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How does a guy from Corner Brook wind up playing varsity baseball at Minot State University in North Dakota?
Well, Declan Buckle was just a kid when he and his parents, Jason and Charlie, left the city for Moncton, N.B.
He loved playing hockey, but could also frequently be found on the fairways of Blomidon Golf Club or tossing the ball around at Jubilee Field.
Those local summer sports, in particular, were such big parts of his life that, even after the move, he’d be flown down during those warm, school-free months to stay with his grandparents, George and Karen, and continue with his programs surrounded by familiar faces.
It was during those formative years on the field he began to notice he had a knack for baseball, particularly when he made the peewee Barons and competed provincially despite still being mosquito-aged at 10 years old.
Unlike other sports he describes as act-first, think-second, baseball’s mental game won him over.
“You’ve got to think about what you’re going to do,” said the 20-year-old. “It’s the only sport you can fail seven out of 10 times and be a hall of famer.
“It’s all about keeping a clear mind and continuing to be successful even after struggling one day.”
During his second year of playing peewee, his father decided Buckle would need more games to grow as a player, so he signed up as coach of the Dieppe Cardinals, a team that went 0-42 the previous season, and brought his son aboard to play. The team went on to win provincials that year and finished second at Atlantics, where Buckle, a shortstop, was named top defensive player.
“So again, I realized there’s maybe a little more of a future in this than I thought,” he said.
He went on to play in several national tournaments at the bantam and midget levels and eventually found himself invited to Tournament 12 (T12), a national amateur baseball tournament at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, hosted by the Blue Jays Baseball Academy and Roberto Alomar. The purpose is to provide a showcase opportunity to the best 160 amateur baseball players born in Canada that had college eligibility.
To say it went well is an understatement, as Buckle says Sandy Alomar — Roberto Alomar’s father — still sends him a text message every day, both in Spanish and English.
Not only did the Alomars take a liking to him, so too did a scout for Baseball Canada, who witnessed Buckle make the top-15 all-star team at the T12 in both years he attended.
Buckle, 18 years old at this point, began drawing attention south of the border and Indian Hills Community College, with its Division I junior college baseball program, made him an offer.
The Iowa school has three campuses, with the baseball program occupying its own campus in Centerville. He describes the community of about 5,500 as “pure baseball,” with a practice field, game field, and indoor facility.
“A complete professional baseball environment,” he said.
After two successful seasons, this past one saw them bow out in the regional final to Iowa Western, Buckle’s time at the school is winding down. He is nearing completion of a two-year associates of arts degree, which will allow him into a four-year major or minor bachelor of arts degree.
School wasn’t always a focus for him growing up, but that’s changed at Indian Hills. He says he’s gone from a C student in high school, to making the President’s List for achieving a grade point average of 4.0 at the college.
“It’s learning to manage time,” he said. “Learning what your potential can be once you decide to put your mind to it and fully commit.”
Near the end of the fall baseball schedule at Indian Hills, he received a call from a coach at Minot State. Then another, from a different coach. Then another.
They were recruiting him hard, and though there were other options, when it came time to make a decision, he felt there was only one to make.
“Eventually came signing day,” said the five-foot-11, 180-pounder.
“I gave them a call and told them I wanted to be a Beaver.”
He feels he’s ready to make the jump when he starts in the fall, after two years of seeing some pitchers throwing in the 95-97 mph range with Indian Hills.
The biggest difference, he feels, is in a four-year program, he’ll be up against players a little older, and a little more seasoned on a consistent basis.
He’ll be working towards a business degree there too, with a possible minor in economics. He’s got his sights set on law school after that.
But first, there’s a few things left to settle on the field.
“You’ve only got one shot at it to make it as a pro in a sport,” he said. “I’ve got my whole life to get my education — I’m getting it at the same time, which is awesome — but I’m fully dedicated to baseball.”
He believes the program at Minot State offers him the opportunity to receive the personal attention necessary to improve and progress as both a player and a person.
“They win their conference every year,” he said. “So, I have a chance to go to a possible World Series and hopefully become an All-American.”
He hasn’t been home to Corner Brook in a while, but feels like this summer may provide him a chance to take two weeks to visit the grandparents and maybe even get in a few practices where it all began — Jubilee Field.
He takes a lot of pride in where he came from because he knows not many baseball players from this neck of the woods wind up in the position he currently finds himself.
Whenever he fills out his player profile for schools or tournaments in the United States, he always makes sure his hometown reads “Corner Brook, NL.”
“Corner Brook is the spot that made me develop the love and passion for the sport I have today,” he said, specifically referencing former coaches Rob Myrden, Don Colbourne, Darren Colbourne and Frank Humber. “There’s so many people there I have so much gratitude towards because they were able to show me the way and teach me how to play this sport.
“And, it’s also just typical Newfoundland pride.”