By BOB ELLIOTT
Connor Crowson and Ryan McFarland are career Okotoks Dawgs.
Crowson (Okotoks, Alta.) put on a Dawgs uniform as a peewee and he was at third base for the West Division in the Western Canadian Baseball League All-Star Game, which featured the West Division taking on the East, on Saturday night before more than 5,500 fans at Seaman Stadium.
“I think I’m one of the few who ever did that, maybe the only one,” said Crowson.
McFarland (Calgary, Alta.) first suited up for the Dawgs Red team in the bantam age group and was on the mound in the fifth inning of the All-Star Game with the score even at 1-1.
“Connor has me beat — by one year,” said McFarland.
So, roughly the same time frame — Crowson estimates maybe 500-to-550 games — yet different paths on this night.
Crowson made like former third baseman Frank Malzone, or Graig Nettles, or maybe his all-time fave third baseman Chipper Jones, with a fine fielding play for the second out of the second inning and had a run-scoring single in the home half.
McFarland has had better starts to an outing. In the fifth, he started off with three straight singles, a stolen base, a balk and a run-scoring fly ball. And just like that, a 1-1 tie was suddenly a 4-1 deficit for the West.
No problem. Josh Kabayama (Lethbridge, Alta. of the Brooks Bombers) singled, Torrin Vaselenak (Coaldale, Alta., Lethbridge) doubled and after a passed ball, Kalem Haney (Lethbridge, Alta., Lethbridge) homered to right to tie the game. After a walk, Jeremiah Sanchez (Brooks) hit a two-run homer to right and the West rode the five-inning rally to a 10-4 victory.
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Who does Crowson credit for his smooth swing which allowed him to hit .360 for the Bossier Parish Community College Cavaliers with 11 doubles, four homers, 49 RBIs and a .962 OPS in 55 games?
“Probably Allen Cox, he taught me a lot, my mom (Michelle Sharkey) would do the driving,” Crowson said. “It’s why I love baseball so much.”
His father, Mel Crowson, played for the Vauxhall High School Spurs and young Connor was a regular chasing down balls in the outfield during batting practice.
Dad was a Blue Jays fan, “so I had to root against him and I chose the Boston Red Sox. All those Boston fans had all those years of suffering and I get to watch them win the World Series three times in 12 seasons.” That’s why Hall of Famer David Ortiz — and not a third baseman — is his all-time favourite player.
“My father and I were on the same page cheering for the Calgary Flames, although I was cheering for (ex-Flame) Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers in the playoffs,” said Crowson.
The best pitcher Crowson has ever played with?
LHP Matt Wilkinson (White Rock, BC) saying “his fastball was invisible. “To me he was a first-rounder,” said Crowson. “The way it is now (the lack of emphasis on the ability to pitch compared to velocity) Greg Maddux probably wouldn’t get drafted today.”
Wilkinson was a 10th-round selection of the Cleveland Guardians from Central Arizona where he earned JUCO pitcher of the year this spring, after learning from Dawgs pitching coach Jeff Duda.
They say a player is blessed to have more than one provincial title. Crowson has five: two with the mosquito Okotoks Outlaws, as well as one at the peewee, bantam and midget levels.
This fall, he is headed for the University of Montevallo Falcons in Alabama.
Most impressive hitters Crowson has seen are Ricky Sanchez (Okotoks, Alta.) and Alejandro Cazorla (Okotoks, Alta.).
Crowson’s path up the Dawgs organizational ladder and the coaches he played for:
First year peewee coaches were Josh MacInnis and John Graham.
Second year peewee coaches were MacInnis, Aaron Ethier and Curtis Taylor.
Bantam Red coaches were Allen Cox and Scott Smith.
Bantam Black coaches were Lou Pote and Frank Ingram.
16U coaches were Cox and Joe Sargent.
18 Red coaches were Ethier and Bretton Gouthro.
18 Black coaches were Tyler Hollick, Valentine Helldobler and Jeff Duda.
College summer team (now in his third year) coaches have been Mitch Schmidt, Pote and Dave Robb.
“We had about 6,000 fans watching tonight, just like I did when I was younger, and now I get to play on the big stage,” he said.
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Long-time Dawg McFarland said his approach to pitching has always been “90% mental … maybe 99% mental.” So where was his mind after three straight singles, a stolen bases, a balk and a fly ball in the fifth inning on Saturday?
“It was ambush city on my fastball, I stepped off the rubber, took a deep breath and listened to that small little voice on my shoulder. It’s a voice of encouragement … ‘You can’t let it get to you.’”
He struck out the next two hitters to escape the inning. Meanwhile, his sister Andrea was “nervous, but not as bad as in a regular game, because the all-star game was for fun.”
McFarland said that the all-star game didn’t provide any extra pressure, explaining “every game I get that adrenaline rush, I try to soak it in.”
The right-hander, a grad of the Calgary West Little League program, was part of Duda’s 5:30 a.m. sessions at the Duvernay Fieldhouse.
“I live in Calgary, so I’d have to be up at 4:30 and be back after school,” he said. “It was so organized we were always doing something. Throwing our bullpens or doing our lifts.
“I am so blessed to have grown up here.”
He quit hockey at 16. His former teammates Alex Young and younger brother Colton Young are both at Colgate University. And not just because of their smiles. Alex was drafted by the San Jose Sharks and Colton is an expected draft.
“I learned a lot from picking the brains of my teammates,” McFarland said.
After two seasons with the Pratt Beavers in 2020 and 2021, he transferred to Division II Campbellsville University Tigers. The Pratt seasons did not count against his eligibility status due to COVID-19. He will graduate with a degree in marketing and then take his masters in computer science. He hopes to get into the technology field, which inside sources tell us has a chance to catch on this decade.
“I was here at last year’s all-star game and I thought this year’s was better, the fireworks were better than on Canada Day, the home run derby was more exciting (in 2022 the wind was blowing in) and our Nash Crowell (Yarmouth, N.S.) took a time out … all 10 of us went out there.”
During the time out, Cole Cramer sprayed down Crowell’s bat, Logan Grant, Noah Geekie, Brody Forno (Okotoks), Brady Wilson (Calgary, Alta.), Seth Thompson (Calgary, Alta.), Titus Dumitru, Crowson and McFarland all headed to the plate and returned to the first base line to jump up and down every time Crowell went yard. He finished third. The winner was Hank Dodson of the Sylvan Lake Gulls.
McFarland pitched 7 2/3 innings last summer against Moose Jaw in the championship final.
His climb through the Dawgs saw him pitch for:
Bantam Red coaches Smith and Hollick.
16 midget Red coaches Gouthro and Ethier.
16 midget Black coaches Hollick and Duda.
Summer college Dawgs Schmidt, Pote and Robb.
That little voice on McFarland’s shoulder was almost as loud as the post-game announcement which named him the winning pitcher.
Highlight: The showing of Avery Buye’s video “Our Town” with scenes of the Dawgs and Okotoks spliced into Montgomery Gentry’s hit song.
The Good: 3B Dawson Tweet (Russell, Man.) made a diving stop in the first inning to turn what looked like a possible double into a double play and singled twice … 2B Bennett McCollow (Fort McMurray Giants) roamed far to his right and threw across his body for the out at first … Cramer doubled and singled … Hank Dodson (Sylvan Lake Gulls) doubled.
The Bad: It was a tad windy in the eighth inning.
(This story was originally published on the Canadian Baseball Network and has been used here with permission)