Fantastic Four

By JOE McFARLAND

Helaina Appleyard’s dream of donning the red and white for Baseball Canada is finally one step closer to reality.

It wasn’t long ago that the Calgary-born pitcher burst onto the national scene with a fantastic performance for Alberta at the Women’s Invitational Championships.

Her start in the bronze medal win over British Columbia earned her an invite to the national selection camp and, while she didn’t make the team, she hoped the experience would earn her a spot in 2020.

READ MORE: Making an Impact

We all know what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop Appleyard and many others from continuing to work towards their goal of representing the country soon.

At the end of July, Baseball Canada announced 41 athletes would be making the trek to Trois-Rivieres, Quebec for the Women’s National Team Showcase.

Appleyard, along with fellow Albertans Ellie Jespersen, Hayley Lalor and Madison Willan, were among those getting the call.

“We’re thrilled to be in a position where we can have athletes participate in-person, in team and individual baseball activities,” Women’s National Team Program Director Andre Lachance said in a news release prior to the camp. “Like the rest of the world, the past year and a half has been a challenge for our program so having this showcase camp is something that we feel fortunate for, and we intend on taking advantage of our time together.”

LONG TIME COMING

During the six-day camp, the players were put through physical testing and practices as well as intrasquad games.

The hope was to get the group, which included 20 rookies to the national program, ready for whenever another international tournament is able to be played.

“It was awesome,” Appleyard told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “It was so nice to be around all the girls again, finally, as it’s been – what – one or two years since we’ve been able to get together as a group.”

While they had been able to get together for phone and online calls, it obviously wasn’t the same as being back in-person on a baseball field and getting some playing time in.

The 17-year-old tried to soak in all of the opportunities in the short amount of time.

“All of the girls there are super-nice,” Appleyard said. “A lot of the older ones that are on the team kind of coach you through everything whenever you need it and they are always there to talk to you.”

Not only were former players like Hannah Martensen, Kate Psota and Ashley Stephenson there now as coaches, but the righthander sang the praises of new pitching coach Anthony Pluta.

“He’s an amazing coach and he’s been in touch with me throughout the whole year,” she said. “He’s just been talking me through all of my pitching and all of my practices to get into my head and to help me get to where I need to be.”

SAME NAME, NEW FACE

While Appleyard was getting guidance on the mound, another relative newcomer to the national program was patrolling the outfield.

“It was super-awesome and fun to get back to it,” Lalor told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “I was really just thankful to be there and to be with all the girls and to actually play again after not getting to play much over the last couple of summers.”

Like Appleyard, Lalor had earned an invite to the 2019 camp, but was left to workout at home during the pandemic.

It also gave her ample opportunity to pick the brain of a national team veteran, her sister Kelsey, about what she needed to do to take that next step.

“When I found out that I would be able to go, I was just so excited,” Lalor said. “It was just so amazing to be with those coaches again and get to see how that team operates and what they do.”

She spent a lot of time chatting with her new teammates and making the connections that will help her down the road.

“The experience really reinforced how much I missed playing with those girls and those teammates of mine,” Lalor said. “No matter how I was doing in a game, I was just so happy and grateful to be there and happy to be playing again.”

Not only is baseball on her mind, but the Red Deer native is also in her fourth year at MacEwan University, where she is also set to play in her third season with the Griffins women’s basketball team.

LOOKING AHEAD

It’s apparent that the youth movement is clearly on with the Women’s National Team.

Just two of the 41 participants in the showcase had more than five years experience on the team – BC’s Amanda Asay and Claire Eccles.

While Jespersen and Willan have a little bit of time with the team, Appleyard and Lalor are hoping to work on some things from the experience they had.

“I think a big thing that you learn more when you’re playing against these really high-level players is that I can’t get away with just throwing whatever pitches I like,” Appleyard said. “You have to learn what their hitting style is and throw based on each person rather than just to my own strengths.”

For Lalor, she will be trying to get more accustomed to her outfield position and trying to make better reads off the bat.

“I need to get stronger and faster during the offseason,” she admitted. “Hopefully we will be back with the Alberta team next summer, too, as we’ve missed that over the last couple of years.”

And as long as the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t throw another curveball, those hopes and dreams might soon become reality.

print

Leave a Reply