By Bruce Campbell
The executive director of the Okotoks Dawgs brings the same passion to baseball as he does to the courtroom so it was only fitting he was named the 24th most influential Canadian in baseball on the same day he was selected to the Alberta’s Queen’s Counsel.
After all, litigation and starting a baseball academy isn’t all that different to Dawgs executive director John Ircandia.
“To do either of them right you have to have a passion for what you are doing,” said the 56-year-old Ircandia. “If you talk to (former) Mayor Bill McAlpine, who worked with me in the development of Seaman Stadium, he will tell you not a lot of stones were left unturned to get that stadium.
“That is my approach to lawyering — I don’t like losing.”
Ircandia was slotted at no. 24 in Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott’s Dec. 30 rankings of Most Influential Canadians in Baseball — up from 84 in 2010.
This year he finished ahead of such notable Canadians as Dr. Ron Taylor, a former pitcher with the ’69 Amazin’ Mets and current physician with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Justin Morneau who was the American League MVP in 2006.
Elliott listed Ircandia’s accomplishments, including the Okotoks Dawgs winning three of the past five Western Major Baseball League titles, the building of the 2,600-seat Seaman Stadium, the $2 million Duvernay Field house and the Tourmaline field to open in the spring, as reasons behind his continued high status in the sport.
Elliott, an award winning baseball writer, was amazed when he visited the facilities at Seaman Stadium in January 2011.
“I walked into the fieldhouse and all the coaches were there and the kids were taking infield and George Strait was playing on the jukebox,” he recalled. “I looked at (Dawgs coach) Dave Robb and said: ‘Is this heaven?’
“Then we go outside and we see this tremendous stadium.” He said what impressed him as well is Ircandia continues to work at developing youth players well after his own children are fully-grown.
“It (the Dawgs Academy) is a real good concept and I think it should be recognized,” he said, adding there is nothing like it in Canada.
Ircandia said he feels it is the program and the community which deserves the credit.
“It’s about the Dawgs and the Town of Okotoks and our facilities,” Ircandia said. “He (Elliott) recognized the extraordinary support we received in Okotoks… All of these things I think are part of a national profile, but it centres around Okotoks. To me it’s about the facilities and the program.”
Ircandia started the Dawgs program in Calgary in the mid 90s to give aspiring ballplayers in Canada the same opportunity to play high-level baseball as talented hockey players have in their sport.
“I just couldn’t see why athletes in Canada who play baseball shouldn’t have the same opportunity to match their skills as top American players,” Ircandia said.
“We’re still waiting for our first Larry Walker, but we think we can be there if we continue with our vision.”
The program moved to Okotoks in 2007 after facility issues with the now-defunct professional baseball Calgary Vipers. The wheels to move the Dawgs started rolling with the help of Don Seaman.
“Don said during the Viper fiasco we have to get our own place and that’s the Coles Notes version of how Seaman Stadium got started,” said Ircandia.
The result has been not only the success of the Okotoks Dawgs’ collegiate program with the three WMBL titles, but also the development of young players in southern Alberta.
Jordan Proceshyn, a graduate of Holy Trinity Academy, played catcher for the Junior National team and is now playing baseball for Northeastern Junior College in Colorado. Matt Lloyd, an Okotoks resident who played for the Okotoks Bantam Dawgs , was named Alberta’s High Performance Bantam Player of the Year in 2011.
Although the Dawgs haven’t produced a major leaguer as of yet, they are close. Calgary Dawgs grads Jim Henderson and Okotoks resident Emerson Frostad played for Team Canada, which beat the United States to win the gold medal at the Pan-American Games in Mexico in 2011. Henderson and Frostad are members of the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros respectively.
Ircandia works for the litigation department at the Calgary office of Borden Ladner and Gervais,
He was selected to Alberta Queen’s Counsel on Dec. 30. Ircandia will be in attendance at the Dawgs Awards Banquet on Jan. 21. For ticket information call the Dawgs at 403-995-1280 or go online at www.dawgsbaseball.ca.