It hasn’t been an easy road for Chas Wheatley. The Edmonton-area pitcher was off to a flying start in his baseball career, but then an ulnar nerve injury in the summer of 2018 led to surgery. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s been a long time since he’s been on the field for actual game action. The 6-foot-7 right-hander faced the additional challenge of watching other players his age commit to US colleges and universities, while he had to wait, hoping someone would take a shot at recruiting him. As it turns out, a few schools showed interest, and in December, Wheatley committed to the Division-1 University of Iowa Hawkeyes. It’s been quite the journey, but one he takes in stride. Earlier this week, we chatted with the 19-year-old about the injuries, the comeback, and training with Taylor Burns and the team at Absolute Human Performance.
We open up the episode by paying tribute to long-time and well-respected umpire Mitch Ball, who passed away last weekend after battling COVID-19. Someone who has been on the front lines facing the pandemic on a daily basis is Heidi Northcott. A long-time member of Baseball Alberta and Baseball Canada’s women’s programs as a pitcher, the Rocky Mountain House native is now a Registered Respiratory Therapist at an adult acute care facility in Edmonton. While she learned about pandemics and planning for them while she was going to school at SAIT in Calgary, she didn’t necessarily expect to be thrown into it so quickly after graduating in 2019. We talked about it all a couple of weeks ago during some rare downtime Northcott had and here is that conversation.
As the college baseball season continues stateside, we’ve had the pleasure of chatting with some of the Alberta products who have been turning heads. And we’ll continue that theme this week with Tristan Peters. Originally from Winkler, Manitoba, he moved to Alberta in high school to be part of the Dawgs Academy program. The 6-foot, 180-pound outfielder moved on to star at Chandler-Gilbert before hitting the ground running with SIU. Peters has been hitting near .400 all season. As we record this, Peters is at .355 with two home runs, 35 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases in 39 games. Patience has been his MO all year, drawing 31 walks and getting deep into counts, finding the right pitches to drive. We caught up with the sophomore about the transition to Division 1, being a part of the 2019 Okotoks Dawgs championship team, and why he’s a self-professed nerd.
It has been 40 years since Alberta baseball fans were first introduced to the Pacific Coast League. On April 14, 1981, the Edmonton Trappers took to the field on the road against the Portland Beavers. Eight days later, April 22nd, the Trappers made their debut on home turf, taking on the Tacoma Tigers at Renfrew Park. It was quite the journey in making that happen. Efforts to start a new professional baseball league in Western Canada fell through, as did hopes to bring a Pioneer League team to face Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Edmonton’s Mr. Baseball, Mel Kowalchuk, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and looked into the possibility of Triple-A coming to town. When an expansion team wasn’t feasible, he looked at buying an existing franchise, bringing in Peter Pocklington to help finance a deal for the Ogden Athletics. After some back-and-forth, the deal happened, the team moved and the rest, as they say, is history. We chatted with one of Kowalchuk's friends, Orv Franchuk, and former pitcher Bill Atkinson about that inaugural season.
We first met Shawn Grandmont back in 2018 when he was with the College of Southern Idaho when they went to the JUCO World Series. We wrote up a story to preview the event, and have kept tabs on him ever since. Grandmont moved up to NCAA Division II Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, which is about a two-hour drive from CSI. Over the last three years, the Lethbridge product has continued to get better. He made our 2020 All-College Alberta team by hitting .339 with six homers and 15 RBIs in just 16 games. This year, he’s been even better, hitting .378 with six homers and 34 RBIs in 24 games, helping lead the Knighthawks to a 19-5 record overall and 13-3 in conference play. The Vauxhall Academy grad took some time earlier this week to chat with us about baseball, patience and cookies.
Our guest this week is a man who has dreams of being on an Opening Day roster in the not-too-distant future. Damiano Palmegiani has had quite the journey already in his young baseball career. The native of Surrey, BC came to Alberta as a teenager to take his career to the next level with Vauxhall Academy. He did that in spades, making it to the Tournament-12 in Toronto and then Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team. In 2018, Palmegiani was drafted in the 35th round by his favourite team, the Toronto Blue Jays. He decided to go to school, first heading to Cal State Northridge. But he struggled on the field, hitting .157 in 31 games. The COVID-19 pandemic got in the way of any possible rebound in 2020, leading him to a change of scenery with the College of Southern Nevada for 2021. And he has shined with the Coyotes. As we record this, Palmegiani is hitting .376 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs in 31 games. In this wide-ranging conversation, the 6-1, 195-pound sophomore talks about the long road to Nevada, how he turned things around, his commitment announcement earlier this year to Division-1 Arizona and much more.
As March winds to a close, we thought we’d take another opportunity to recognize International Women’s Day by welcoming another former member of Baseball Alberta’s Women’s team to the podcast. And her story is a fascinating one. Kandi Wyatt played a lot of baseball growing up in Rocky Mountain House. Mainly a catcher, Wyatt made her way up to the provincial team, winning gold at nationals in 2006 and 2014. She was also a part of the Girls Day in Baseball event put on by Baseball Alberta last summer that featured several big names from this province including Kelsey Lalor, Tara Sliwkanich and last week’s podcast guest Paige Wakefield. We reached out to Wyatt earlier this month to chat about her journey in baseball, moving onto boxing, cycling and her attempt to crush a five-pound poutine.
We’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few conversations over the last couple of years around the women’s game in this province and highlighted them on social media back on #InternationalWomensDay. From profiling players like Nicole Luchanski, Kelsey Lalor, Tara Sliwkanich, Ellie Jespersen and Madison Willan to our chat with Baseball Alberta’s Barb Northcott and Chris James about the growth of the game as a whole, it felt like there was a lot of momentum before the pandemic hit.
During the pandemic, Joe was lucky enough to MC the Girls Day in Baseball online sessions featuring panel discussions with past and present players to help keep the spotlight on the game. And that’s where I first chatted with Paige Wakefield. The St. Albert product represented our province at nationals on a few occasions and went to Havana, Cuba for Team Canada’s Spring Training in 2010. She had an illustrious career that spanned 13 years, including a gold medal at nationals in 2006. She later got into coaching and is now in physiotherapy. Earlier this week, we took to Zoom to chat about her journey in baseball, some of her personal highlights and how she uses that experience in her day-to-day life today.
Calgary’s Soren Graversen has been on a tear at William Penn University. As we record this, the Dawgs Academy grad is hitting .395 with five home runs and 20 RBIs. I reached out to him after an insane day at the plate on February 23rd. In a doubleheader against St. Xavier and Harris-Stowe State, he hit three home runs and 8 RBIs. The 6-4, 195-pound junior is back to having fun at the ballpark again. But it hadn’t been the case for a while, after controversy rocked the school he was previously at. At the end of 2018, Indian Hills Community College baseball coaches Cam Walker and Steve Kletke were accused of misconduct, allegedly providing false identities to foreign students so they could work to raise money for the team. The players, like Graversen, weren’t allowed to work under the terms of their student visas, with the players who came forward saying the coaches used physical punishment at practice for violations of team rules. Not only did it lead to ramifications off the field, but it affected players on the field as well. In this candid conversation, Graversen talks about trying to bounce back from it, what he’s learned about himself through it all, and he offers a fascinating answer to our usual question of what the game means to him.
Ty Scott of the Bryan College Lions was named to our 2020 All-Alberta Team back in January, after hitting .417 with four home runs, 15 RBIs and five stolen bases in just 20 games before the pandemic hit. As a senior this year, the Calgary product is back to his old tricks, hitting .415 with three homers, 12 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 16 contests. No hit this year was bigger than a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to cap off a 16-14 win over Lindsey Wilson College back on February 23rd. We talked about the bomb, growing up in Calgary with players like Mike Soroka, heading to Vauxhall Academy of Baseball, and mindset, which is appropriate given he’s a psychology major.