Morning Star Staff
The bond between a pitcher and a catcher is unlike any other in sports and is crucial for the success of a baseball team.
Winning rosters have been structured around combos such as Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, Dwight Gooden and Gary Carter, and Nuke LaLoosh and Crash Davis.
The Vernon Canadians B.C. AAA Midget season might not have gone as planned, but right-handed pitcher Dylan Emmons and his catcher Garner Chudyk still have a great chemistry and are getting the chance at college ball thanks to a successful senior campaign.
The C’s’ battery is inked for the inaugural season with the University of Fraser Valley Cascades in the Canadian Collegiate Baseball Conference.
“I’m really looking forward to university and I’m glad I get to stay close to home,” said Emmons, who graduated from Vernon Secondary and will take psychology and marketing courses.
UFV opened their doors for the baseball program this summer. They will play in exhibition games this fall and will be ineligible for CCBC postseason play until the 2017 spring season.
Cascades’ baseball coach Shaun Corness has anchored his lineup with the league’s top combo.
“When I talked to teams after our games this summer, they all thought Dylan was the best pitcher they have faced,” said Canadians’ coach Ken Liefke. “He is a dominant force.”
The six-foot-one, 175-pounder is coming off a dominating season on the bump. With a fastball in the upper 80s and a knee-buckling slider, Emmons rang up 126 strikeouts with only 23 walks in 78 innings. A 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is considered good in the MLB, and Emmons is cruising at almost a 6:1 clip.
Corness sees Emmons as a pitcher in their starting rotation and expects him to be one of the league’s best by his second year.
“I’ve been able to locate my fastball, curve and slider pretty good this year. I’ve also started working on a changeup,” said Emmons, whose favourite pitcher is Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals. “I’m glad I’ll be going there with him (Chudyk). He is a nice big target and he is easy to throw to.”
Chudyk has been putting down the signs for Emmons for the past few years and jumped at the offer he received from UFV at the end of June.
“I decided to head there a week after they talked to me. I didn’t want to wait around and see what else might have come up.
“I’m looking forward to getting there and starting at the roots. We are all going to be new to the program and that was important to me,” said Chudyk.
Chudyk is impenetrable behind the dish. Corness noticed Chudyk while coaching against him with the Chilliwack Cougars this summer.
“He blocks everything. He is a great receiver and controls the game with great instincts,” said Corness.
Chudyk is also extremely valuable and a rare baseball player.
Being a catcher, your primary role is to be a top-notch defender. If the catcher can hit, it’s a bonus. If he hits left-handed, double bonus.
It allows the coaching staff more options when creating a lineup and for late-game matchups.
Chudyk, whose favourite player is Russell Martin of the Toronto Blue Jays, hit .264 with 13 RBI this season, second most on the squad.
He hasn’t had any problems grinding through a losing season because he loves playing the game.
“Garner is going to be a star once he gets regular playing time in college,” said Liefke, who was a catcher in his day and has coached him for six years.
“I think he was the best catcher in the league this year. He guns out about 60-70 per cent of runners and blocks balls I could never imagine blocking.”
Added Corness: “Both these players are really going to develop and take off once they come here and get on a ball field six days a week.”