Anyone who knew David Stickney, who died in May (Mr. Leaside 1943-2015, Leaside Life, June 2015), could tell you that two things he was passionate about were teaching math and coaching baseball.
Eric Stickney, 29, like many sons, contrasts sharply with his father.
“David was always a relatively conservative and disciplined school teacher,” says Howard Birnie, president of the Leaside Baseball Association and lifelong friend of the elder Stickney, “while Eric was the complete opposite. But both share a passion and enthusiasm for teaching and baseball.”
And both of these interests come together in the Leaside Leafs Baseball Camp, which Stickney Jr. helped to create and of which he is today the driving force.
“It’s largely thanks to Eric’s dedication and hard work teaching and coaching these young players in the camp,” says Birnie, “that the league has experienced a remarkable growth period, and baseball is thriving in Leaside once again.”
“I’ve always had teacher’s blood in me because my Dad taught,” says Stickney. “He taught me and he coached me too. And it was his teaching and coaching ability that helped transform me into the person I am today.”
In 2002, while still in high school, along with friends Lee Grant and Joel Thorney, Stickney had an idea to create a baseball camp to train and develop young players, aged 7 to 9. But that first year only four kids signed up.
“We were discouraged,” recalls Stickney. “If not for the positive feedback of Tracy Goldfinch, the mother of one of the boys in the program, it probably would never had gotten off the ground. She encouraged us to keep at it.” The next year the camp doubled in size.
To gain as much experience as he could, Stickney volunteered with other house league and rep teams around Toronto. His first year after high school he spent 10 months as a volunteer while only receiving payment during July and August when the summer baseball camp was operating.
He admits he sometimes felt pressure to get a more financially rewarding job, but he kept at it.
Along with his father and Birnie, Stickney counts among his mentors Jim Grant (“the only baseball coach other than my Dad that I ever had”) and Toreigh Stuart, who told him never to give up and helped in any way he could.
At one point Stickney was about ready to put baseball behind him, but Stuart urged him to stick with it. “He invested in me with both his money and his time. He has always been a mentor to me and has never been afraid to give me constructive criticism when needed. He told me that this was a good thing for Leaside Baseball.”
It was an act of kindness that gave Stickney the courage to see it through. Now with a backer, he would begin one-on-one training with players, including Stuart’s son. Soon the program’s growing success prompted him to keep it operating during both the summer and winter months.
In 2009 the Leaside Baseball Association introduced the Rookieball Beginner, Junior and Senior house league programs, for 7-9 year olds, and Stickney was named general manager of player development.
Since then the impact of the training and leadership that Stickney and the coaches have provided to these youngest players has begun to be felt in the older age groups too as these players progressed through the system.
“It has helped the LBA establish some dominance against other Toronto and GTA teams,” says Birnie.
“In fact our senior Rookieball team just won the AAA tournament in Mississauga on June 21,” said Birnie. “It’s the first AAA tournment Leaside has won in several years.”
Earlier this year, during March break, Stickney led a successful training camp in Clearwater, Florida for the first time with 12 boys from Leaside. “We had a really nice outdoor practice field and also practiced every day at an indoor facility with video analysis and extra instructors. The kids learned a lot.”
Eric Stickney continues to build on his father’s legacy of teaching and coaching, and he doesn’t plan to give it up anytime soon.
For more details about the Leaside Baseball Association and the Rookieball Development program visit www.leasidebaseball.com.