Love Letters to Baseball

By JOE McFARLAND

It’s not warmth of the sunshine on a summer day.

It’s not the sweet aroma mixture of fresh-cut grass and hot dogs on the barbecue.

And it’s not the sound of the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, or the call of the beer vendor.

While all of these things mean so much to the overall essence of a day at the ballpark, the game of baseball is so much more.

It’s the people. From the athletes and coaches to the staff and volunteers to the families and fans, the stadium provides an opportunity to become friends with absolute strangers.

We here at Alberta Dugout Stories have been lucky enough to meet just a fraction of the people who make the game what it is in this province. While the COVID-19 pandemic has got in the way of us doing things in person, we have been able to catch up with a few of those people through our podcast.

The trademark final question we have asked each of our guests over the last few months was actually born out of a few conversations around what we missed most at the ballpark.

That question has led to some of the most heartfelt and genuine answers, as those involved in the game realize what it means to be surrounded by the game they love most.

We have transcribed the answers from all of our guests for this story, as a way to recognize and celebrate this great pastime. And we will continue to ask the question going forward to let you hear for yourselves what baseball means to the people who play, coach, work, volunteer, cheer or simply love the people involved in the game.

So…

“What does the game of baseball mean to you?”

“I think it means my life. I honestly don’t know where I would be if I didn’t play baseball. I’ve met my lifetime friends here. I’ve played with people across the globe and met friends across the globe. I’ve played baseball in all different parts of the U.S. and Canada. I don’t know what I would do without it.” – Graham Brunner, Dawgs Academy/Barton Community College

“Oh boy. I think we’d need an hour-long program. But ultimately what it means to me is a lifelong passion and I try to tell my kids find that one thing that moves you that one thing that gets you excited when you wake up in the morning that one thing in life. And there can be more, obviously. Find that one thing that is your passion and follow it, pay attention to it, recognize it, embrace it. It’ll never let you down. And baseball, since the day I knew the Blue Jays were coming to town in 1977, since the day my dad brought a program back from the opening game and showed me the outlay of the stadium and explained to me that we’d be going in two weeks to our first game. To the day that I started collecting baseball cards, so that I knew exactly who the players were when we got there. That has been with me now for 43 years. That passion has been burning inside of me for 43 years. It’s almost like a gift, right? It’s something that I try to encourage in every young person is, whatever you do in this lifetime, do it with zest. Find a passion that makes you want to get up and live a real vibrant life. And baseball has done that for me.” – Jamie Campbell, Sportsnet baseball personality

“The game of baseball has given me everything that I have in life. I found my wife – and we got married and we’ve been married 37 years – through baseball. I had a pretty darned good career, with an exclamation point on winning a world championship in 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays. I just feel like now is the perfect time – in this game, especially as you get older – to reflect on your career, your coaching career, your family, your friends that allow you to understand that every day is a gift and I want to make sure that every day that I’m alive that I give back to the game of baseball everything that it’s given to me.” – Darnell Coles, former Calgary Cannon and MLB outfielder turned Arizona Diamondbacks coach

“Well, I love it. It’s hard not to love the game of baseball. I guess what the game means to me is almost like a metaphor for life, in that, you can go 3-for-10 and you’re in the Hall of Fame but you failed seven times. What baseball’s done for me is put things in perspective. When you’re having a good day or a bad day, up or down, it puts it in perspective that you’re not as bad as you think you are, and you’re not as good as you think you are. It keeps you pretty much on an even keel.” – Harold Reynolds, former Calgary Cannon and MLB infielder turned TV analyst

“I think it’s the greatest game that I look at as a major sport because you can’t run the clock out, you can’t take a knee, you can’t take a timeout and give the ball to our best shooter, we’re not going to throw a pass to our best receiver. It is a game that takes not only perseverance but it takes intelligence, it takes thought, it takes time, it takes into account everything. And the reason it’s a pastime, is because you can actually take someone to a game, you sit down and talk to them, pitching change, here’s why they’re doing that. In between innings, you go get your Coke. You go to a football or basketball game, you’re standing on your feet the entire time, people are screaming, there’s no way to actually have a relationship or talk to somebody sitting next to you. I think it brings the fans to the players and the players to the fans greater than any other sport there was. And I think that’s really important. You think about a sport where a guy runs all the way to the dugout, he takes his hat off, you can see his face right there, you’re within two feet of him if you’re sitting in the front row. You have to do it every day. It’s not 16 football weekends. It’s 162 (games) and it’s a grind and it’s a man’s world. The great game of baseball, there’s a reason it’s the national pastime and always will be.” – Pat Casey, former Calgary Cannons infielder and legendary Oregon State baseball coach

“The game of baseball is more than life. It’s what I live for sometimes and I feel without it, I wouldn’t be myself. The relationships and experiences I have built and will build are the best part of the game. The game will never leave you if you respect it and play it right.” – Levi Abbott, Vauxhall Academy/Canisius College

“Really, it’s just my whole life. I love this game more than I’ve loved anything else in the world. I’ve put my heart, sweat, blood and tears into this game. Really, I’m just hoping to get out of it what I can.” – Tyrese Johnson, Dawgs Academy/South Suburban College commit

“It means everything to me. I don’t know what kind of person I would be without it. It’s probably the biggest part of my life right now. It keeps my mindset right, makes me want to work hard and do great things.” – Maddux Mateychuk, Vauxhall Academy/Mineral Area College commit

“It means everything. I grew up more in a hockey family and then dad introduced baseball to me. Ever since that day, I can’t thank him enough for doing that because I have changed my entire life around just for baseball. I have become a better guy for baseball. I just love baseball and can’t wait to get going again.” – Tylor Jans, Prospects Academy/Cloud County College/University of Louisiana Monroe commit

“Baseball is so much fun. I love being able to make memories with my teammates and learning to overcome challenges that come my way.” – Derek Palmiere, Dawgs Academy/Williston State commit

“It means everything, man. It’s a second family, you know. Every time I go to North Carolina, I always get homesick but the second I get there with the team and the boys, it’s an immediate comfort level. I immediately know that I’m at my second home and that I have a group I can rely on, hang out with, push to win games, push me to get better at my own game. It means everything to me, man. Baseball is definitely life-changing for me.” – Max Poole, Fort McMurray/Mars Hill University

“It’s my life, right? The game of baseball, you can’t put a price tag on it. Over the last two months, without baseball, it’s really showed me what life will be like after I leave it. Unfortunately, it will be a thing one day. But while I have it, it’s going to be everything I do. It’s going to be everything I pour my heart into. And I don’t ever want to stop playing it.” – Jose Nunez, Dawgs Academy

“It’s everything. It’s love, passion. It’s me. Baseball is me. I love the game. I don’t know how to explain it, but I love it. It means everything to me.” – Willy Diaz, Prairie Baseball Academy/Minnesota Twins signee

“For me it’s just an opportunity to better myself. My favourite part about it so far is that I’ve met a lot of really good people. It’s just the relationships I’ve built through the game and I’ll hopefully continue to keep over time. That’s been my favourite part and that’s what it means to me the most. I know it’s not necessarily a big part of the game itself, but outside the game, that’s one of my favourite parts for sure.” – Kyler Charchun, Prospects Academy/Cloud County College/Southwest Baptist University commit

“Oh goodness. Really, it’s funny because even though I’m not an active player any more and I’m currently taking some time off coaching, I still feel like baseball is my life. I actually met my spouse through a connection to baseball so it really has rounded out and been an aspect of my entire life and I know it will continue to. Thank goodness for my parents for putting my older siblings into baseball and then carrying that onto me. I really feel like baseball has literally given me my identity really and, again, strange to say as a non-active player but I really still feel that baseball is just such a huge part of my heart and my life.” – Tara Sliwkanich, Baseball Alberta and Baseball Canada women’s team alum

“The game of baseball means everything to me. Over the years, baseball has become my life and what I do. This game has allowed me to meet many of my best friends and go to plenty of awesome places.” – Andrew Yusypchuk, Dawgs Academy/Marshall University commit

“I don’t even know if that’s something I can put into words. To me, it’s been my whole life and it kind of means everything. The great thing is it’s not just an amazing game to play, but it also teaches people life skills. So many life skills. Hard work, how to handle failure. There is so much failure throughout your life and baseball is probably the biggest sport that is going to teach you how to fail. It’s one of the only sports where you can be successful and yet fail the majority of the time. And just that has helped me grow as a human being as well as giving me the best memories of my life that I will remember forever. It’s just everything to me.” – Nolan Rattai, Medicine Hat Mavericks alumni turned head coach

“I guess the game of baseball is fun for me and also means getting to do something I love. Everyone loves the success of having a good play. It’s just fun for me to play. I just enjoy playing and just enjoy being able to go to the field every day.” – Bennett Freiter, Dawgs Academy/North Dakota State University commit

“The game of baseball means to me…there’s so much that goes into it. That’s a tough question. The game of baseball gives me life. The game of baseball has brought me to the man I am today. If I didn’t have baseball, I wouldn’t have made those connections. I wouldn’t have made those personal connections and friendships. I wouldn’t have been able to decipher between having a chip on your shoulder and letting back. The game of baseball has taught me so much more to life than there is to just play it. It’s the off-the-field stuff, like I said, that matters. It’s the interactions with your coaches, it’s picking up your teammates, it’s doing the work when no one’s watching. That’s what baseball has taught me, to first and foremost, be a better man. Second of all, it’s shaped me into the baseball player I am today and instilling and respecting the game. That’s what baseball has taught me.” – Ty Wevers, Vauxhall Academy/Cloud County commit

“It’s my life right now. It means everything to me. I love it.” – Jackson Clemett, Vauxhall Academy/University of Utah commit

“The game of baseball is garnering experience for life. Just like I did, it’s a passion. I definitely want it to be my job one day. The game of baseball is just a game but at the same time it’s a great experience and I just love the game. It teaches a lot about life, about how failing 70% of the time for good hitters is actually good. You have to learn and deal with it because this is hard. Failing is hard, but sometimes you have to deal with it. And failing can actually make you better. Sometimes you win when you don’t play good and sometimes you play good and lose. So losing can teach you a lot. I think it’s a great game and I’m very fortunate to be playing that game.” – Simon Lusignan, Dawgs Academy/Stetson University commit

“So, I live in Seattle and I can get to T-Mobile Park in 15 minutes from my house. I go with my son a couple times every year. We go on a rainy night when there’s not going to be a lot of people in the stadium and we get the cheapest ticket and we sit in every corner of that place. We sit up high, we sit down low, we sit in right field and left field, centre field – we just move around. I grew up playing baseball. I love baseball. I love everything about it. It’s not as much of a sport as it is a mood and the soundtrack of my summer is Mariner baseball on the radio. It’s just playing all the time. It has a special place in my heart. I’m not sure I could really vocalize what it means to me but it’s on a lot. I’m interested in it. We played non-stop as kids and it still plays in the background every summer,” – Dean Linden, general manager of the 1988 Medicine Hat Blue Jays

“It means my life, I don’t know, it’s everything for me. It’s everything, it’s awesome. I love it. I never want to stop playing.” – Kaden Zarowny, Dawgs Academy/Crowder College commit

“Everything. The game of baseball is my life and I hope it is for a long, long, long time. I really love this game and I hope I can make a career out of it because it’s been number one on the list of important things in my life for a long time now and I hope it stays that way, for sure.” – Shawn Atamanchuk, Dawgs Academy/Georgia Gwinnett College

“For me, it’s really just another goal I have. It drives me to get better every day. It’s taught me a lot, really. Baseball has literally built me up from the ground. I wouldn’t be the person I am right now if it wasn’t for baseball. It’s taught me so much socially, just making new friends through baseball. Just the mindset that it brings you and how much joy it brings me. I don’t really know how to describe it, but for me, it’s really important and it’s really close to my heart. It’s really been the foundation that I’m built on. All my values are built on what baseball has brought me.” – Jonah Arseneau, Calgary Bucks/Minot State University commit

“It’s everything. The elements of everything I value in my life. Whether it’s camaraderie or family, you can learn so much from this game and you can apply it to your life. Like I said, our team quote this year is: ‘How you do everything and how you do anything.’ So are you taking care of the little things in life? Are you respectful? There’s just so many things that you can take away from this game to make you a better person. That just means everything to me because without baseball, I don’t know if I would be the guy I am today or in the position I am to be even better than I was yesterday. There’s just so much you can take away from this game and it’s a blessing to be able to play it.” – Aidan Huggins, Prospects Academy/Cloud County College/Illinois State University

“I mean, it’s everything. Every kid wants it to be their job one day, but it’s fun, it’s meaningful, it’s a reflection of life in a lot of ways. I think there are a lot of lessons to be taken off the ball field that you put into your own life. That’s one thing Eric Gilliland is big on here. He’s not just trying to build the best athlete you can be, he wants you to be the best person you can be. I think that’s something that is really important.” – Evan Wilde, Prairie Baseball Academy/Cloud County College

“The game of baseball is the passion and love of my life. I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid and I’ve been dreaming about baseball my whole life. I gotta get past this point, hopefully COVID will leave and we’ll be ready to go.” – Connor Crowson, Dawgs Academy/Bossier Parish Community College commit

“Baseball is my life. I mean, I’ve listened to your podcasts and heard the answers, but baseball is my life. There’s nothing in the world that I would change. I love it and I’m so excited to see what my future has, for me, in the game of baseball. I love it.” – Ryan Ludwig, Northern Alberta Xtreme/Fairleigh Dickinson University commit

“It really means everything. In my case, it literally means everything. Without baseball, I wouldn’t be down where I’m at right now, I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have gone to school in Illinois, I wouldn’t have played professionally with all those experiences, my friends, my career. It literally is everything to me. Again, would I have done something different? Absolutely. Nothing wrong with staying in Canada, my parents are still there, my sister still lives there, but like I said in the beginning, I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. I’ve been married now, this will be year No. 11 for me with my wife, Katie. It literally means everything to me and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything else in the world.” – Lars Davis, Prairie Baseball Academy alum/Colorado Rockies prospect/current Florida Gators volunteer coach

“It’s so symbolic of life. Baseball is every day. It’s not like football where you have to get hyped up for one game on Sunday and I know there’s more that goes into it than that, but in baseball you’re expected to perform every day. When we were in the minor leagues, we were playing 140 games in 151 days and we were traveling for 13 or 14 hours to get in at 4 am and play the next day. The reality is that life went on so how are you going to prepare today to be better tomorrow. And so on and so forth. Like I said, it’s so symbolic of how the real world works. I think all those skills and characteristics you build through the game of baseball help you so much as you move forward in life. Baseball is a large part of my life. I’d like to think that I identify myself as more than just a baseball person, player, coach, whatever the case may be. But it’s obviously helped mould me in my career and in my personal life as much as anything. I’m just extremely thankful and grateful for the stuff I’ve been able to be given. Even when I moved here to Okotoks, baseball introduced me to my future wife so I can’t complain too much about that. I’ve been given a lot of blessings along the way because of the game of baseball and where it’s led me.” – Tyler Hollick, Dawgs Academy and Okotoks Dawgs alum-turned-general manager

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