Love of the Game
By IAN WILSON & JOE McFARLAND
It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.
Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) coaches, players and others involved in the game remind us all the time about their love of the sport.
If you want proof, you just have to listen to the end of each episode of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, when guests are asked this question: “What does the game of baseball mean to you?”
The responses often include words like “love” and “passion.”
Here’s a look at some valentines offered up by WCBL players and coaches – past and present – when they were asked about the game they love most:
“To me, it means that you get to be a kid, I guess. We’re all growing up and soon we’re going to have real jobs and real lives, a lot of us. It’s a little bit of a getaway for all of us to feel like a kid still and all that stress of real life isn’t there when you’re 20,” infielder/outfielder Logan Grant, who has suited up for the Sylvan Lake Gulls and Swift Current 57s.
“It’s really just been my life … it’s such a big part of my life. I don’t know what I would do without it. Even if I could get a good job that I wanted, I think I’d still rather be playing baseball …. I’ve been so many places. I’ve been able to meet so many new people and make so many new friends. It’s just such a cool sport because you become a family with these teams and the people around you. It’s really cool,” 2019 WCBL Rookie of the Year and Playoff MVP Tristan Peters, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and is now a prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
“It means so much – it’s kind of an escape from real life, you just get to play a game for a living basically. I love it,” infielder Cleary Simpson of the Sylvan Lake Gulls.
“You really feel the brotherhoods and friendships for life. It’s my life. Between all the plane rides and being away from home, it’s been tough at times, it’s good at times and it’s really bad at times. You’ve just got to ride with the good times, get through the tough ones and enjoy the ride. You only get to play this game for so long, so enjoy every little bit of it. I’m getting older now and you can kind of seeing the door closing a bit but just enjoy it and have fun,” Cole Tucker of the Okotoks Dawgs.
“I love the game. I always have, since I started playing in tee ball. It’s not only something I enjoy, it’s fun. It’s also turned into part of my identity. It’s just something that I see as something that I get to do every day. I put myself in an opportunity where I get to do what I love to create opportunities for more things that I love. Whether it’s good or bad, I’m enjoying it regardless. So, to me the game of baseball works as the best part of my day, sometimes it can even be my therapy for the day, it keeps me grounded. I love it. I love everything about it, so whether I’m playing for a long time or I’ve got to hang ’em up at some point, I want to stay in the game, maybe coach, maybe have something to do in the game, but it’s definitely got a special place in my heart,” Damiano Palmegiani, prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and former Lethbridge Bulls infielder.
“The game of baseball … it’s kind of what we dedicated our lives to after the age of 12 or 13 when I started to realize this is kind of what I want to do. Obviously, family and God come before anything else, but baseball is right there next to those two. Everything I do, everything I live for has been for this game. I’ve had a very, very supportive family throughout all this. It’s not easy to keep up with this kind of stuff. But at the end of the day it’s just been an opportunity for me to get a better life. I’m better off than I would’ve been in Venezuela and the opportunity to go to school, get an education and all this stuff,” Alejandro Cazorla, outfielder with the Okotoks Dawgs.
“It means everything. Baseball, I guess it’s my life, but it’s definitely changed the person that I am today. If I didn’t have baseball, my life would be completely different. I owe everything to it,” former Lethbridge Bulls pitcher Bryce Oriold-Fraser, who was the 2021 WCBL Playoff MVP.
“It’s a huge aspect of who I became. You don’t want it to be the only aspect of your life, you want to be a well-rounded person, but baseball has been a great opportunity for me to compete, to build up that type of athlete I wanted to be and it was a great opportunity to me. Baseball has been a great sport and I still think it’s a great sport. Those that are lucky to be around it long enough, we’re always very appreciative of that opportunity,” Greg Morrison, owner of Medicine Hat Mavericks and a former pro baseball player.
“That’s a pretty good question. It’s basically my life. I was thinking about it a few weeks ago, like what would my life be like without baseball? I have a few little things that I could say but it’s basically sponsored my whole life. I probably wouldn’t have went to school in the U.S. if it wasn’t for baseball. I wouldn’t have the crazy amount of friends that I would never have met without baseball. You just have to take a step back once and a while and say thanks for it because it’s actually incredible,” Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Gavin Logan, a former catcher with the Okotoks Dawgs.
“The game of baseball is my life … my family is baseball. My wife loves it, my daughter loves it, my boys love it, my parents love it, my brother loves it. Baseball is the McTavish family and it’s helped me travel the world, it’s helped my kids travel the world, and my wife travel the world. It’s something that is a huge, huge part of our family and I hope it is for my entire life. It’s something that brings joy to my voice every day and makes me want to get up and go to work and hopefully help 22 student athletes fulfill their dream and, most importantly, hopefully we provide them some direction to figure out what they love in life. Baseball is something that I love dearly and it’s given me a lot and hopefully I’m able to give a lot back, too,” Vauxhall Academy head coach Les McTavish, who played and coached for the Lethbridge Bulls.
“I think it’s everything. It’s given me an outlet to meet some great teammates and coaches. Whether I’m stressed out or just need somewhere to go I can always pick up my glove and go play catch with somebody. It’s just a great outlet for me and it’s brought me to where I am today,” San Diego Padres prospect Garrett Hawkins, who pitched for the Swift Current 57s.
“Everything. It’s been around my entire life and I’m trying as hard as I can to make it a reality, make my dream come true. Baseball will be with me until I die. I’ll be watching it forever,” Okotoks Dawgs closer Matt Wilkinson.
“It’s been my life since I was a little kid, as long as I can remember. It’s just somewhere I can go and I just don’t think about anything else in the world except for baseball. I just get to play and have fun and who knows where it will take you? It means the world to me. It’s tough to put into words what baseball means to me but it’s definitely been a fun and enjoyable ride and I can’t wait to see where it takes me,” Lethbridge Bulls slugger Carlin Dick.
“It means everything. It’s consumed most of my life and I wouldn’t be where I was today with work ethic, school, anywhere without it. I owe it everything, really,” Conor Bronson, former outfielder with the Edmonton Prospects.
“I think at times growing up it takes over. Everything is so focused on you’re wanting to go here or you’re wanting to accomplish this or you’re wanting to make this team and you want to make that team. I think the game of baseball has done a tonne for me personally, like meeting my wife and doing all that, so it means the world to me but I think as I get older it’s something I get to do. I get to work and it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who I am, if that makes sense. As I’ve gotten older, it’s hard to put into words what the game means to me because it means so much on so many different levels, whether that’s friendships or people you look up to or admire or maybe younger kids that you get to coach and mentor, but it is a game and I think that at times I need to remind myself it is a game, and it’s supposed to be fun and you’re supposed to enjoy it,” Jason Chatwood, head coach of the Sylvan Lake Gulls.
“It’s life. I love it, can’t give it up. It’s everything,” infielder Dax Wandler of the Brooks Bombers.
“It’s just been fun, that’s how I can describe it. It’s always been somewhere I could go after school to practice and hang out with all my friends. That’s where I’ve met all of my best friends pretty much … couldn’t ask for anything more out of it,” Sean Dunn, pitcher with the Fort McMurray Giants.
“I wouldn’t trade an experience I’ve had, you know rooming with every guy that I’ve roomed with, dinners with teammates, the hours of practices, I wouldn’t trade any of that. At the end of the day, it’s made me who I am and it’s just such a special thing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” 2022 WCBL Playoff MVP Brendan Luther.
“It’s what’s been surrounding my life for the last six to eight years. It’s given me everything that I’ve needed, great friendships, great experiences, great development … I’m so grateful for it. These opportunities and these experiences are something that I’ll never forget and I’ll really cherish for the rest of my life,” Nathan Stark, Medicine Hat Mavericks pitcher.
“It means everything. It’s led me to a higher education. It’s led me to a higher level on the field. My family is also a part of it, too. They’re at every game they can be at, so that means everything to me,” Noah Or, former catcher with the Lethbridge Bulls.
“It’s a fraternity. It’s family, it’s brotherhood, that kind of thing. I’ve met so many amazing people from the time I was five years old when I started playing tee ball, or even younger, when I was at my brother’s games, until now. It’s been so many relationships, so many good friends, a lot of them that I’m still in touch with and that I still talk with … that’s what it’s all about. For every in-game memory that you have, or practice that you have, there’s half a dozen, if not more, off-field memories from guys that you shared time with or lived with … that goes way further than any baseball accomplishment,” Cam Williams, head coach of the Weyburn Beavers.
“It really does mean the world. So many different experiences and meeting so many great people and made some great friendships. A lot of memories … and there’s so much adversity in baseball, it really teaches you a lot about life,” Tucker Zdunich, who has played for the Okotoks Dawgs and Moose Jaw Miller Express.
“I don’t think I could pinpoint one meaning of the game to me. It means absolutely everything to me. It’s given me some of my best friends, it’s given me some of the best life lessons, it’s given me some of the best coaching experiences and things that I will carry with me when I’m wanting to make an impact on the next generation,” Noah Geekie, two-way player for the Okotoks Dawgs.
“Baseball is my whole life … it’s responsible for giving me the best relationships of my entire life – friendships, relationships with coaches, just everything. Baseball has given me an outlet and an opportunity to pursue something that I’m passionate about. The biggest thing for me is that it’s provided me with relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime. I’ll never be able to repay the game for that but I’m eternally grateful for that. Hopefully, it continues to be a part of my life for a long time,” Ty Penner, former member of the Lethbridge Bulls, now a Philadelphia Phillies prospect.
“It was a passion early on, it turns into a job, but it’s still a game, right? It’s a game that you get to go to every day and see something new. There’s always unexpected things. There’s a grind to it. Baseball is a game that you play every day and you have to be able to pick yourself up and love it to play it every day, but there’s also stuff that you might be able to learn about each day that you play it. There’s a lot of failures in it … it picks you up and it humbles you sometimes, and let’s you know that you’ve got to work hard for everything you want in the game,” Jim Henderson, an original member of the Dawgs, and a former MLB reliever who is now the bullpen coach of the Milwaukee Brewers.