This year didn’t start off exactly as Dane Tofteland had expected, but it ended better than he could have hoped.
It’s a familiar story line for the 25-year-old slugger, who has made the best of all situations to keep his baseball dream alive.
Originally from just outside Grande Prairie, Tofteland started the year with Quebec in the Frontier League, but was released early on in the season.
Soon after, he picked up the phone and made a call to the Intercounty Baseball League’s Welland Jackfish – a team he had been in contact with before COVID-19 shut things down in 2020.
“As soon as I got released, I reached back out to them,” Tofteland told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “They still had a spot for me and I just showed up, so that’s basically how that worked out.”
Not only did it work out for the 6-foot-4, 230-pound infielder, it also worked out for the Jackfish.
Tofteland suited up for his first game in Ontario against the Brantford Red Sox on July 9th, going 2-for-3 with a double, walk and run scored in a 7-2 victory.
He started the season with a six-game hit streak, setting the tone for a great campaign.
Tofteland finished the summer with a .417 batting average to go along with eight home runs, 36 runs batted in and 19 stolen bases.
He won the team’s Triple Crown, was named a league All-Star and finished second in Most Valuable Player voting to Garrett Takamatsu of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Unfortunately, the dream season ended earlier than the Jackfish had hoped, as they were bounced in the opening round of the IBL playoffs.
“It was obviously nice having a lot of personal success in that league,” Tofteland said. “But at the end of the day, you kind of leave with a sour taste in your mouth when you get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.”
However, he looks back at the year with fondness.
“Oh I loved it, man,” he smiled. “Going out to Welland was a great experience, as we had a great coaching staff, great manager, great owners and great teammates.”
Getting a chance to play in all of Welland’s games was something Tofteland has struggled with in previous years.
After graduating from Dawgs Academy in Okotoks, he went to the Indiana State University Sycamores, where he spent four seasons but couldn’t seem to put a full year together because of what he calls “poorly-timed injuries.”
When he was in the lineup, he was very productive, highlighted by an incredible 11-RBI performance against Northern Illinois in 2017.
After his college season was done in 2019, he returned to Okotoks that summer to help the Dawgs win the Western Canadian Baseball League championship.
“Just to get to put that jersey back on was awesome,” Tofteland recalled. “It was a great way to finish out my college career and obviously the best part of it was winning the whole thing.”
He credits solid pitching, timely hitting, and a “monster” performance from WCBL Rookie of the Year and Playoff MVP Tristan Peters for the playoff run.
“I couldn’t have pictured it going any other way, honestly.”
Instead of bankrolling off the superb 2019, Tofteland and many others were forced to stay home for most of 2020 because of the pandemic.
He had been visiting with his girlfriend in the United States when restrictions started coming in, which led to some early questions as to whether he would be able to get home.
Tofteland was able to come back to Alberta, where he worked on his family farm north of Grande Prairie for a couple of months before he moved back to Okotoks with an old friend.
“Matt Lloyd is my best friend and he’s honestly like a brother,” he said. “Him and I were just training, working when we could and we golfed a lot, which was awesome.”
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Aside from the physical workouts, Tofteland also saw the mental benefits of hanging out with Lloyd – a 15th round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2019.
“He’s a smart dude and he knows a lot about baseball,” he said. “So just in talking, you get to pick his brain.”
The respect and brotherhood is mutual.
“Dane’s very dedicated and devoted to his craft – he’s the hardest worker in the room,” Lloyd told Alberta Dugout Stories. “He’s a gentleman and a scholar, a great dude with a blue-collar attitude and work ethic.”
CHASING THE DREAM
Back on the field in 2021, Tofteland says he and Lloyd had a little competition to see who could hit more home runs during the year.
They texted each other after each dinger in what turned out to be a back-and-forth battle.
Both ended up with eight, although Tofteland gives the Reds prospect the edge as he was facing better pitching – especially in his 32 games with Double-A Chattanooga.
“I loved texting each other with our home runs,” Lloyd said. “It was competitive but in good fun, and was nice to see my boy doing well.”
The success he saw with Welland has given him some new confidence as he weighs his options heading into 2022.
“I’m looking at trying to get back into the Frontier League again next year, whether it’s through a contract or maybe through another tryout,” he said. “I believe I had a good enough season to be in that league and get another shot, but we’ll see.”
If that doesn’t pan out or another league doesn’t come calling, he’s open to returning to the IBL.
“It’s definitely a dream I’m not going to give up on soon,” Tofteland said. “I guess we’ll see where it takes me.”