Rode

Simpson impresses at college and with Sylvan Lake Gulls

Whenever Sylvan Lake Gulls shortstop Cleary Simpson finds himself struggling a bit, whether its at the plate or on defence, he knows exactly who to contact — his sister Paige.

Paige is the starting shortstop for the provincial champion Red Deer Rage U19A softball team and one of the premier players in the province.

“We do like to bounce ideas off each other,” he said.

“She’s learned a lot from Jason (Chatwood at the St. Joseph High School Ball Academy) and playing in big games so when I am struggling a bit it’s good to contact her and ask questions.”

Paige does the same with Cleary, who also attended St. Joe’s in Grade 12 and spent last season with Colby Community College in Kansas.

“I’ve learned a lot over the past year about the mental side of the sport … it plays a big factor, something which wasn’t there in high school. So that’s something I can pass on.”

Paige is heading into Grade 12 and has committed to Boise State University for the 2022-23 season.

Cleary’s time at Colby also saw him begin to fill out. He left Red Deer at five-foot-10 and 160 pounds and is now listed at six-foot and 170.

“That’s still one thing I need to continue to work on … just spend time in the weight room, and maybe eat a bit more,” he said with a laugh.

One thing the talented Elnora native hasn’t changed is his batting style. He was always a contact, line-drive hitter, something that’s left him in good stead with both coaching staffs at Colby and the Gulls.

“I’m not about to start trying to lift the ball out of the park,” he said. “I may hit a few more home runs but also strikeout or flyout more which doesn’t help the team. My coaches have talked to me about that and to continue to do what I do.”

He hit a solid .338 during his first season at Colby with three home runs, eight doubles and 23 walks. He drove in 24 runs and scored 38 with a very solid .929 OPS (on base plus slugging). His on base percentage was .469.

Cleary played in 44 games, but alternated early in the season.

“I knew going in I had to earn a spot and earn my playing time. That was only fair. It was a matter of if you were playing good you played and if not you didn’t.

“I did have a good year and now I hope to build on that.”

One other thing Cleary didn’t know heading into the season was if they’d even be playing because of COVID-19.

“We didn’t have a fall program, but had a full spring schedule. Some places didn’t but it worked out for us.”

In his first season with the Gulls he’s started at shortstop since Day 1 and is second on the team with a .303 average with 21 walks, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases. His OPS is .911 with a .505 slugging average.

His play has impressed but there was a time prior to the Western Canada Baseball League season when Cleary wasn’t sure he’d be playing full time.

“Originally I was just going to be an affiliated player and not play every day,” he explained. “But when they changed to an All-Canadian league Chatty (head coach Jason Chatwood) asked if I’d play full time and it’s worked out great. I hope to continue on for the next three or four years.”

Players can play in the league as long as they’re attending college or university.

As for playing shortstop, Cleary didn’t expect anything when he came to camp.

“At Colby I played mainly second base until the last two weekends when I moved to shortstop. Here, I wasn’t sure. We have a lot of talent in the infield and it’s a lot of fun playing with all the guys.”

In fact Cleary knew a number of the players, having played with them at Colby.

“We have six guys from Colby which made it comfortable coming in,” he said.

Simpson looks to next season to impress four-year schools.

“This next year is big for me. I know the experience I have will help but I need to stay healthy and have another strong year. Send out some videos and hope to talk with a few schools.”

Cleary looks back at his time at St. Joe’s as a perfect stepping stone.

“That was a big change in my career,” he said. “Coming out of midget I was a good player, but not a star and the year at St. Joe’s helped me find out where I was as a player. It prepared me for college.”

Cleary impressed Colby’s coach during a showcase event at St. Joe’s.

“On the second day (of the event) their coach spent a good deal of time with me and after offered me a position. I didn‘t accept it right away, but still felt that’s where I wanted to go. They have a great staff and program. Everyone who has gone there has good things to say about it.”

Cleary is on scholarship, which helps considerably.

He also has a part time job working nine to noon at the Bowden Penitentiary.

“Playing with the Gulls is tough to work full time, so this worked out perfectly for me and puts some money in my pocket.”

The Gulls finish their season in the middle of the month, then playoffs, which Cleary will stay around until the end of.

“The league is running a bit late this year, but my college coaches told me I can stay here until we’re done and be a bit late for the start of school. But this is a good league and the experience will only help.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca

Baseball