When John Ansara saw a need, he stepped up to fill the gap.
Earlier this spring, the Kentville senior Wildcats went public to say that unless someone stepped up and agreed to serve as head coach, they might not be able to field a team in 2019.
Enter Ansara, whose day job is recreation director for the Village of New Minas. He agreed to take over as the Wildcats’ head coach so the NSSBL season could be salvaged.
But to him, it’s more than that.
“They didn’t have a coach and were looking at not fielding a team this summer. I saw that as a waste of potential," he says.
"There’s way too good a situation here for that to happen.”
Ansara, 39, played for the senior Wildcats from 2014 through 2017. He's excited by both the immediate and long-term future of baseball in the Kentville area.
“The senior team has a solid core of players, with more on the horizon, but I’m a lot more excited about what the future holds,” he says. “There’s a strong midget program, a strong junior program, but it all starts from the ground up, and a strong senior Wildcats’ program can serve as the flagship.”
Passion for recreation
A native of Etobicoke, Ontario (now part of Toronto), Ansara came to the Valley in 2009.
“I had dropped out of university when our son (now 14) was born, and I decided to return to school," he said.
“We moved in with my wife’s parents so I could finish school at Acadia."
He graduated in 2011 with a degree in kinesiology and began working for the Village of New Minas, running after-school programs for kids. Right after graduation, he was hired as a summer recreation intern. Then the recreation director left the position and he was hired.
Now parents of a nine-year-old daughter as well, the family is quite content in the Valley.
“It wasn’t ever in our plans to stay here, but we looked around, liked the area, the amenities, the pace of life," he said. "We were able to buy a nice house two minutes from work. We decided to give it five years, and 10 years later, here we are with no plans to leave anytime soon.”
Ansara has played baseball as long as he can remember.
"I used to spend hours at it as a youngster, and played my whole life growing up," he says.
Baseball was another thing that took a back seat when he started his family, but about five years ago, he got back into the game with the senior Wildcats.
He hadn’t played baseball regularly for about a decade, but the team was short on players. The Wildcats were holding indoor pre-season training sessions at the Louis Millett Centre, and then-head coach Ian Mosher asked Ansara if he would consider coming out to practice.
He ended up playing for the Wildcats for the next four seasons.
“I owe a great debt of gratitude to Ian for getting me re-involved with baseball. People like Ian and Jason Pleasant Sampson have been really helpful and supportive.”
In 2014, baseball in the Valley was at a relatively low ebb, but Ansara has watched it rejuvenate.
“The baseball community in this area is developing a really good baseball culture," he says.
Mosher is back involved, helping out with the midget program and developing younger players. Trevor Croteau is running Kentville minor baseball, and Acadia has a revived baseball program. Lyle Boylen and others, he says, have done a great job with the juniors over the past several seasons.
In fact, the junior Wildcats currently have “a talented group of 21-year-olds in their final season," he says.
"I’ll be counting on a lot of them to help (the senior team) out this season.”
Building that base is a priority, he adds.
“I’ve come to realize that while wins and losses are definitely important, it’s just as important to develop a strong baseball culture, and continuity that we can build into the future," Ansara said.
“I’d like younger kids to be able to look at a locally-developed player like a Dryden Schofield or a Bradley Fuller and say, ‘someday, that could be me’.”
He sees helping with this evolution as a major part of his role.
“I want to do a good job. I see myself as a facilitator, providing the players with the tools they need to be successful.”
But, he acknowledges, this isn't a role he ever envisioned for himself.
“Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be doing this," he said. "Last year, I ‘retired’ from baseball. Being able to get re-involved in the game for four or five years was enough. I never realized there might be another chapter for me.”
He appreciates the opportunity he's been given, though, and is looking forward to the experience.
“I can’t say enough about the Wildcats’ organization for having faith in me, and the players for welcoming me.," he said.
"It’s natural to be a little anxious, but I look at all the positives. This is a great group of guys who all want to win. I’m excited. It’ll be a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
The season will get underway later this month.