Dawgs make hall-of-famer’s list
Baseball: John Ircandia, AJ Fystro named as Canadian influences for baseball
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 06:00 am
The coach of the Okotoks Dawgs is honoured to be mentioned in a hall-of-fame sportswriter’s list of the most influential Canadians in baseball.
Dawgs Academy head coach AJ Fystro was an honourable mention in Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott’s 100 most influential Canadians in Baseball list which was released on Dec. 28.
“This is my fifth year in a row I have made it as an honourable mention, but I think in previous years it was because of my work with the University of Calgary,” Fystro said.
Although he didn’t crack the top 100, he’s thrilled to be mentioned in the annual list.
“Any time you are recognized among the top in Canada it is a great honour,” Fystro said.
He credits his connection with the Dawgs with getting him on the list.
“I totally feel I am on that list because of the opportunity John (Dawgs executive director John Ircandia) and this organization has given me,” Fystro said. “This is a testament to what this organization has done for me.”
Fystro won back-to-back Western Major Baseball League championships as Dawgs head coach in 2008 and 2009, before taking on full-time duties at the U of C.
He returned to the Dawgs’ fold last summer and led the Dawgs to the Western Division final, which they lost to the Medicine Hat Mavericks.
Fystro admits he is one of those blue-collar guys on the list that very few Canadians have heard of, unlike the Cincinnati Reds Joey Votto or former Montreal Expo Larry Walker.
That blue-collar work ethic comes via his father, Cliff Fystro, a member of the Dawgs board of directors.
“My father was a big inspiration — every day waking up early in the morning and working hard all day long,” Fystro said. “That is the mentality I try to give back to the kids at the (Dawgs) Academy. You work hard every day, whether it’s on the field or in the classroom.”
Fystro wasn’t the lone Dawg on the list.
Ircandia cracked the top 25, slotted in at no. 23.
“The Dawgs drew 2,349 to its 2,650-seat Seaman Stadium in 23 Western Major Baseball League games — more than the combined average of the next five teams in the league: Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Regina, Swift Current and Moose Jaw,” Elliott wrote.
“Yet the Dawgs are more than a beacon for a summer college league, who play at the $8 million Seaman Stadium. Through their academy the Dawgs, work out at the Duvernay Fieldhouse and Tourmaline Field -- the best facilities in Canada,”
Elliott said he is amazed at Ircandia’s dedication to the Dawgs program.
“What always impressed me with John is that both of his boys are gone (from the program) but guess what? John is still there,’” Elliott said in an interview from Ontario.
The hall-of-fame scribe said Fystro deserves plenty of the credit for Dawgs Academy players such as Matt Lloyd, Chris Shaw and others advancing to play at the collegiate level.
He said Fystro and other members of the Dawgs’ staff are the nuts-and-bolts of the program who are hitting groundballs, pitching BP and instructing the Dawgs players.
However, even a hall-of-famer can bobble one now and then.
Elliott said while at around 91 on his list, he received a call from his editor, stating his deadline had been moved up.
Elliott was at his son’s wedding at the time, and in a rush, he forgot some players — including Jim Henderson, a Dawgs Academy graduate and the closer for the Milwaukee Brewers.
“That was a mistake,” Elliott said with a chuckle.
The number one slot on the influential list went to the Toronto Blue Jay fans, followed by Votto, and Jays president Paul Beeston.
Elliott is the first Canadian ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame writers’ wing in Cooperstown, New York in 2012.
To see Elliott’s list go to www.torontosun.com/author/bob-elliott
The Dawgs will hold their annual seventh annual banquet Feb. 1 at the Foothills Centennial Centre.
The guest speaker is former Toronto Blue Jay and New York Yankee infielder Homer Bush. Bush hit .320 with the Jays in 1999. He was a member of the world champion New York Yankees in 1998.
The Dawgs will also give out their player awards.uet.
For ticket information call the Dawgs office at 403-262-3294. For information go to www.dawgsbaseball.ca