Can anyone beat Sean Cleary?

May 31, 2015

St. John's, NL


ORIGINAL STORY by Kenn Oliver, St. John's Telegram

Bulldogs’ all-world ace the man to beat after remarkable 2014 campaign

As the St. John’s Senior Men’s Softball League opens its 58th season Sunday at Lions Park, the question most hitters in the league will be asking themselves is this: how do we beat Sean Cleary?

Sean Cleary, shown here pitching for Canada in international play, has emerged as one of this country’s top fastpitch softball chuckers.


The Kelly’s Pub Molson Bulldogs’ ace was a force in 2014, earning MVP honours in the league’s regular season and playoffs, as well as the provincial championship. In regular season league play, the Harbour Main native posted a 9-3 record, a staggering 150 strikeouts in 76 innings or work, and surrendered just 14 walks. In tournaments and playoffs, Cleary was even better, going 8-2 and fanning 158 batters.

He also played a key role in 3Cheers Pub Bud Light’s third straight national title, going 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA and 33 strikeouts over 17 innings in the playoff round, again, earning MVP honours.

Cleary was just as dominant pitching for Canada at the Pan American Championships and with the Toronto Gators on the International Softball Congress circuit.

For all his accomplishments, he was chosen as Softball Newfoundland and Labrador senior male player of the year, St. John’s Molson Coors athlete of the year, and Sport NL’s senior male athlete of the year, becoming just the third softballer to ever claim all three honours (the others were Colin Abbott in 1989 and Robbie O’Brien in 1992).

“If we can get any kind of run support with the numbers he put up last year and caliber of pitcher he is, we’re in a good position to do well again this year and hopefully repeat as both league and provincial champs,” said the Bulldogs’ Stephen Strapp.

Looking to keep the Bulldogs from dual three-peat are The Bigs and The Hitmen, who will kick things off at 1 p.m., and Bud Light (formerly 3Cheers Pub Bud Light) and the Kelly’s Pub Junior Canadians, who will play at 3 p.m.

The St. John’s Day Tournament is set for the weekend of June 19-21, while provincials are set for Sept. 4-6.

The intermediate league starts its regular season Monday with four games on tap at Lions Park. Game on Gear faces the C.B.C. Junior Canadians at 6 p.m., while Rob Roy takes on Lafontaine Club Molson at 8 p.m. The other teams in the circuit include Bay Roberts Coors Light, C.B.S. Storm, PCI Roebothan McKay Marshall, MJR Masonry.

It’s not a stretch to suggest Cleary has established himself as one of the best, if not the best, hurler in Canada. What makes him so dominant, Strapp and others suggest, is his command and his consistency.

“When he’s rolling really well, he’s pinpoint on either corner, he can backdoor you with his changeup, and he has an unbelieveable rise ball,” says Strapp.

“When he’s on, few are going to get a hit off him. A lot of the top notch hitters have a lot of difficulty with Sean when he’s on.”

And he usually is.

“We know 99 out of 100 times we’re getting the best out of Sean.”

Bud Light’s Jason Hill, another of the league’s elite pitchers along with Blair Ezekiel and Robbie Greene, has been playing against Cleary since their first forays into minor softball, and he relishes the opportunities to go head-to-head.

“I’ve had a rivalry with C.B.C. my whole life ... we’ve been battling since we were knee high to a grasshoppper. He’s a good buddy of mine, too, so any chance I get to hit a dinger or a base hit off him, I’m sure to rub it in,” says Hill, who considers Hill one of the best pitchers in the world.

Hill says while Cleary might not be the hardest thrower, it’s his ball movement and accuracy that makes him so dangerous.

“At this stage in the game, when you’re facing the best in the world, it doesn’t matter how hard your throw. You’ve got to be able to make it move and put it on the corners.”

Teams will look to capitalize on opportunities to collect wins against the Bulldogs when Cleary is not available, which will be for significant portions of the summer. As a core player with Team Canada, he’ll attend the International Softball Federation XIV Men’s World Championships in Saskatoon June 26-July 5, and the Pan American Games in Toronto from July 12-18.

The Bulldogs could also potentially be without the No. 2 arm in their stable, Blair Ezekiel, for portions of the season. He, along with his brother, Brad, Ryan Boland of the Hitmen, and Hill are also competing for a spot on the national team at the final selection camp this weekend in Kitchener, Ont. (the final roster will be announced at a press conference in Saskatoon this week).

Those five and at least another half dozen players from the league will miss time participating in ISC play in late July and early August. And more still will be in and out of their teams’ lineup due to rotating shift work off the island.

“The big problem the last couple of years has been getting them all out there,” Hitmen coach Mark Dwyer explains. “If we can get all our best players in the lineup when tournaments are on the line, I think we’ve got a chance at all three of them.”



Returning: Rylee Costello, Johnny Doyle, Craig Edmunds, Geoff Evely, Justin Hand, Stephen Jesso, Shane Kelly, Donny King, Joey Maynard, Keith Maynard, Shayne McGrath, Mike Noftall, Mark Power, Felix Squires, Aaron Whelan, Bryan Clarke

New players: Shane O’Brien (acquired in trade with Bulldogs), Jeff Conway (drafted first overall)

Coach: Hughie Clarke


Returning: Trevor Carew, Adam Doyle, Kyle Ezekiel, Jason Hill, Ryan Kirk, Paul Maher, Doug Marshall, Andrew McCarthy, Steven Pittman, Mitch Stack, Jamie Tobin, Colin Walsh

Not returning: Lee Cose (playing strictly intermediate this season), Sheldon Keefe (not able to commit), Liam O’Keefe (retired), Darrell Walsh (retired), Kris Abbott (moved to Halifax)

New: Eddie Heffernan (drafted second overall), Morgan Murphy (import player from Prince Edward Island), Tyler Macdonald.

Coach: Jeff Kirk


Returning: Shane Boland, Gary Bruce, Wayne Bruce, Sean Cleary, Daniel Dalton, Stephen Dobbin, Blair Ezekiel, Jon Kelly, Mark Lewis, Liam Myers, Scott Myers, Stephen Strapp, Andrew Wade.

Not returning: Shane O’Brien (traded to The Bigs for Tyrone Fewer and 1st round draft pick in 2016)

New: Tyrone Fewer (acquired in trade with The Bigs), Lucas Conway (drafted 4th overall)

Coaches: Ron Ezekiel, Jim Dunphy


Returning: Peter Kavanagh, Phillip Corbett, Ryan King, Joel Whelan, Mike King, Riley Kenny, Brandon Pomroy

New: Daniel Byrne, Ryan Kenny, Eric Healey, Patrick O’Leary, Jordan Noftall, Nick Pittman, Brady Lewis

Not returning: Colby Murphy, Issac Power,

Coaches: Paul King, Stephen Strapp (assistant)


Returning: Ryan Boland, Sean Cadigan, Justin Gill, Kenny Gosse, Robbie Greene, Fergus Griffiths, Sheldon Keough, Danny Mullins, Chris Murphy, Jamie Peddle, Alex Power, Brian Roche, Brad Ezekiel.

Not returning: Ward Gosse (retired), Leon Cantwell

New: Troy Leonard (drafted 3rd overall)

Coach: Mark (Stumpy) Dwyer