Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future: Dimma Reflects on how the Dynasty Came Together
BARRIE - In 2011 -- after the Barrie Baycats got upset by the Ottawa Fat Cats in round two of the postseason -- general manager and Intercounty Baseball League [IBL] legend Kevin Hinton resigned from his duties as team general manager.
Looking for a new general manager, the Baycats gave the keys to then-pitching coach Doug Dimma, who had previously played with the Baycats as a relief pitcher.
Dimma remembers his hiring as if it was yesterday.
"... Hinton decided to step down and Millsy [team president David Mills] and [team owner] Gary Calvert kind of approached me and said 'well, is this something you would like to do?'
"After thinking about it I said 'yeah, I think I do.' I think it was the right fit for me at the time as I had stop playing, I had still loved being the pitching coach, I had a great relationship with Angus [Roy], and I had a great relationship with a lot of the guys on the team."
More importantly for Dimma was the relationships and connections he had elsewhere.
"I also had a lot of really good relationships with guys who were on different teams as well as connections with guys who played on the OBJ's [Ontario Blue Jays] since I coached there, so I knew I could build up a pipeline with some younger kids to come in because at the time we were looking to bring in a lot more talent and a lot more college guys.
It didn't take long the Baycats a long time to feel the impact of Dimma's connections.
On the day he was introduced as team general manager, the team also announced the signing of Kyle DeGrace.
At the time, DeGrace was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was arguably the most complete player in the IBL.
Dimma -- in a recent phone call -- said DeGrace's signing ushered in a new era for the team.
"... I knew Kyle from playing in Toronto and I said [to Calvert and Mills] that 'I am going to sign DeGrace.'
"And Calvert was like 'you are not going to sign anybody from Toronto, Jack [Dominico] is not going to let you' and I said 'no, no, I am going to sign DeGrace.'
"It was important to me that my first move was to get someone with Kyle's background and Kyle's demeanour. Not to say where it was with the previous people but we just needed a guy like Kyle."
And sign Kyle he did.
And sign another Toronto Maple Leaf -- Jon Waltenbury -- he did.
Those two signings began what would end up being a mass exodus of Maple Leafs players taking their talents up the 400 highway.
"Playing with Jack, I know how he is. He can be hard at times and hard on his players at times. That was way back when -- I am sure he's different now -- but we always laughed because Jack would always say when I was GM that 'this is the Toronto Maple Leafs North. You guys should just be called the North Maple Leafs.'
"He would never pick up a phone call when I phoned him and he would call me back later, so we just always laughed.
"For me, it wasn't a matter of how many guys I can bring from Toronto, it was more that I thought there were guys who I thought weren't getting the playing time they kind of deserved in Toronto and needed a change.
"The perfect example I have for you is a guy like Brandon Dhue. Brandon Dhue was a guy who was never really utilized in Toronto and I don't want to speak for him but I'm not sure how much fun he was having there.
"...I told Dhue on a New Year's phone call in 2012 -- I was wishing him a Happy New Year's -- 'welcome to the Baycats.'
"He had no idea but he was another guy where when we sat down we just wanted to bring in character guys and guys who were just team guys. Not ego guys, just guys that wanted to do anything for his team, and Dhue was one of those guys.
"He was a perfect fit in Barrie. He was one of those guys who could do everything -- playing any position you wanted him to -- and just grind it out every day."
The most notable move by Dimma, however, was not signing DeGrace, Waltenbury, or Dhue.
It was the trade he made with the Maple Leafs in 2013 that will go down as the greatest trade in IBL history.
The trade, of course, was the trade that sent Waltenbury to the Maple Leafs for Brett Lawson and Jordan Castaldo.
But the trade didn't stop there, as Dimma explained.
"It was the greatest trade in IBL history," laughed Dimma. "There hasn't been and there won't be another trade like that ever again.
"And I'll tell you why it was the best trade in IBL history and this is something I giggle about with Calvert to this day.
"...So, we had Waltebury and he was doing well for us. I think he was leading the league in most offensive categories at the time of the trade.
"He was frustrated though. He was trying to settle down and get his life in order by getting a job and all that so I think it was just getting to the point where he didn't want to play in Barrie. He wanted to play closer to Toronto.
"So we had talked about it and he said 'I think it would be easier if I went to Toronto,' and I said 'absolutely,' all though I was a little hesitant at first. But I was always the type of general manager who thought if someone doesn't want to play in Barrie, I'm not keeping them in Barrie. It's not fair. It's a working man's league. If they don't want to play here, we don't want them here. We don't want to keep someone playing here who doesn't want to be here. It's not fair to you and it's not fair to your family if you have one. You have to live your life.
"So, I phoned Jack. It took a while -- a few phone calls -- for Jack to actually pick up the phone instead of hanging up on me like he always does but he eventually picked up giggling.
"And I said, 'well, it's going to be a situation where I need this to be a two-for-one or at least a one-for-one because at the time -- as I said -- he was leading the league in almost all offensive categories. He was on fire.
"So I called Jack and said 'Waltenbury wants to come to Toronto.' He said 'okay, great. Give him his release," recalled Dimma, laughing.
"I said 'well, no, I need something from you. And he said 'oh, what do you want?' And I said 'well I want Castaldo. I want the same type of player -- a lefty for a lefty and first basemen for a first baseman.'
"Jack said 'no way, I'm not going to do it.' But here's the thing. At the time I don't think Castaldo was really happy in Toronto. I don't want to speak for him but I don't think he was all that happy.
"So Jack actually ended up calling me back and said 'so, you want Castaldo.' I said 'yeah, I really need Castaldo. And actually, I really need an arm too. You are getting Waltenbury, Jack. He is going to be playing in Christie Pits. Your right field is probably 200-feet. He's going to hit 30 home runs this year for you.
'So I want Lawson too.' And he said 'why do you want Lawson,' and I said 'well Jack, I need a pitcher and are you actually going to use Lawson?'
"The conversation ended up going back-and-forth and back-and-forth until Jack hung up on me.
"So, I gave him a couple of days and he phones back and says 'alright, you're going to get Castaldo and Lawson.'
"And that was pretty much it, but here's the funny part and this is why it was one of the greatest trades in IBL history. Probably the best trade.
"At the time, I knew Lawson had a buddy that was coming off pro ball. And Lawson had been talking to this guy -- a pitcher -- and he was trying to get him to come and play in the IBL.
"And lone and behold, once Lawson came to Barrie, we got introduced to Adam Rowe.
"So, this entire time, I knew in the background that Lawson had this guy named Adam Rowe and he was trying to get him to Toronto but no one else knew that. I think maybe he brought it up to Jack a little bit but I don't know.
"But I knew if we got Lawson, Adam Rowe wasn't too far behind.
"...To this day, I still laugh with Calvert because if we didn't get Lawson, we wouldn't have gotten Adam Rowe at all. He would have been probably playing in Toronto and we all know what Adam Rowe did for us in the few years that he was here.
"Jack will likely get mad if he reads this -- knowing that I knew everything -- but yeah," laughed Dimma.
"It was the same year I made another trade -- this one with Guelph -- where I traded Andrew Gangadeen to Guelph for Chris Nagorski.
"I knew Nagorski because I coached him a little bit when I was with the Ontario Blue Jays and we all know how that worked out for the staff in Barrie.
"I think it was the last season where trades were actually allowed in the IBL and I think maybe I was a cause of that no-trade rule."
It wasn't just signing and trading for IBL players that made the Baycats what they were under Dimma.
His connections to the Ontario Blue Jays were critical and the franchise ended up bring in the likes of Brodie Harkness, Darren Shred, Ryan Rijo, and Conner Morro -- among others -- as a result.
"...I think the connection was critical because as you said it was kind of like a pipeline for the team with a lot of the college guys coming in and this is a league that relies on college guys so we needed that.
"...And when you have certain connections to certain organizations as I did with the Ontario Blue Jays, it really helps out because you coach these kids for so long and then you see them going off to college and then you could call them up and say 'hey, do you want to play here in the summer to keep your skills up?'
"It was a huge asset to have those type of connections and during my time we had guys like Kyle and Dhue who coached there as well, so that was a big help because it builds relationships with those younger guys and it made those sells a lot easier because let's face it, at the time, Barrie wasn't exactly everyone's favourite spot to go to.
"It was a grind to drive up there, so the biggest thing for me was to figure out how to get guys to Barrie.
"How do you sell driving up the 400 to come to play on a weeknight when you have to face cottage traffic? For the first little bit, it was a tough sell."
But, sell players he did and it finally resulted in a championship in 2014.
Dimma was not the general manager in 2014 -- he resigned in the new year of 2014 to spend more time with his growing family -- but everything Dimma did as GM from 2012 to 2013 put the Baycats in an excellent position to win in 2014 -- and beyond.
Mills said the Baycats wouldn't have won anything if it wasn't for Dimma.
"Without Doug Dimma we wouldn't have been in the position to win a championship, let alone six. He set the table.
"Him doing what he did for us and Angus [Roy] taking it from there, that was the winning combination for us.
"I can't say enough about Doug. Even when he was here as a player he was was just a fine person and a great person to have apart of our organization.
"He set the foundation for us. Surely we don't win our six championships without the work that he did."
Calvert -- who was close with Dimma during his tenure with the Baycats -- also spoke glowingly of Dimma.
"After I was no longer GM there were a couple of guys after me who didn't have the wherewithal to deal with the clubhouse.
"We had a weak-link at the general manager position and if that offends anybody then so be it.
"That is why we brought in Dimms. He knew people. I had contacts when I was GM but they never touched the kind of contacts that Dimma had.
"And I mean, that Castaldo trade, that was something," chuckled Calvert.
Dimma concluded by saying winning in London in 2014 was a special, special night. more so after losing to Brantford in 2013.
"For me as a GM, at the time, everything was about beating Brantford.
"If [then Red Sox's general manager Mike] Bonanno made a move I tried to counteract with a move.
"It wasn't any other team in the league. If Brantford made a move I was making a move.
"It was tough. I didn't think it was over until the final out and that is because those guys knew how to win. Not that we didn't -- we had an experienced team -- but not a lot of experience in playoff mode, except for the guys who won in 2005, which I think was just Spatty [Ryan Spataro], Biss [Brad Bissell], and Angus.
"We also had DeGrace who won in 2007 with Toronto but we didn't have the maturity to win in the finals.
"I just kept thinking 'this isn't over, this isn't over,' especially when you look across the field and see those guys with all their championships.
"I think that loss moulded the Baycats into what they became over the last few years.
"And that celebration in London man, I think they still smell champagne in the visitors' locker room because I'll tell you that was pretty crazy," joked Dimma.
"Beating London and doing it how we did it, it was one of those things where for some reason Barrie and London always had this heated rivalry.
"When you play sports there are just some teams that you don't like -- some teams you just like beating a little bit more -- and London and Toronto have always been that for the Baycats, especially back then I know they really didn't like London.
"It was fantastic to see and that celebration was all night long. It was really all night long.
"It started in London's clubhouse and it ended at Spataro's on the next Monday morning."
Up next week in our "Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future," I chat with Castaldo on the 2014 championship win.
To read and watch our entire series, click here.
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Photo: Brian Backland/Brian Backland Photography