The 2016-17 season served to be a successful inaugural season for the Cascade baseball program, which passed expectations and finished second in the CCBC (Canadian College Baseball Conference) regular season and third in the CCBC championships. Though the ending to the season was not ideal, the Cascades emerged from out of nowhere and set the league on storm. The Cascade sat down with the owner of the team for a comprehensive look into the first season for the Cascade baseball team and how the team began.
For a man with his responsibilities, Brian Finnie is as a humble as they come. Finnie talks on what made him the person he is today and his strong and passionate belief in the team and his players.
What are your thoughts on the first season for the Cascade baseball team?
The first season for the Cascade baseball team was phenomenal to say the least. It was incredible. The success rate of the students’ grades at the university were excellent. We only had one player on the roster who couldn’t play and it was because of one per cent. He was our only left-handed pitcher. But I like the fact that the students are really drilled in and take their education seriously. If you take a team like that and build it up to say 30, 40, 50 players and over 95 per cent of the students pass the schooling, what you’ve got is what we call a driver in the business industry. We put things in companies that drive people to be successful. The driver in these students is that to play baseball, you have to be a good student and pass your courses. The love of baseball, it’s enough of a driver that they work hard at baseball and they stay up late at night to study and work on weekends, and study together. The driver in them makes sure they’re studious.
We’ve got two professional ball players that are coaches here and they’re both attending the school. We’ve got Kyle Lotzkar, a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2007; I don’t think there’s been first-round pick from Canada other than him. He’s got two gold medals and is a first-round pick.
And we’ve got Wes Darvill, who was a fifth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2009. Those are two of the assistant coaches. Wes is the middle infield coach and Kyle is the pitching coach. Both of them attended UFV with the players this year.
What I’m trying to say is that we’re winning for these kids. We got a gold medal because we got a 97 per cent pass rate at the university. Baseball is a by-product of all that. These guys are going on to be successful people because they’re getting the discipline and the drivers put in them by the baseball coaches and they’re getting the education at UFV at a high level.
What in your background helps you with the baseball team?
I’m a guy that has a grade A education. I basically grew up on the street and once I got away from the street, people helped me. These older guys helped me while I was in a Canadian helicopter squadron back in the Vietnam era. A lot of guys helped me get away from my street mindedness and I became a student for 25 years. I took training of some kind, I became a trades teacher, a pipeline welder, and I became an aircraft engineer because some people reached out and helped me. I never forgot the commerce on the street when someone has something, everyone has something.
I’ve got baseball teams in Cuba that I look after, I’m looking at stadiums in South America with my partner. All of those things have driven me from getting kicked out of school at 15 years old as a street kid to where I am now. I’ve never forgotten what got me where I am. My mother was a saint but it was just poor decisions on my behalf. I didn’t do well in school and when I got the drivers put in me from other guys, that’s when I realized my own potential.
For example, head coach Shawn Corness talks about education and study sessions on a regular basis. When I talk to the team, I talk about character and where I come from, where you can get to, things like that. I can’t talk to our team too often because I just start crying. There’s so much passion and so much guts and grit on that team. Shawn had to go around the country to find players that not many people were interested in and they came together and play for each other, the school.
We had injured players up and down in this tournament but these guys just got that look in their eye and so much passion for life and doing a good job for the school. Because of their determination, I would take any of those guys and employ them in my dozen or so companies and I would have success with those guys. They’re competitors.
Though the Cascades weren’t victorious, how do you feel about the players and staff?
They played way above their level and if we wouldn’t have faced the best pitcher in the league on the Southern Alberta team for the first time in that game, we would have won. There wasn’t a dry eye in that place. When we lost, everyone was crying and hurting for each other, hurting for the school. It really mattered to them. I was so proud of those guys and I still am so proud of them and so proud of their academic accomplishments. Some of them have a job, practice six days a week, and go to university, and they make ends meet.
If you look at our coaching and the character, experience, and depth of that coaching staff including Shawn, Kyle, Wes, and Junior, there isn’t another coaching staff like that in Canada. It’s a big payroll but it’s worth it for a staff like that.
How did the process work for UFV getting a baseball team?
There are two points. Shawn Corness trained my son since the age of six years old and my son Evan now plays Triple-A Bantham in Chilliwack for a team that is 18–4. Junior is the head coach of the team. I was around Shawn while he was coaching at UBC and I saw what the potential of his coaching was.
The other thing was that I was elected to the board of Chilliwack minor baseball as a businessman to develop a training facility in the district of Chilliwack. Trying to jockey with businesses and lobby with people and organizations to try and get a facility put up in the district, I just couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the time or resources to go out and run everything. So, I gave up and built the training facility here myself. I invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into it. We’ve got a solid training facility and now my job is to find corporate partners who want to build a proper stadium with turf and all the things we should have here. After that happened, Shawn and I went to Lethbridge and had a meeting with the CCBC, and we applied to have a team of our own. And eventually, it was approved and we got permission to build the team together.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.