By KEVIN GLEW
On Wednesday, Okotoks Dawgs slugger Nash Crowell was spotted near the batting cage at Seaman Stadium listening to hitting tips from former big leaguer Matt Stairs.
Crowell hails from Yarmouth, N.S. and Stairs is from Fredericton, N.B., so it was one Maritimer absorbing wisdom from another.
Crowell also boasts the same kind of stocky, powerful build as Stairs, who belted 265 major league home runs and is in Okotoks, Alta., as a special guest at the Western Canadian Baseball League All-Star Game to be played on Saturday.
Stairs was known for swinging from his heels and hitting home runs. And when the ex-big leaguer was around the cage at Seaman Stadium on Wednesday, David Robb, the Dawgs’ hitting and bench coach, said Dawgs interim manager Lou Pote told Stairs that Crowell was a “right-handed version” of him.
“Nash gets his swings in, that’s for sure,” said Robb. “He’s aggressive and when you get aggressive like that, you’re going to have a few more strikeouts than other people, but that’s OK, because he’s hit some balls almost like Bull Durham. They went so far you’ve got to have a stewardess or flight attendant on them.”
The 6-foot, 215-pound Crowell has socked eight home runs in just 20 games for the Dawgs this season, which is good for second in the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL).
So, choosing Crowell to represent the Dawgs in the Home Run Derby that will take place prior to the WCBL All-Star Game on Saturday was a no-brainer.
“Nash is 20 and he’s got man’s strength and big forearms and . . . he’s got really good bat speed,” said Robb. “And he has a pretty good idea. He is starting to learn which kinds of pitches he drives best, so the Home Run Derby fits really well for him.”
Crowell will compete against sluggers from seven other WCBL clubs.
“I was excited to be selected right off the bat because there’s going to be a huge crowd,” said Crowell of the Home Run Derby at Seaman Stadium.
The derby will start at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Each participant will have a three-minute block in which they will be allowed to take one 30-second timeout. Home runs hit during a round do not carry over to the next round. The top home run hitter from the East and West divisions in the event will face off in the finals.
Crowell has never participated in a home run derby though he has had informal competitions with his teammates in batting practice. But he knows plenty about hitting home runs. On top of his eight for the Dawgs this summer, he hit 20 for Reinhardt University this spring.
The Dawgs slugger watched highlights of Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby on Monday. He was awed by the power of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Julio Rodriguez, but he also made a note to not wear himself out too quickly in Saturday’s derby.
But whatever happens on Saturday, the hometown crowd will be cheering for him and Crowell is going to do his best to give them a show.
It should be a fun weekend for the 20-year-old and his family who moved from Yarmouth, N.S. to Okotoks, Alta., when he was 15 so he could pursue his baseball career at the Dawgs Academy.
Crowell started playing baseball when he was four after being introduced to the game by his father Gage. When he was growing up in Nova Scotia, he pitched and played shortstop before transitioning to third base, honing his skills along the way with the Yarmouth Gateways and the Tri-County Rangers before competing in national competitions for the province’s 13U and 15U teams.
He attended Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School in grade 9 before his family moved to Okotoks so he could improve his baseball skills at the Dawgs Academy.
“Another Nova Scotia native, Micah McDowell, was at the Dawgs Academy the previous year and he had told them about who I was,” said Crowell. “I guess they liked what they heard and they reached out to me about their program. And they looked like they played some good baseball and I wanted to be a part of it, so I talked to my parents and they were on board and we packed up our stuff and went out.”
Crowell made the decision to move to Okotoks without visiting the city and seeing the Dawgs’ state-of-the-art facilities.
“The first day I got to Okotoks I went to the field just to check everything out,” said Crowell. “I was just really excited to get started . . . The first time I was there [at the Dawgs facilities] was with our stuff still all packed up in a U-Haul.”
Crowell took his baseball training to another level with the Dawgs. He credits Dawgs Academy coach Bretton Gouthro for much of his improvement.
“Bretton was the head coach on my team for a couple of years. He’d come in the mornings before school and I’d work out with him and we’d train together and he was just big on getting me better, so I could perform better on the field,” said Crowell.
Gouthro, who coaches the Dawgs Red 18U squad and runs the Academy’s strength and conditioning program, recalls working with a young Crowell.
“Nash was a physical body and the tools you’d expect Nash to have, he had,” said Gouthro. “He had a lot of pop . . . The power was definitely the most noticeable tool. So for him, it was just getting him to a place where he knew the game. And I was trying to teach him how to hit so that the power tool could show a little bit more. For him, he had that potential, and just like a lot of the guys that came to our place, I was just trying to get him to a place where those tools could shine.”
But Gouthro says Crowell’s power was special.
“I can go back to when he was in high school and there’s not a lot of kids that can hit a ball out to centre field like Nash could in the 12th grade,” said Gouthro. “The stars didn’t have to align for Nash to hit a ball out of the park, he just had to barrel it.”
Crowell is happy he made the decision to come to Okotoks.
“The Dawgs Academy gave me more knowledge about the game,” said Crowell. “At the Academy, we practiced every day and we played a lot of games. And just having the opportunity to do so many reps over and over, to create muscle memory really helped me to have a better understanding of how the game works.”
In an abbreviated 2021 season during the COVID-19 pandemic, Crowell suited up for the Dawgs Red team and batted .284 with four home runs in 32 games. He then headed to Bismarck State College, a junior college in Bismarck, N.D., and enjoyed a breakout season, batting .458 with seven home runs and 74 RBIs in 44 games.
“It just seemed like the right place for me to go out of high school,” said Crowell of Bismarck State, “and I had a former teammate, Logan Grant, that was already there and he said he liked what they were doing.”
In the summer of 2022, he played for former Dawgs coach Allen Cox with the Myrtle Beach Bandits before Cox helped him land at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Ga.
“The Reinhardt coach reached out [to Cox] and said they were looking for a right-handed hitting first baseman with pull side power. And I was in the living room of Allen’s house at the time and Allen says, ‘Well, that guy is sitting in my living room,’” said Crowell.
So off Crowell headed to Reinhardt University, where he batted .356 with 20 home runs in 47 games for the NAIA club this spring.
This summer, he has returned to the Dawgs. And after a slow start, he has flourished. He is second in the WCBL in home runs (8) and RBIs (28) and tied for first in sacrifice flies (4). He is also batting .296.
And he is savouring playing his home games at Seaman Stadium.
“I love the Dawgs fans,” said Crowell. “I love playing in front of them every night. They are so into the game. They just want to see you succeed and see the team win. It’s just a great experience. You get a base hit and the crowd goes crazy. You score a run and everyone is on their feet and clapping . . . It’s awesome.”
Crowell says his goal for the rest of the season is to help the Dawgs win another WCBL title.
“My goals revolve around the team. We want to be West Division champs again,” said Crowell.
The young slugger will head back to Reinhardt in August.
“The end goal is to play professionally,” said Crowell of his future. “That was the goal when I started when I was four and fortunately enough, I still want that same goal now that I’m 20.”
But before he does that, he hopes to put on a show for the hometown fans in the Home Run Derby at Seaman Stadium on Saturday.
“I’m excited,” said Crowell about the derby. “I’m just ready to get out there and have the fans cheering me on.”
Robb is also looking forward to seeing Crowell in the derby.
“He is a joy to watch,” said Robb. “And he will put on a show because he will hit them far.”
(This article was originally published on the Canadian Baseball Network on July 14, 2023 and has been used here with the author’s consent.)