Jaxon, Mia student athletes at UBC
“Like everyone else, our kids are finishing up their university exams, signing up for an online summer course or two, while helping empty our job jar, reading, playing board games and card games and online games, watching movies, improving their culinary skills, stuff like that,” summarized Tom Valcke, from their home in Stratford.
Valcke is the former president and CEO of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys.
“From the baseball/softball side, they are focusing mainly on strength and conditioning daily, staying in touch with their teammates and coaches, and we occupy some of our time with baseball movies, dice baseball, top 10 baseball lists, watching replays of famous baseball games, and refining formulas and understanding of baseball stats,” he says.
Jaxon, 23, began his Junior year of eligibility at the University of British Columbia, where he studies at the Sauder School of Business, winning the NAIA Cascade Conference Player-of-the-Week award for the second week of the 2020 season. When the schedule was brought to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the left fielder was second on the team in batting (.302, 19-for-63 including five doubles and a home run), in the top five of all major offensive categories.
His team sported a 12-8 overall won-loss record, tied for first in the conference. The perennial national champions, Lewis-Clark State College, had hosted the Thunderbirds in a four-game series in Lewiston, Idaho, where the slugfest ended with a split of two victories apiece, although UBC had scored a total of 42 runs, while the Warriors plated 30.
Following a breakout summer in 2019 with the Okotoks Dawgs (Alberta) in the Canadian Major Baseball League, where Valcke tinkered with a .400 batting average for most of the collegiate summer wood bat league season, he signed for 2020 with the Victoria Harborcats, of the Western Baseball League, a higher notch of collegiate summer baseball. However, while the Harborcats have not yet officially cancelled their season, it seems inevitable and Valcke is planning to return home in early May.
“The first few years of university have blown by, for sure, without much time to reflect. It has been a blast to have experienced Canada’s western culture, and to be able to play baseball while attending school,” said Jaxon from Vancouver. “Time management is a huge necessity, but it has given me a perfect balance, and I have really been treated well at UBC. The time at home will allow some lingering injuries to heal, and I plan to stay healthy by running and some weight training,” he added.
Mia, 20, a sophomore, also on scholarship at UBC, plays softball while studying Kinesiology. She was awarded the NAIA Cascade Conference Player-of-the-Week for the opening week of the season, and was batting .324 (12-for-37, including a pair of doubles and a home run) when play stopped. The centre fielder’s team had battled to a 3-10 win-loss record, ending with a pair of nail-biting one-run losses at Eastern Oregon University in Le Grande, Oregon.
Valcke became the second female to ever represent Canada in World Cups for both Team Canada’s baseball and softball national teams when she competed in Irvine, California, and helped Canada win bronze for their first-ever medal in the 2019 World Cup of Softball. The USA defeated Japan to win gold.
Canada finished with an 8-2 win-loss record, and Valcke knocked in Canada’s fourth run, and scored their fifth run as they edged Australia by a score of 5-4 to win bronze. Overall, Mia batted .308 (8-for-26, fourth best on the team). In her two previous World Cups, both in baseball, Canada won silver in 2016 in Gijang, South Korea, losing to Japan in the final, and beat the host USA in extra innings to take bronze in 2018 in Vierra, Florida.
The 2020 World Cup of Women’s Baseball was slated for Monterrey, Mexico in September, but was recently cancelled by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC). As well, Baseball Canada announced recently that all 2020 National championships have been cancelled. Valcke was planning to play for Team Ontario in Stonewall, Manitoba in August at the Senior Women’s Nationals.
In addition, she was invited to Tokyo, Japan in early August to coach at the 2020 World Children’s Baseball Fair. She was a participant in the 2010 WCBF, and was about to become the first participant to return in a coaching capacity. However, shortly after the 2020 Olympics slated for Tokyo were postponed until 2021, the 2020 WCBF was also cancelled.
“UBC was the right choice for me, for sure,” Mia declared from her home in Stratford.
“The baseball coaching that I received in St. Marys and Stratford, plus the softball coaching in the Waterloo Ghosts program, put me in the position to represent my country. The training I am receiving with the T-Birds is a perfect way to prepare for these World Cups, but there will be no international competition for anybody this year due to COVID-19.
“Regarding the World Children’s Baseball Fair opportunity, I was so thrilled to be asked, and I was really looking forward to returning to Japan. I will miss the chance to give back to them more than anything, and I hope they’ll think of me again down the road.”
Dad Tom Valcke has also been stopped in the tracks of his 33-year career in baseball as well. Valcke coached Hong Kong’s Olympic team throughout 2018, who had never recorded a win in the history of the Asian Games. In August, 2018, playing in Jakarta, Indonesia, at the 2018 Asian Games, Valcke’s crew won three games and played in the fifth-place game. In the WBSC World Rankings that came out that October, Hong Kong jumped 13 places from No. 41 to No. 28 — an unprecedented rise.
“Hong Kong does not have the resources or passion for baseball to compete with the big boys over there — Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. So our goal was to finish atop of the remaining 20 Asian countries, and we were proud to go as far as we could,” Valcke said.
In 2019, Valcke moved to Zhongshan, China (about 1,000 k.m. south of Wuhan, where COVID-19 is said to have initiated), to serve as the Executive Director of Panda Sport & Culture, for the Chinese Baseball Association. He worked with both the men’s and women’s national teams, trained their coaches, and helped design and build a professional stadium, as well as a 600-bed dormitory and a new office headquarters.
The four local teams in Zhongshan, in the 18U, 15U, 12U and 10U age categories, all won the 2019 Chinese National championships for their respective divisions. Fortunately, he was allowed to return to Canada in mid-November, 2019, with both parties planning a renewal of his contract, scheduled to begin in 2020.
“With the emergence of the pandemic, I won’t be planning a return to China any time soon, but I am considering other global opportunities. But I am enjoying teaching in the community right now, and being home with my family, so we will definitely wait for the world to find its new normal before considering taking on another international endeavour.”
Valcke’s wife of 32 years, Paula, recently acquired her Master’s degree in Mathematics from Western University, and continues to teach at Jeanne Sauve Catholic Elementary School in Stratford, while their oldest child, Alanna, is a year from obtaining her Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Waterloo, where Tom and Paula met many years ago.