When Garnett Jensen was growing up in Prince Albert, there wasn’t a lot of off-season training.
The pitcher, who played in the NCAA before a short career in Japan, is from Prince Albert and played his minor baseball in the city. Once his pro career was done, he returned to Canada to coach, moving back to Prince Albert from BC in 2017.
This week, Jensen helped provide the next generation of baseball stars the training he didn’t have.
Over the past three days, Jensen taught a pitching spring training camp at the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse for about 18 kids ranging in age from six to 17.
Jensen knows how invaluable that sort of coaching can be.
“It’s good for the kids to be able to have some instruction from some guys that have moved on in the game and played at some higher levels,” Jensen said.
“Growing up here, we had Dave Pagan come in, he played a little bit of pro ball. I remember seeing him maybe once, maybe twice when I was a young fella. But with a facility like this, that never used to be here, being able to get on the turf is a big advantage for them.”
Jensen said a lot has changed since he grew up playing ball in the city. There wasn’t an indoor facility. There wasn’t off-season indoor training. There also wasn’t a lot of knowledge about taking care of pitchers’ arms.
“When I was a little bit younger, it was kind of just ‘ go out there and chuck.’” Jensen said.
He recalled going out and playing in back-to-back games, pitching one and catching the other, throwing hundreds of times in a day. He had Tommy John surgery when he was 18 in his draft year.
“Having somebody that can see exactly what’s going on, watching a guy, knowing what drills to use specifically to improve is a big help,” Jensen said.
“Now with guys having moved up in levels and coming back and coaching and bringing their knowledge back, hopefully we’ll see (fewer) arm injuries.”
The camp focused a lot on mechanics, Jensen said, talking intricately about pitching and delivery and discussing why certain things are done. He also spoke about arm strengthening. He said being able to get into a large space this early on to throw and play some long-toss and strengthen arms “is a real benefit.
“Pitching is an intricate, fine-tuned type of motion,” Jensen explained.
Having someone with that experience coming into coach young players is “invaluable,” the coach of the city’s provincial 13 and under team said.
Prior to the last pitching session at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Gray had Jensen help him out with spring training for his team.
He also got to watch as his own son went through Jensen’s pitching program.
“To have a guy who’s played NCAA, coached at a high level and done all of those things gone in and bring some really good skills and really good knowledge to these kids is pretty great,” he said.
“You don’t often get that in a lot of organizations.”
The camp sold out, and Gray had 14 kids come to his training session. Both he and Jensen said the game is growing in the province.
“Baseball has really started to pick up in Saskatchewan, definitely,” Jensen said.
“I’ve noticed a difference from when I was younger to now. A lot of higher levels of coaching and instruction is available. I think we’re starting to see the benefit from that, getting a lot more Saskatchewan kids going down to the states and playing college ball.”
Gray said the growth has come to Prince Albert as well.
“When (my son) started three years ago, we had three house league teams and it was kind of piecemeal, with 11 kids on each team. Now we’re well over 300 kids,” he said.
“It just seems to be getting more and more popular every year.”
Gray pegged that growth to one key factor — the Toronto Blue Jays. He said the Jays’ 2015 run to the ALCS really sparked interest in the sport.
Indeed, several of the kids at the pitching camp had Jays gear on — hats, shirts and even socks.
“Kids want to be Blue Jays,” he said.
“Kids want to be like their idols. Being just like a Blue Jay — this is the place to go if you want to do that.”
For more information on Prince Albert Minor Baseball, visit paminorbaseball.com
Gray said registration spots are still available for provincial team try-outs.