bossier and they decided to commit to Crowder and Central. But Bossier came to watch us practice … and I started talking to Coach (Andrew) Mercer. He saw me hit a few live rounds and he made the offer then. I committed this past November and it was a great feeling to finally get that call and to commit. I am really excited about the future with the Cavaliers there.
Q: What was it about that school that really turned you into wanting to be a part of that program?
A: The conference they play in. They play in a division with schools like San Jacinto and if you win the conference, you go right to the College World Series. It’s a really good conference with a lot of tough arms and if you succeed out of there, I think I’ll hopefully get to go further with baseball.
Q: What’s been key for you in getting that attention from colleges? What was it that got you over that hump?
A: Definitely my hitting. It’s been the best part of my game since I think I was in peewee baseball. I’ve been working on it forever with Allen (Cox) and all the coaches with the Dawgs. I think that’s my best tool right now is hitting, definitely.
Q: Speaking of the hitting side, how difficult has been over the last few months to not face that live pitching and those game situations because of the COVID-19 pandemic? What have you been doing to keep on top of your game during the down time?
A: Right now, I’ve just really been working out and hitting in my garage off a tee and a little bit of soft-toss. It’s hard not seeing live because the timing part of hitting is the most important part, I think.
Q: Who have you been leaning on over the last while to get you through some of the programming and some of the things that you need to do to stay ahead of the game?
A: Right now, I’m just doing the basics like staying in shape. I’m not too worried about it because as soon as the pandemic is over, we’ll be back in the fieldhouse every single day, taking hundreds of ground balls and hitting hundreds of times and facing our really good arms. I’m just hopeful we can get back in there soon. I’m really excited for that.
Q: As someone who has been a part of the Dawgs Academy program for as long as you have been, how weird has it been to not step foot in that place as often as you normally do?
A: Oh, it’s the worst feeling ever. Being an athlete, this is what we live for. Every single day, playing on those fields, playing in front of people and just the adrenaline that happens when you’re in a close game and wanting to perform. I miss playing with my teammates. It sucks not being able to play right now with such a good team that we have.
Q: Let’s talk about that team. There have been a ton of commitments announced by your teammates including yourself. How cool is it to be a part of a team that was so dominant and grabbing the attention of so many post-secondary schools?
A: It’s honestly a great feeling that all of my teammates beside me are these great baseball players and that we’re all fortunate to be playing for the Dawgs. This year, we’re going to show how good we are, how much work we’ve put in and how hard all the coaches have worked to help us get better. With all the work we’ve put in at the weight room, into hitting, into fielding, I’m super-excited for it.
Q: What is it about that team that makes it so good? I mean, you go back to 2019 and what you were able to accomplish and you were saying off-air that you think this year’s team is even better.
A: Our pitching staff is ridiculous. We have eight guys throwing 90 miles an hour, we have an infield that went through a great program through coach Val Helldobler that made all of our feet and hands faster with stronger arms with the throwing program. (Tyler) Hollick and (Bretton) Gouthro have been working with our outfielders and they’re fast out there. And hitting has always been our thing. We rake, I guess.
Q: That’s fantastic! It’s fun to hear that there’s still a desire to get out there and compete because I know sometimes with post-secondary commitments, there’s almost that “thinking ahead” mentality. Whereas it sounds like you have it in your mind that you have some unfinished business to take care of.
A: Oh, we’re hungry to get out there. We have a lot of stuff to throw out to Canada and to show what this team is about. All of us are ready to come out of this quarantine and get after it to show everyone what we’re all about.
Q: And you’ve been someone, as I mentioned, who has been there since peewee. It has to be a cool experience to see the progression of everyone on the team.
A: Yeah, I played with a buddy, Derek Palmiere, every single year except this year when he went down to college. We grew up playing on all of the same teams, winning provincial titles together. Dryden Howse, I’ve been playing with him since bantam when he won player of the year. Andrew Franson, we’ve been playing hockey and baseball since we were six years old and growing up here. There are a lot of guys who I grew up with who keep excelling.
Q: You’re doing really well in segueing into the next sections of our conversations here. I wanted to get into your personal journey in baseball. As I always say, hockey and football always seem to get the attention but here you are playing baseball. Do you remember the first time you stepped out onto the field and said this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
A: Oh, definitely stepping foot on Rogers Centre. That was just like… oh my gosh. The facilities there were… actually that might not have been the first time I said that. I’d probably say when we won provincials the second time I went. The Dawgs Bantam Black went to Nationals and we mercied them and I was like, “Wow, we can actually do something here with this. We can hopefully go to college.”
Q: You mentioned T-12 in Toronto. What was that experience like?
A: So, we walk right out of the airport and a bunch of people are there with gear and I was like, “Holy crap, this must be what MLBers feel like.” Then a bus takes us to this nice hotel right in downtown Toronto and we walk over to the field and there are locker rooms for every team with areas to get changed. Then we go for our testing and then I’m hitting batting practice at an MLB stadium. I never thought that would ever happen. I had a few friends on the team and it was just a crazy experience to share with good friends.
Q: Did you not take part in the home run derby as well?
A: Yeah, oh that was the greatest thing ever! (laughs)
Q: How so?
A: Owen Caissie was there. He was in the Yu Darvish trade, which is crazy. The CN Tower, you could see it while you were hitting. My favourite coach ever, Allan Cox, I’ve known him since I was 12 years old and he was throwing BP to me at a Major League stadium and I hit one out! So that was pretty cool.
Q: At least you have that for bragging rights to take home, right?
A: Yeah! Something to tell the kids that I hit one out!
Q: Just out of curiousity, did you ever try to make a run at a different sport?
A: Basketball was my favourite but I can’t dunk so I couldn’t do that. I played hockey but I quit when I was younger to pursue baseball. Yeah, baseball has been my whole life.
Q: Did you have a favourite player or team growing up? It seems like Toronto holds a special spot for you?
A: No, my favourite team is the Boston Red Sox. I’ve always been a big David Ortiz fan. He’s my guy. And Manny Ramirez.
Q: Why those two?
A: David Ortiz hit nukes and hit the grand slam in the ALCS, I’m pretty sure, and that kind of made him my hero and made the Red Sox my favourite team.
Q: You have spoken a lot about your coaches. What’s it meant to you to have them in your back pocket, to pick their brains and have this program at your fingerprints?
A: Oh, the program definitely works. Since peewee, they have been critiquing my swing and all the drills they do there are well thought-out. The coaches go to conventions for hitting and stuff like that, listening to other coaches, bring it back and it works. The strength program with Gouthro is amazing. I’d say the strength program really helped me because I was kind of on the bigger end, so I slimmed up and things started to figure themselves out in baseball.
Q: When you look back on your time with the Dawgs, what impresses you most about your development?
A: I’d say my grade eleven year was my best for personal growth in baseball. In grade ten, I was on the White team and I knew I was pretty good, but I didn’t know I could excel this much. The next year, Tyler Hollick asked me if I was ready to go hard this year and be a big part of the Black team. So I put in a bunch of work with footwork and got faster and stronger. Then I started with the Red team in grade eleven and that team had a record of 3-6 and beat the Black team a bunch of times and had good games against them. That’s when I figured out that you have to put in the hard work and get ready to do that.
Q: Any coach you want to single out that gave you the inspiration to think you could go further with the game?
A: Yeah, I would say there are three that really helped me. Actually, now that I think about it, they have all really helped me in different ways.
Q: I know in your time with the Dawgs you probably got to see a bunch of alumni roll through and offer up advice on getting to the next level. Now that you’re on your way to that next level, what would you say to those just starting out with the program and maybe follow in your footsteps?
A: I would say trust the process and hard work always works. If you keep working hard and have a little talent, you will go somewhere in baseball, I believe.
Q: Speaking of going somewhere in baseball, now that you have the next little while figured out, what do you want to work on over the next little while to make sure you keep having the same success you’ve been having?
A: Definitely speed and my arm. I have to throw a little harder across the diamond I think.
Q: Always striving to be better. Final question for you, Connor: what does the game of baseball mean to you?
A: The game of baseball is the passion and love of my life. I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid and I’ve been dreaming about baseball my whole life. I have to get past this point, hopefully COVID will leave and we’ll be ready to go.