Baseball is America’s pastime, but after taking a good crack in their first season, the Wesmen men have established themselves firmly as Manitoba’s university team.
Taking the field in fall 2011, the province’s first and only university baseball team fought cancellations, American schools and even the Winnipeg Goldeyes in their first season.
“There was quite a bit of fanfare in our first year,” said head coach Mike Krykewich. “Especially our exposure playing the Goldeyes in May— that got a lot of positive response within the community.”
On the field, though, it was a rocky start. The team went 8–16, losing 10 of their first 11 games.
The squad was scheduled to play 39 games against American teams in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and National Junior Colleges Athletic Association (NJCAA).
However, 15 games were cancelled due to rain, snowstorms and travel circumstances.
“Since we weren’t playing conference games yet, when there’s rain or the American teams have a league commitment, the games aren’t rescheduled,” said Krykewich.
The Wesmen hope to become a full competing member of the NAIA in the next few seasons.
Regardless of the roller coaster first season, momentum around the team continues to build.
There are many players, including star catcher Nick Drews from Ericksdale, Man., who don’t want to settle for getting their degree at a small American college in order to play the game they love.
They would rather stay here in Canada.
“Honestly, I wanted the option to play junior hockey. I was coming from playing baseball in the States, and I chose the University of Winnipeg because they offered baseball and I could stay home to play hockey as well,” said Drews.
Josh Loewen, a pitcher from Neepawa, Man., pointed out by his coach as a returning player to watch this season, made a similar decision.
“We play against U.S. teams, the competition is as good as anywhere you could go … the convenience of it is nice,” said Loewen.
With a quickly growing recruiting class of local talent, the Wesmen depend on the community for more than just players. They play home games at Shaw Park, but practice at Koskie Field, near Elmwood High School.
Unlike many Wesmen programs, the team also runs without funding from the university, so the players and volunteer coaches throw fundraisers throughout the season— including the “Marathon Game” event.
“We’re truly doing this for the love of the game,” said Krykewich.
Last year the team raised $13,000 as they played 100 straight innings over eight grueling hours. This year they’ll do the same— fans and potential boosters are invited to attend for free from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22 at Shaw Park.