AJ Wideman takes over for Tom Valcke, who will coach the Hong Kong men’s national team
For George Brown College’s (GBC) baseball program, the climb up the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) ranks appears to have become even more challenging.
After only one season on the job with the Huskies, head coach Tom Valcke has left for a coaching position with Hong Kong’s national baseball team. The move could be more of a sabbatical as, following his seven-month commitment overseas, Valcke said he’s been “given the first right of refusal” to return to the Huskies dugout for 2019.
AJ Wideman, an assistant coach for the team last season, takes over as head coach. Valcke will stay on with the team as a consultant, focusing solely on recruiting, should he return to Toronto in October.
The new 32-year-old head coach, who received a strong endorsement from Valcke, believes the familiarity between him and the team will serve the club well.
“I think there’s a bit of an advantage coming back to familiar core players and to be honest, a lot of returning guys, that’ll make the job a little bit easier,” Wideman said.
Wideman hails from Mississauga and is no stranger to high-level baseball. He was drafted by the Washington Nationals (then the Montreal Expos) in 2003 as a left-handed pitcher. He also played in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
His younger brother Jordan, who is an assistant coach on the Huskies team, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds as a catcher in 2007. Wideman said that working with his brother, who has similar pro experience, is “massive bonus.”
“I wouldn’t want to do with anybody else,” he said. “It’s something really special to our family right now.”
Recruiting efforts for the team are well underway with the catching position being a high priority. After having a lineup containing a number of rookies in a somewhat youth movement season, Wideman is expecting to build on the positive steps taken.
GBC athletics and recreation staff were not taken off guard by Valcke’s departure and the athletic department sees the move as a positive for the image of GBC’s baseball program.
“It just shows I have the right person in the job,” said Melanie Gerin-Lajoie, GBC manager of athletics and recreation. “I hired the right person because he does have that credibility that’s going to go a long way in terms of building a profile for the program and that’s what we need at this point.”
Valcke, who has served as Baseball Canada’s executive director and has taught coaches and players in places such as China, Japan, and Thailand over the past 30 years, sees this venture as another chance to grow the game.
Baseball is scheduled to come back as an Olympic sport in 2020 after it was dropped following the 2008 Beijing Games. With it’s return, Valcke said that a renewed interest in baseball in Hong Kong is a major reason for his move.
Wideman will be in charge of a club that went 3-17 last year. GBC will have the option of lot of returning players for 2018. There is another bonus, too. Much of the roster is made up of players who are older, age-wise, but young academically with a lot of eligibility remaining.
For the new man in charge, the goal for 2018 is clear.
“We want to make the playoffs, bottom line,” Wideman said. “I don’t think any of the players or staff will even care what the (team’s) record is as long as you’re in the playoffs.”
To make a playoff berth a reality, the Huskies will likely have to play .500 ball or better. Last season, Fanshawe grabbed the final post-season spot with an 11-9 record.
Where the Huskies play is also an issue that has dogged the program. The team doesn’t have a permanent home field like other top teams in the OCAA.
“We have been hodge-podging it around Toronto,” explained Valcke, noting Christie Pits Park, where the team has played some of their games, would be a great fit.
“Our program deserves a quality home, not only in the name of prestige, but for practical and logistical purposes. (Christie Pits) would give us the consistency we deserve, one location to store our team and individual equipment, and hopefully draw some Huskies fans out.”
Gerin-Lajoie said the college has been in contact with the City of Toronto about a suitable arrangement. While noting the competition for field access in Toronto is fierce, she said the discussions are ongoing.
Tryouts for the 2018 George Brown baseball team get underway in August.