LEBEL COULDN'T RESIST RETURNING, News (Soo Minor Baseball Association)

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Submitted By Adam Carricato on Sunday, September 20, 2020
He may be 70-years-old, but it’s going to take more than age to dampen Mike Lebel’s love for baseball. 

The president of the Soo Minor Baseball Association for roughly 35 years, Lebel hasn’t coached a team in five years. 

That, however, is about to change for an iconic baseball figure locally.

The Sault native, who has won seven provincial championships with local clubs, while finishing second in Ontario a total of six times, is slated to return to the dugout next spring.

He’ll operate the 18U team for players 18-and-under.

To that end, after COVID-19 wiped out the summer baseball season locally, Lebel is in the midst of running four developmental sessions this fall on Ram Field at Sinclair Yards.

Why return to coaching at this point in his life?

“I’ve asked myself that same question,” said Lebel, who was inducted into the Sault Ste. Marie Sports Hall of Fame as a coach/builder in 2017.

For one thing, he misses the game at its most-energetic level.

“I’ve missed working with kids and passing on the things I’ve learned about baseball over the years,” said Lebel, who’s coached for about 25 years in the Soo Black Sox program for rep teams. “I love to share that with them.”

But there’s more.

Lebel stepped down from the Sox midget program (16-18 years) in 2015 due to a lack of player interest.

“There just weren’t enough players and that was difficult to see,” said Lebel, who piloted the midgets for about 15 years, enjoying some of his greatest successes at the Ontario Baseball Association level with that group. “I enjoyed the game so that was hard.”

But today, coming up through the pipeline is a group of young players whose skill and commitment has Lebel excited again.

“There’s a core group of talented 15-year-olds now who’ll be 16 next summer,” he explained. “They love the game, they’re committed, they’re talented and they seem to have good camaraderie. They all support each other.”

Asked about the players, Lebel mentioned the names of a few he’s particularly excited about.

The group includes infielder/pitcher Cole Masse, Michael Starzomski, who pitches and plays first base, infielder/pitcher Gavin Lamming, infielder Carmen Perna and Michael Hapanovich, who’s expected to both pitch and play first base.

“We’ll have a young team, but the talented is there,” Lebel said.

His approach will be to “absolutely” focus on fundamentals, noting how that’s always been his focus.

Asked if he’s uneasy about piloting young players at his age, Lebel admitted it “was a concern.”

But, he added, he’s in the process of putting together a coaching staff to bridge the age gap.

The staff is expected to include coaches Paul Hapanovich and Dom Buonomo and manager Chris Walls, who’ll serve as a part-time coach.

“I’m also looking at adding a hitting coach and pitching coach,” said Lebel, who is hoping the pandemic is under control, allowing the club to operate beginning in the spring. “And hopefully, we’ll play the majority of our schedule in Michigan.”

The Sox goal, as it has long been for local travelling teams, is to qualify for the provincial championships. 

Meantime, there are two developmental sessions remaining.

Lebel’s players will gather on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., and a week from this Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m., at Ram Field.

Soo Minor Baseball ran skills/scrimmage sessions for all of its age groups in August.

“Kids need something to do,” said Lebel, who spoke of following all COVID-19 protocols. “Each age group is also holding workouts this fall to prepare for the 2021 season. We have an obligation and the response from the kids and their parents has been excellent.”

By: Peter Rucci, The Sault Star
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