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.
There aren’t many hats Les McTavish hasn’t warn in Southern Alberta baseball. From a young athlete to playing at Prairie Baseball Academy over to Washington State University to some time with the Oyen Pronghorns and Lethbridge Bulls before heading to coaching with the American Legion Lethbridge Elks, the PBA, Team Alberta, the Bulls, the Canadian Junior National Team and now with the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball. He’s also served with the Alberta Amateur Baseball Council and has been an area scout for the Seattle Mariners. Clearly, no shortage of things to talk about when it comes to his journey, but also about how the game has changed in the last 20+ years and about life coming full circle as he watches his kids play sports.
Calgary’s Geoff Freeborn has made a name for himself in a variety of ways, breaking onto the scene with the hometown Vipers between 2006 and 2008, including an All Star calibre season. He went onto spend years traveling around the world, then coaching, leading to a profile we wrote on him a little more than three years ago. We hadn’t had him on the podcast yet, so this seemed like a great opportunity to catch up on his coaching, his golf game and on SideArm Nation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many bats on shoulders around this province, as athletes, coaches and everyone else involved the game are relegated to their garages and basements, waiting to maybe get to train again in familiar facilities. Add in this blast from Old Man Winter and those quarters have been tight lately. So it was welcome news to see some training resume on Monday and many were chomping at the bit to get going. Among them was Tyler Hollick. The Okotoks Dawgs and Dawgs Academy general manager has had to oversee a very quiet Seaman Stadium area over the last several months, but hopefully that can come to an end this spring. So last week, we connected with Hollick for an in-depth chat about growing up in the Dawgs system, moving onto Chandler-Gilbert Community College and then the San Francisco Giants organization before ultimately returning home.
The Florida Gators are one of the top-ranked NCAA teams heading into the spring and one of the people leading the charge from the bench is from our province. Lars Davis grew up in Grande Prairie, went to Prairie Baseball Academy and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2003 and the Colorado Rockies in 2007. That led to an eight-year professional career before he landed with the Gators as their volunteer coach, where he's been since 2014. In this episode, we chat with Davis about his baseball journey, what it means to him to have stayed involved in the game as long as he has, and getting to play with some future stars like new St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Before we took our winter break, the college commitment announcements were coming in fast and furious. We spent a little time getting to know some of those young athletes and we thought we’d continue that heading into the new year. On this week's edition of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, we introduce you to Connor Crowson and Ryan Ludwig. Crowson is an Okotoks product who came up through the hometown Dawgs Academy program, starting with being part of the original peewee program and has excelled in appearances at nationals and the T12 tournament in Toronto. Ludwig is an Edmonton native who came up through the Confederation Park Little League program and has been working with former MLBer Mike Johnson and others with Northern Alberta Xtreme. Crowson is heading to Bossier Parish Community College while Ludwig has committed to Fairleigh Dickinson University.
It might have been a small sample size, but 2020 was shaping up to be quite a year for many of Alberta’s baseball players who were taking the field in American colleges. Teams were lucky to get in 20 games before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but they were being treated to some fantastic outings by athletes from our province. That led to us combing through the stats reports to come up with our 2020 Alberta All-College Team. We chat with Edmonton's Aidan Huggins (Illinois State) and Airdrie's Evan Wilde (Cloud County) in the latest installment of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, as both were selected for our team.