"I showed up and really just offered to help setting stuff up."
That was the "foot in the door" moment for Dennis Melanson, at least from a baseball point of view.
A North Bay native, Dennis had been the hockey player of the two siblings, his brother a competitive catcher. And though he would play men's slo-pitch, in North Bay, in his early twenties, it was as a parent that Melanson would come aboard the baseball scene in Sudbury.
Just a year after he and Wayne Cuculick had brought virtually their entire Copper Cliff Redmen minor hockey team over to the Sudbury Minor Baseball Association, Melanson's son, Brett, had got the baseball bug.
Currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, the young pitcher has moved on to the post-secondary ranks. His father, however, has remained more than a little active, jumping in as head coach of the Sudbury 15U Voyageurs, this summer, but also stepping up to guide Team North into the Ontario Summer Games, tentatively set for early August in London.
The fact is that Melanson has been at the side of Baseball Academy founder Jean-Gilles Larocque for the better part of the past several years. "I am sure that he figured I would be done after two years," said Melanson.
"Last year was my first year coaching without a child on the team."
With his son lending a helping hand, during his rehabilitation, Melanson has rounded out his 15U staff with Shawn Paquette, a key addition given the background that the main man brings to the table.
"I can't run a practice, I'm not a practice guy," said Melanson. "That is my biggest learning curve. Thank God Shawn is fantastic at that kind of stuff. I am more strategy and game readiness."
Though he did not play much in his youth, Melanson was always a fan of the game, and a student, to some degree as well. "Growing up watching the game, and coaching with different coaches, and obviously, working with J-G, I've learned so much," he said.
"I owe a lot to him for that," Melanson added. "He's really helped me with the game."
Probably more well-known, initially, in these circles for his administrative abilities, Melanson continues to serve as team manager for both the 16U and 18U Voyageurs, the primary contact with Baseball Ontario and such.
Yet as the Voyageurs unveil a team, at this age group, for the very first time, Melanson is likely more anxious to get the 2020 season underway than most of his players. "I am excited for them, because it's totally different that what I have been coaching with the 18U team," he said.
"We're right back to the basics. Right now, it's just catching and throwing. I have no idea what the other 15U teams look like, but my goal is a .500 season - and even if we are below that, that is still OK."
There is a comfort that Melanson derives from knowing that he is surrounded by baseball folks well schooled in fundamentals. "We're fortunate that we have access to J-G, Brodie (Jeffrey), Shawn and Joey (Moher)."
"They're all doing slow-motion videos with the players, catching and throwing. We need to work on that, and hitting will come." Greg Johnson and Brett Melanson will help with pitching.
The reality is that many hands on deck will be needed, especially this summer, with Melanson hoping to provide some double-dipping for his local crew, a solid core of which should also be part of Team North.
"There are a few kids in the Sault, and maybe a couple in North Bay," said Melanson. "I don't know if there are many in Thunder Bay this year. What I am seeing right now is that we have some fast kids, which should help on the bases - and we have some big, strong players."
Notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19, the 15U Voyageurs were set to kick off their season with the Elite Baseball League of Ontario May long weekend tournament, joining effectively the same loop where their elder clubmates have contested their encounters in the past couple of years.
The 2020 roster for the Sudbury 15U Voyageurs features William Arsenault, Alex Frawley, Noah Portelance, Felix Aubin, Vaughn Thomson, Martin Audette, Noah Leveille, Callum Baron, Devan Madore, Ethan Morris, Nicholas Rainville, Zoe Rienguette and Karsen Chartier.