By JOE McFARLAND
If you asked most Albertans to point out Rowley on a map, they would give you a blank stare.
Located in the heart of the Badlands near Drumheller, the hamlet might be recognizable for being a locale in movies like “Legends of the Fall” and the Canadian film “Bye Bye Blues.” The community has also been a hit with ghost town enthusiasts for its two grain elevators and restored downtown including an old saloon, barber shop and church making for some beautiful pictures.
On one of the nearby farms is where Quentin Kopjar first picked up a baseball glove. First throwing a ball around with his father, the southpaw quickly realized he was pretty good.
“Probably when I was 12 years old or so, I got asked to play for a team of 16-year-olds,” Kopjar told Alberta Dugout Stories. “I was four years younger than everyone else so when I got asked, I thought maybe I should keep going with this and do something with it.”
“After that, it just took off,” Kopjar concluded.
He went to the nearby town of Rumsay before stops in Carbon and Acme, catching the attention of province’s baseball world and eventually moving to Okotoks to attend the Dawgs Academy.
Kopjar also played every sport he could in high school, including volleyball, basketball and badminton. Anything he could get his hands on, which helped him stay in shape for baseball, where he flourished.
“I was an outfielder and pitcher all through high school,” Kopjar reflected. “Once I went to the Dawgs in my second year, I realized I was a lot better of a pitcher, I could throw a lot harder and I couldn’t hit very well.”
If it wasn’t broken, Kopjar wasn’t going to fix it, opting to perfect the option he was better at.
REPRESENTING HIS PROVINCE
The 19-year-old has logged a lot of miles traveling for baseball. But it has paid off in spades, representing his province four times on the national stage, which is the highlight of his young career.
“Definitely making Team Alberta,” Kopjar said about the feat. “It makes you realize you’re one of the top guys in the province when you’re playing with them all.”
But it also took him by surprise.
“The very first time I made Team Alberta, I was 13,” he recalled. “There were 80 kids at the first tryout. I saw all these kids and I’m like ‘wow, I’m not good enough to make this team, so I kind of just did what I did and tried having as much fun as I could.”
You could almost consider that to be an advantage for the youngster, as it allowed him to focus on himself rather than those around him. He made it through the first cutdown to 40, then to the third stage to set himself for a potential good news phone call, which he received.
“I was pretty starstruck I guess you could say,” Kopjar smiled.
The left-hander pitched in the 2015 Canada Cup in Saskatoon. Later that year, he helped his team win the T12 tournament hosted by the Toronto Blue Jays. And he played with the Dawgs Academy contingent in the Best of the West Showcase in Kamloops in 2016. His efforts landed him an opportunity to continue his baseball journey south of the border.
FROM THE MIDDLE OF ALBERTA TO AMERICA’S MIDWEST
Kopjar had a few options on the table as he was looking at post-secondary schools. He settled on Pratt Community College in Kansas, the nicest school in his eyes, where he’s in general studies.
In his first season with the Beavers, Kopjar bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen. He appeared in 13 games, starting in five, posting a 1-3 record with an 11.57 ERA.
This season has been much better for the southpaw, as he’s made two appearances from the ‘pen, posting a 1.93 ERA in over four innings of work.
“Since day one here last year, it’s definitely a lot better,” Kopjar admits.
“I think I’ve matured into more of a leader now here than I ever was before,” the second-year student said. “I’m just trying to help young guys that are in the same spot I was in last year. They are kind of nervous and timid, so I’m trying to make them feel like they’re welcome and a part of the group.”
He also likes his role as an utility-man on the mound.
“Just whatever’s helping the team win,” Kopjar said. “Right now, I’m pitching really well as a reliever so might as well stick with what I’m good at right now and if something happens, I can change my role again.”
AND BACK HOME AGAIN
The versatility he has shown on and off the field might be a credit to his upbringing on the farm.
“It’s definitely made me a lot tougher working on the farm,” the 6’2″, 200-pound hurler said. “It gives you a different mindset from everyone else. You have to do everything to the best of your ability or it won’t work. That’s the same kind of mentality I take into baseball.”
Home was where the heart was for Kopjar last summer, as he returned to play relatively close to home in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL), pitching for the expansion Brooks Bombers.
“Brooks was a blast,” Kopjar exclaimed. “All the guys were great. I only knew a few of them. It was great getting to know all these different guys from all over the place, playing at all these different schools. I still stay in contact with a lot of them, which is nice.”
Will he be back this season under new coach Kyle MacKinnon? It might depend on a few things.
“I’d like to play again,” Kopjar admitted. ” But I haven’t fully decided if I’m continuing on with my baseball after this year. So I gotta decide that.”
The well-spoken leftie is intent on focusing on the “right now” with the Beavers, who will play against some other Alberta talent later on this season. You will want to circle March 15 and 17 on your calendars, as Kopjar and his Pratt teammates will have a home-and-home series with Erik Sabrowski, Tauren Langley and the Cloud County T-Birds.