Sylvan Skipper Soaring
By IAN WILSON & JOE McFARLAND
It was a process of baseball through osmosis.
As a child in Innisfail, Jason Chatwood was around the game constantly.
“It was kind of like it always has been, a big-time baseball community. Growing up, it’s just kind of what we did. I think everyone played baseball and everyone played hockey. For me personally, I grew up in a big-time baseball family,” Chatwood said recently on ADS: The Podcast.
“At a very young age, I remember packing up the camper and spending the weekend camping at a slo-pitch tournament and waiting for their game to be done so we could play catch and run around and get to play … it’s pretty easy to fall into that joy and interest when you grow up and you’re around it.”
From there, Chatwood’s love of the game grew. He was hooked.
“I don’t know what it was, but for as long as I can remember I loved it,” said Chatwood, who is now the head coach of the Sylvan Lake Gulls and lead instructor at Red Deer’s St. Joseph High School Academy.
Chatwood played other sports, as well. Hockey, volleyball and badminton were all part of his childhood, but when the snow melted it was time for baseball.
“I think at a younger age I knew I always wanted to play at a high level, like a very high level, and then there came a point where I tried out for some teams in Red Deer,” he recalled.
He represented Team Alberta in high school and started gaining recognition nationally, receiving a Canada Cup team invite as an underage player.
“I was able to compare myself with guys from across the country and see where they were at,” said Chatwood, who at that point started thinking seriously about pursuing baseball beyond the high school level.
Chatwood joined an Edmonton-area group for a showcase trip south of the border during his Grade 12 year, and the infielder’s play earned interest from a number of schools.
One of those programs was Colby Community College (CCC) in Kansas, where Matt Dickson – an Edmonton native who had coached against Chatwood – served as the assistant coach.
“I think maybe he had to sell me a little bit to Coach (Ryan) Carter, because I’m obviously very undersized, but I ended up having a good workout and I was able to have multiple options from that trip,” said the 5-foot-8 Chatwood.
“Everything aligned and things worked out for a reason and I was extremely happy that I decided to go to Colby.”
Things most definitely worked out with the Colby Trojans.
As a Gold Glove-winning second baseman with the Trojans between 2005 and 2007, he set career records for hits and at-bats. Chatwood also earned third-team All-American honours and a spot on the All-Academic team.
He also met his future wife, Heather, at Colby. She was an exceptional softball player with the Trojans and the couple was named to the CCC Alumni Hall of Fame in 2018.
“To share that with her was something that was really, really special,” Chatwood told Alberta Dugout Stories, adding individual accolades were never a priority for him.
“I just wanted to always pride myself on being a good teammate and I thought that the way that I’d played that, I felt that if I went and did that and helped the team win, the individual stuff would just happen and that’s something I try to pass along to the kids I get to work with.”
GOING TO GONZAGA
Chatwood continued his post-secondary career at Gonzaga University, a NCAA Division I squad, in 2008-09, where he batted .281 in 107 games. He started every game of his collegiate career.
“I think when you’re playing at the time, that’s something you don’t really think about,” admitted Chatwood.
“I didn’t ever want to give my coach a reason to not write my name on that lineup card. Now when you look back and you kind of realize that you had that many consecutive games it was fortunate, too. Fortunate to not have an injury or something happen to keep me out of the lineup.”
In his final campaign with the Bulldogs, the squad won the West Coast Conference (WCC) championship and Chatwood was named to the WCC All-Academic team.
He got into coaching with the Zags as well, serving as an assistant coach with the team in 2010 while he finished off his education degree.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do,” said the 34-year-old.
“It was a good fit that I could be there and help out and coach, and in that one year you learned so much, and so much behind the scenes things that goes into things that maybe as a player you take for granted … there’s so much more to it that, as a player, I don’t think I really understood or had any idea, as far as the planning and commitment and the work that goes into stuff at that level for those guys.”
BASEBALL BACK HOME
When Chatwood returned home to Alberta, he married his college sweetheart and the couple had two sons, Tucker and Owen. He also took on physical education roles in Sylvan Lake and Red Deer.
But the baseball never stopped.
Chatwood was heavily involved with the senior men’s Red Deer Riggers organization of the Sunburst League, taking the field as a player while also helping to manage and coach the club. A role as an associate scout with the Arizona Diamondbacks also presented itself in 2018 and Absolute Human Performance added Chatwood as a defensive coordinator and part-time instructor last year.
“I understand how fortunate I am that I get to come in every day and work with these kids, whether it’s baseball or softball,” said Chatwood.
“It’s such a special game. To be able to give back and … for it to come back full circle is pretty awesome. It’s an opportunity that I’m very, very thankful for.”
When asked about the advice he shares with his players, Chatwood emphasizes tenacity, accountability and having fun.
“Make sure that you’re willing to put the work in. Don’t just do what’s required of you. Go above and beyond,” he said.
“And there’s times when it’s not fun and it’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be … whatever level you’re at, wherever you’re at and you’re going to play, it’s special. Don’t take that for granted. Just enjoy it and work hard.”
Chatwood spread his wings yet again in 2021 as the head coach of the expansion Sylvan Lake Gulls of the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL).
“It’s special to be a part of and it’s a class organization. It’s made up of good people that are trying to create a special experience in the central Alberta area,” noted Chatwood.
“I think last year with COVID-19 and everything, there was a lot of stress, a lot of stress with everything that was planned to go and then all of a sudden a Canadian-only season and you’re kind of rebuilding your roster and there was a stadium being built and timelines being met … to be able to pull it off the way the organization did I think it makes everyone really, really excited for this coming summer.”
Despite the challenges, Chatwood said the pandemic-impacted campaign allowed the Gulls to get their feet wet and work through the logistics of a season, including game day management, travel schedules, host family coordination and the many moving parts that teams must navigate.
“This summer, out at the stadium they’re still working out there constantly to improve it and I think it’s going to be pretty well finalized by this summer, with the scoreboard and the suites and the change rooms and the concessions and all that stuff that’s going to be completed,” said Chatwood.
“It’s going to be awesome to have all the teams in the league again and get to experience playing against everybody. As far as our team, I think we’re going to be very, very versatile and have guys that can play multiple positions and quite deep on the mound as well. I think that’s the big thing is we’re not going to have to rely too heavily on one or two guys. We’re going to have a well-rounded group and everyone is going to be able to contribute.”
His role with the Gulls has also brought shades of his own childhood baseball memories to his family.
“I felt like at the Gulls games it was a totally different experience and they maybe initiated a little bit more. They wanted to play catch in the backyard or go hit the ball or this or that,” said Chatwood of his young sons.
“It’s changed their perspective going to see it and Sully the Gully is a huge hit in our house.”
His boys have also provided perspective to Chatwood through the course of a WCBL season.
“In the summer after a tough loss, they just want to run the bases, regardless. That’s something for me that is special, being able to go home and be at home and be with them. They don’t look at you any different whether you win or lose. When I get home I can’t get too high or too low because I’ve got to make sure that I’m dad when I’m there,” he said.
“It’s hard to put into words what the game means to me because it means so much on so many different levels, whether it be friendships or people you look up to or admire, or maybe younger kids that you get to coach and mentor, but it is a game and every now and then you need to remind yourself it is a game and it’s supposed to be fun and you need to enjoy it.”
(Story republished with the permission of Alberta Dugout Stories)