The Okotoks Dawgs Baseball Club is proud to announce the 2015 class of the Dawgs-Seaman Stadium Hall of Fame, to be inducted on February 7th, at the 8th Annual Awards Banquet.
The first member of the 2015 class is John Ircandia. As the organization’s founding and managing director, Ircandia has overseen, and been responsible for, the remarkable growth and evolution of the Dawgs program from its birth in 1995 as a single, high performance, youth team.
In 1995, Ircandia assembled a team of supporters to launch the Calgary Dawgs youth team, pursuing a vision to create opportunities for local players to develop their skills to the level where they could earn scholarships to US and Canadian universities and colleges and in exceptional cases, be drafted by Major League organizations. Ircandia coached that original Dawgs team that saw every player earn a scholarship to play college baseball, and twelve selected in the Major League Draft, including right-handed pitcher, Jim Henderson of Calgary, who in 2012 became the first Dawg to play Major League Baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite not having access to local baseball diamonds, from 1995 through 2002, Ircandia enabled the club to play an ultra-competitive schedule almost exclusively on the road, competing in numerous tournaments and showcases each season in the United States.
In 2003, with the sale of the Calgary Cannons, Ircandia expanded the Dawgs program to include a summer collegiate team that would play out of Foothills Stadium. The summer collegiate Dawgs experienced immediate and sustained success on the field, reaching the WMBL finals twice in three years, and winning the 2004 WMBL Championship before 4,000 fans in Calgary, in just the team’s second season.
When independent professional teams refused the Dawgs access to Foothills Stadium, Don Seaman (later joined by brother Doc Seaman) stepped forward to provide principal funding for Seaman Stadium, a $15 Million, state of the art, minor league level stadium, as well as the Duvernay Fieldhouse & Indoor Training Center in Okotoks. Ircandia was the Volunteer Project Manager for the construction of the facilities, which broke ground in August of 2006, and was ready for baseball by Opening Day in June of 2007.
In the years following and thanks to the support of other baseball enthusiasts like Michael Rose of Tourmaline Oil Corp., Dawgs management and the Town of Okotoks, the Dawgs added Tourmaline Field and Conrad Field making the Seaman Stadium Complex the premier amateur baseball facility in the country and among the finest in North America.
In its inaugural season in 2007, Seaman Stadium played host to crowds averaging 1,600 fans per game. Attendance has increased each season and in 2014 the Dawgs played to an average crowd of 2,827 per game with a record-breaking season high of 4,800 fans on Canada Day. Currently, Ballpark Biz has ranked Dawgs #4 among summer collegiate clubs in North America. In total, almost 500,000 fans have come through the gates of Seaman Stadium giving the Dawgs the largest support in southern Alberta since the heyday of the triple-A Calgary Cannons.
Ircandia’s commitment to on-field success has never wavered as the program’s profile continues to grow. With 120 players, the majority local products, now in the Dawgs Youth Academy, including players from as far away as China, Mexico and Dubai, Dawgs youth teams have captured 6 Alberta Championships and 1 Canadian National Midget Championship over the past 7 years.
Ircandia’s vision to enable each of these youth players to combine their love of the sport with their academic goals remains the Dawgs primary commitment. In addition, over 34 Dawgs players have now been drafted by Major League Baseball including most recently Tyler Hollick (Giants), Jordan Procychen (Red Sox) and Chris Shaw (Cardinals).
The summer collegiate team continues to excel as well. The team captured a ‘three-peat’ of WMBL Championships from 2007 to 2009, has reached the WMBL Championship Series 5 times overall, and has never missed the playoffs.
John Ircandia’s vision nearly twenty years ago to give young players a chance to play at a high level an earn opportunities at the next level, is now reality, and continues to grow to remarkable heights beyond what anybody –except John- could dream of.
A native of Calgary, Alberta, Henderson was an original Dawg, joining the youth program as a 12 year-old. As part of that original club, Henderson enjoyed great success both hitting and pitching, earning individual honors at the Cocoa Beach, Florida Youth Showcase and ultimately being named to Canada’s Junior National Team.
Upon graduating from the Dawgs, Henderson earned a scholarship to Midland College, a junior college baseball powerhouse in Texas. After 2 All-Conference seasons with the Chaparrals, Henderson earned a scholarship to the University of Tennessee (Wes.). After his junior season in Tennessee, he returned to the Dawgs family and joined the inaugural season of the summer collegiate Calgary Dawgs. Henderson was in fact playing right field for the Dawgs when he was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of 2003 Major League Draft.
Henderson would spend four seasons with the Expos/Washington Nationals organization before being selected in the 1st round of the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs. Jim pitched extremely well in two years with the Cubs, making 58 appearances from 2007 to 2008, recording a total of 11 saves with a 2.80 ERA between double-A and triple-A.
After battling injuries, Jim left the Cubs and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he pitched effectively working his way up from Rookie ball to the Triple A level. In 2009, now as a closer in the Brewers minor league system, Henderson posted an outstanding 2.04 ERA with 21 saves.
Jim followed that up with another strong season at Double A with the Brewers, earning a promotion to the Triple A, Nashville Sounds where he posted a sensational 1.69 ERA with 15 saves and was named to the Triple A All Star Team.
On July 26th, 2012, Jim Henderson became the first Dawg to play in the Major Leagues when he entered his first game for the Brewers against the Washington Nationals. In 2013, his first full major league season, Henderson made 36 appearances for the Brewers earning the club’s closer role and recording 28 saves with a phenomenal 75 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched.
The former Dawg even won a Brewers fan vote and received his own bobble head day at Miller Park on July 27, 2014.
Henderson has remained fiercely loyal to the Dawgs organization, returning to serve as a seasonal coach for the Youth Academy during his off seasons. He was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Dawgs Awards Banquet, and had his number 15 retired by the club. He has established the “Jim Henderson Junior Dawg Player of the Year” Award with a view to recognizing youth players who demonstrate the dedication, talent, desire and love for the game that he has maintained throughout his career.
Jim Henderson is a player and a person that all Dawgs can and should look up to for his relentless dedication and perseverance to realizing his dream of playing in the Major Leagues.
John Ircandia and Jim Henderson are perfect embodiments of what it means to be a Dawg, and it is only fitting that they join inaugural inductees Don Seaman, Blair Kubicek and Bob Elliott in the Dawgs/Seaman Stadium Hall of Fame.