The Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) championship rematch between the Edmonton Prospects and Swift Current 57’s will go to a winner-take-all deciding Game 5 tonight at Mitchell Field.
One of the players who helped make this series go the distance is Edmonton’s left fielder Derek Shedden, whose desperate diving catch put an end to Game 3 and allowed Prospects fans to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Ian Wilson caught up with Shedden this week. Here’s our Q&A with the outfielder:
Q: Everyone is talking about your game-saving catch from Game 3 of the WMBL championship final. Tell us about that play and how you saw it develop. What were you thinking and did you have any concerns about not getting to it?
A: That was insane. I got a really good jump off the bat and took the best route I could have to get there. It was hit hard and sinking away from me but fortunately I caught up to it. In the heat of the moment you just trust your instincts. We needed a big play so I went hard for it. I didn’t really consider what would have happened had I missed the ball until after the game … we probably would have lost.
Q: Tell us about the atmosphere in Edmonton for Game 3, especially right at the end of the game when thousands of Prospects fans could exhale?
A: The crowd was one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard. They were really into the game so it made for an excellent atmosphere. It may have been a bit nerve-racking for us in the last inning. We made some errors, which is uncharacteristic as we lead the WMBL defensively as a team this year, but fortunately it turned out positively for us. My friends and family told me the entire crowd collectively gasped when I dove, so thankfully I caught it so everyone could go home happy.
Q: You had a missed catch earlier in Game 3, but I think you made a similar diving snag late in Game 5 of your opening playoff series against Okotoks. What goes into those kinds of plays? How nervous are you during them and how exciting is it when you see that ball in your glove?
A: Yeah that was a tough one. First one I dropped all year. I thought I was in foul territory when I dropped it but the umpire said differently, I guess. But I knew I had to stay in it and confident mentally, because it can snowball out of control if you lose confidence. That was actually our other outfielder, Marion McLean, who made that catch in Okotoks. He’s been great for us as a two-way guy in the outfield and on the mound. Like I said before, when you get a play like that, you just trust your instincts and there isn’t much thinking going on or time to be nervous. But all the emotions hit you like a tidal wave after you see the ball in your glove. That minute after that catch is just a blur.
Q: Tell us about your coaching staff (Ray Brown and Orv Franchuk). How do they prepare you to make big plays, both in the field and at the plate?
A: Our coaches are two great guys. They trust us and since we know that, we just go out and play. Let our talent come through. They aren’t the kind of coaches to scream and yell at you if you make a mistake, so that helps us play a little more relaxed, I think.
Q: Tell us also about your teammates. The Prospects pride themselves on their local talent. It’s 18 Edmonton-area kids, an American and an Aussie. How does the Edmonton connection bond you guys and how do you ensure that the non-Albertans feel included?
A: It’s cool to say that a lot of my teammates have been my friends for a long time since we pretty much grew up together. It’s crazy to think back about meeting some of them at St. Thomas More Junior High School … never could have guessed we’d be doing this together years down the road. But I think that gives us an edge over the other teams. We all know each other, we all trust in each other because we’ve been watching each other do it for the last ten years. There’s no way any other team has that kind of bond. Growing up together has given us a similar attitude towards the game, which is one of grit. We play hard all the time and the non-Albertans are the same way. That mentality is an intangible that is more valuable than talent.
Q: A WMBL championship has eluded Edmonton but the city has a long and proud baseball history. How much would it mean to you to win a title for your hometown?
A: It would be incredible. Over the last four years, we’ve seen this program grow into something special and winning the WMBL would be icing on the cake. Since most of us are local it would mean that we have the opportunity to win it in front of a tonne of friends and family … in front of past coaches who helped get us to this point. It would just be something special. Like a storybook ending.
(Update: The Prospects lost in Edmonton on Wednesday but will now have a chance to win the title on the road.)
Q: Your teammate Erik Sabrowski mentioned how special it was to play at ReMax Field after watching so many games there as a kid. Did you go to games at ReMax Field as a child? Any memories stand out from games you went to?
A: Yeah I did. I remember faintly the Trappers, and more clearly the Cracker-Cats, Capitals, and Prospects teams in the past. I never really thought that I would ever get the opportunity to play at this high of a level or on this field but I thank God every single day that I get to step in between those two white lines.
Q: Your play at the plate has really elevated from the regular season (.238 batting average) to the playoffs (.438 average through the first nine playoff games). Any theories as to why that is?
A: Just a little bit of inner motivation going on. Been playing with a chip on my shoulder throughout the playoffs. I know some people were doubting my offensive ability, so I set my sights on proving people wrong. As a smaller guy it’s easy for people to underestimate you. But I believe in myself and use the negative as a way to simply motivate myself.
Q: What do you say to Prospects critics who lament your lack of home runs and your supposed inability to hit the ball out of the infield?
A: Well, we play in the biggest field in Canada I’m pretty sure, so that has a lot to do with the ball not getting out as often as other teams. Plus I’m pretty positive we hit at least one ball out of the infield in every single game this year so those people have no clue what they’re talking about. But we find ways to win games playing small ball. Bunts, hit and runs, steals. Whatever we have to do to score. Like I said, we’re scrappy, we’ll find a way to get the job done.
Q: What players do you look up to and why?
A: Oh, so many. Derek Jeter was my favourite growing up though. I loved the way he lead his team, played with passion, and was regarded as a gentleman on and off the field. I also admire Dustin Pedroia. Perfect example of a smaller guy who set out to prove people wrong his whole life.
Q: What’s your favourite baseball movie or book?
A: When I was a kid I remember my grandpa taking me to see The Rookie which was kind of a cheesy Disney movie, but I still love it to this day. Can’t thank my grandpa enough. He’s the reason I play ball.
Q: Any pre-game rituals or superstitions?
A: Nah, not really the superstitious type. I just listen to my music and try and get into the state of mind I need to be in to play well.
Q: Speaking of music, what is your current walkup song and why?
A: My current walkup song is called The Resistance by Skillet. It is kind of a hard-rock song so it gets me going. They’re a Christian band so it’s a solid shout out to my faith. Plus, I just like the lyrics … I start it from “You can take my heart, you can take my breath, when you pry it from my cold dead chest,” which may be a little extreme for baseball, but I also think it’s a good representation of the attitude our team has had. We’re not going down without a fight so you’re gonna have to take down our resistance.
Q: What are your impressions of the WMBL product versus playing college ball in the U.S.? What are the similarities and differences?
A: The WMBL and the States are a very similar level of ball. There are actually a lot of guys from the conference I play at down in the U.S. that come up here to play in the WMBL. It’s a good league and it’s only getting better.
Q: What are your plans after WMBL playoffs wrap up – hopefully celebrating – but where are you headed?
A: Yeah, we hope to be celebrating for sure. But then my roommate, Zane Takhar, our shortstop, and I will be packing up my car and starting the three-day trek back to Tahlequah, Oklahoma for our senior year (with the Northeastern State University RiverHawks).
Good luck to Derek and his Prospects teammates as they try to capture Edmonton’s first WMBL championship title tonight!