The new owners of the Okanagan Baseball Camp are determined to return Oliver-based camp to its glory days. The camp was operated for decades by Oliver baseball enthusiasts Don Coy and Dale Parker. The camp earned a solid reputation for providing the best instruction available and ensured that hundreds of families traveled to Oliver each summer to enroll their sons. But the camp ran into so difficulties in recent years and did not operate at all last summer. That’s when the local Parks and Recreation Commission decided to let “Dugout Baseball Corporation” and its owners Marty Lehn and Colin Dixon take a swing at running the camp.
Lehn and his associate Brent Crowther were in Oliver last week to finalize their contract with parks and rec and to get a better look at the playing fields. Lehn liked what he saw. “What they’ve done with the fields is beautiful. It looks great. We’re getting close, or as close as we can be, to being a major league training camp,” Lehn said. But for now the crew from Dugout is looking to fill three one-week camps.
They are also using their extensive contacts in minor and professional baseball to bring a number of training camps, team selection camps and at least one tournament to Oliver. “The more positive experience this is for the town, the better it will be for us,” commented Lehn. The camps will run from July 20 – Aug. 9. A maximum of 96 ball players will be housed in the arena during each session.
In addition, Lehn and Dixon are workin with Leisure Services manager Carolyn Madge to offer a three-day skills camp for kids age nine and up, will run July 2-4 for three hours each day. The cost will be $75. Registration is available through the parks and rec office. Students of both the day camp and the week-long sessions will be coached by some of the top instructors in baseball today, Lehn promises.
Crowther is the camp’s pitching instructor and a former AAA player for the Colorado Rockies. Lehn, who attended the Oliver camp for 11 years both as a player and a coach/counselor, is the coach of the Canadian National Team and Team B.C.
Dixon has been associated with both the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies. In addition, the camp has recruited Doc Younker as its head trainer. Younker was the former head trainer of the San Diego Padres. Team B.C.’s pitching coach and the 1993 Canadian Amateur Coach of the Year, Gary Blouin, is also involved with the ball camp. Lehn said the majority of ball players this year will likely be from the Lower Mainland, but he is hoping to reestablish the solid reputation Coy built for the camp among American players. In addition, the Dugout team is working hard to establish stronger contacts in Alberta, Saskatchewan and even Japan.
“We’re going to make this the number one camp in the west,” Lehn said adding the area will be touted by Dugout as a great place to vacation while the boys are in camp. “I’d like to see people stay in Oliver instead of driving that half-hour to Penticton or Osoyoos. “Hopefully, the camp gets back to the point where we can fill it up for seven or eight weeks,” he added. In the meantime, Lehn and his partners vow to do al they can to make Oliver a true baseball town. An eight-team tournament of elite 13- to 15- year old players from Canada and the U.S. is planned for July 11-13. B.C.’s Canada Games team of under 21s will be in town June 23-27 for a selection camp. The Canada Games pits each province against the other “bragging rights” in an Olympic-type format, Lehn said. The B.C. Select team of under-18-year-old players will be in town June 27-30. The team has won the national championships the last six years running. “These two events will draw a lot of professional scouts as well as college people” we invite the public to come down and see what kind of talent is out here. They will be really entertained by it,” Lehn said.
The Okanagan Baseball Camp is also hoping to offer a softball session for girls Aug. 17-23. Lehn has contacted Simon Fraser University head coach Mike Renney who will take on the camp if his schedule permits. In the meantime, Lehn, Dixon and Crowther are offering coaching and player clinics throughout the Okanagan. Lehn said the three Vancover-area men are looking forward to spending the summer in the valley. “I love this area. We’re very excited abou being here. We have the opportunity to live here for two months of the year – that’s ideal.”
By Kathleen Connolly, Oliver Chronicle, Wednesday, May 14, 1997