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B.C. community stands together to save baseball season

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Butler Park in Trail, BC

If baseball isn’t the heart of Trail, it is, at the very least, a vital organ. A raging windstorm knocked the immediate and near future of Trail’s youth game into critical condition, but fears have subsided thanks to the cooperative efforts of community members and city officials.

In Trail – tucked in a scenic mountain valley in southeastern British Columbia near the Canada-U.S. border – venerable Butler Park is the home of baseball at the teen and men’s levels. The facility was built in 1902 on land donated by Sydney Butler, who later became mayor of the community. Butler Park has been a gathering place ever since it opened and has hosted countless high-profile events, including the 1995 Babe Ruth World Series, which drew crowds of 6,000 fans for games that involved the home team. To put that attendance figure in perspective, Trail’s population at the time wasn’t much more than 7,000.

Earlier this year, for about half an hour on the morning of Jan. 13, a violent wind ripped through Trail and left one big mess in its path. The storm toppled trees all over town, including at Butler Park. Before Trail Youth Baseball president Jim Maniago had even left home to go to work that day, he was alerted to damage at Butler.

“My phone starts lighting up, people saying ‘Butler’s a disaster, trees are down,’” Maniago said. “I was like, ‘Well, it can’t be that bad,’ and then I drove by and it really was. Three massive trees came down, and one of them was right by one of the light poles, which also had netting attached to it. The weight of the tree, plus the netting onto the light pole, pulled one of the poles down.”

One week earlier, Trail Youth Baseball received an email from city hall, saying that an engineer had examined the light poles at the park and had found some serious issues. The eight poles – each one 70 feet high, made of concrete and rebar, hollow in the middle and uncapped at the top – were failing. They had been in place since the early 1980s and had been exposed to the elements long enough that they were wearing down from the inside out. Bottom line, they had to be removed as quickly as possible.

At that point, Maniago and Trail Youth Baseball expressed their concerns to city officials about the takedown of the light poles and how that could negatively impact the 2021 season for Trail’s 13- to 18-year-old players. Not being able to practice or play games into the evening hours would present challenges so a request was made that the poles be left in place until the fall, when the season was over.

The windstorm and the damage it caused made that plea irrelevant and threw the 2021 season even more into jeopardy.

“There was the discussion that the cost of everything was going to be too much and there was discussion about shutting the park down,” said Maniago, adding that a closure would have affected close to 100 players in the 13- to 18-year-old age category. “So we really had to lobby and promote our program and show how needed it was. Realistically, with last year being (lost to) COVID-19, if the park got shut down, which basically meant we wouldn’t have been able to play this year, you take two years off of a program and it’s pretty hard to get it rolling again. And this is aside from the fact that these kids need somewhere to play. Our 16- to 18-year-old group is a pretty strong group – there are six to eight kids looking at going to college in the next two years and they need a place to play.”

Trail, incidentally, is known for producing elite-level ball players. The most notable graduate of Trail Youth Baseball is Jason Bay, who played for the host team at the 1995 Babe Ruth World Series and later achieved MLB stardom with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. Bay, the National League Rookie of the Year with the Pirates in 2004 and a three-time all-star, also played for the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners. As well, he was a three-time Tip O’Neill Award-winner as Canada’s best baseball player and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

With the overall health of Trail Youth Baseball and the good of its current teenaged players front-of-mind, Maniago and others stayed in steady contact with city councillors and staff members in the aftermath of the storm.

“A few of us spent the better part of the next three weeks, basically selling the importance of the field,” Maniago said. “To the credit of the councillors, they were really supportive. I think a lot of them in some shape or form have been involved with sports in town and recognize, for a small town to produce the athletes that we have and the successful teams that we’ve had, (sport) is part of the fabric of the city. I always joke that people don’t live in Trail for the shopping – it’s the recreation that we can offer that’s the draw here, the lifestyle.”

Much to the relief of Trail Youth Baseball, the decision was made to keep Butler Park open and allow the season to proceed in whatever form COVID-19 measures will allow. Without lights, on-field activities will be limited to daytime hours.

No light poles (removal began the week of Feb. 8) also means no safety netting. But whenever the park is hosting a practice or game, signs will be posted in the surrounding neighbourhood, warning people in the area to keep their eyes open for baseballs exiting the playing area. During practices, teams will use a batting tunnel as an additional safety measure.

“We’ve got some pretty good people on our executive who did some research on how many foul balls leave parks and what areas of the park they leave and things like that,” Maniago said. “Obviously without the nets, more balls are going to leave the park but it’s not quite as bad as you might think.”

Due to issues around COVID-19 the Trail Orioles men’s program will remain idle for 2021 so the team’s absence from Butler Park will make for a more sustainable situation when it comes to usage of the facility.

“The compromise is to live through this year and, if all goes well, then in the fall, netting and lights should go up and we’ll be good to go for next year,” Maniago said.

Trail city council decided at a March 8 meeting to spend roughly $35,000 to have a class A estimate done on the cost of netting and lights.

“They can’t vote to go ahead with the project until they have the final estimate but I gather that they’ve done their homework and as long as nothing goes crazy-sideways that, come September, they’re going to start work on getting the new poles and lights and nets up.”

Maniago anticipates that the cost will be shared between the city and Trail Youth Baseball. Each party, he said, will try to secure grant money to help lessen the financial burden.

“It was a pretty concerning couple of weeks,” Maniago said, looking back on the series of events. “But, in the end, we’re really happy with how it’s gone.

“We’re happy that the kids are going to get to play this year and we’ll move forward from here. I think anytime you do renovations it ends up being an upgrade so this time next year I think we’ll be looking at the field, going, ‘Wow, this is great.’”

Metal poles and much brighter, more energy-efficient LED lights are now the standard at community baseball parks. Safety netting has also improved greatly in the past few decades.

“The netting will be better quality if you’re looking through to watch a game,” Maniago said. “This stuff, apparently you almost don’t even see it.”

The soon-to-be-improved Butler Park will eventually have Bay’s name attached to it. Trail city council has already approved in principle a project that will see the venue rechristened as Jason Bay Field at Butler Park. The initiative – which will require the installation of new signage – is currently on hold due to COVID-19.

Jason Peters is a freelance writer and editor based in Prince George, British Columbia. Visit his website at www.frontpagepublications.net.

 

Baseball BC

Catching up with Marika Lyszczyk, former Whalley player making baseball history

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Former Whalley Chiefs baseball player Marika Lyszczyk in Sportsnet’s “Top Of Her Game” video, parts of which were filmed on the diamond at Whalley Athletic Park. (Youtube photo)

Arm surgery rehab awaits the Delta resident, the first female catcher to play NCAA men’s baseball

By Tom Zillich -Surrey News Leader

Evidence suggests there’s no stopping Marika Lyszczyk, but surgery has slowed her down a bit.

This month the former Whalley Chiefs baseball player is resting at home in Tsawwassen following rotator cuff repairs in her throwing arm.

“They thought it was my bicep that was a problem, but it was actually my rotator cuff,” Lyszczyk said with a sigh.

“Right now I’m in total immobilization, I can’t move my shoulder. It’s not very fun sleeping.”

With rehab looming, this fall the 20-year-old catcher plans a return trip to New Hampshire’s Rivier University, whose Division 3 team last year made her the first female catcher to play NCAA men’s baseball. It was historic stuff, and Lyszczyk can’t wait to play ball there again.

“I’ll rehab down there and get back into the swing of things,” she said confidently, in a phone conversation.

“I’m itching to get back, because one of the hardest things for me is to not train,” she added with a laugh.

(Story continues below a seven-minute Sportsnet video: “Marika Lyszczyk Breaking Gender Barriers In NCAA Baseball”)

Earlier this summer, despite lingering soreness in her arm, Lyszczyk travelled to Long Island, NY, to play for the Sag Harbor Whalers of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.

It’s the latest stop in a baseball journey that involved her playing four seasons with the Whalley Chiefs, during her high school years, as the first girl to see action in the B.C. Premier Baseball League (PBL).

“It was such an opportunity there, and such a huge foundation for moving forward in my baseball career,” Lyszczyk said of her days with the Chiefs. “The league is great, with some really good players, and it was such a good experience for me, before going to college.”

Her time at Rivier University in 2020 lasted a brief nine or 10 weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a move back home to Delta.

A year later, a summer in the Hamptons was a thrill for Lyszczyk.

“It was great being there – it’s so beautiful, and the community is great,” she raved. “You hear about it with all the celebrities being there, and the people were so amazing. It was a great chance to go there and play with some pretty high-level guys playing D1, D2, so it definitely was a challenge for me.”

Her original summer plan was to also attend Baseball Canada’s women’s national team showcase in Quebec (along with Surrey prospects Stacy Fournier and Claire Eccles), but for Lyszczyk, arm surgery took priority.

“Last year I had some arm pain and I thought it’d go away,” she recalled. “I’ve thrown a lot in my lifetime, practising sometimes five, six days a week, and my arm has been sore, but not like that. I was hoping to take a few months off and it’d be fine, but I finally got a MRI to realize that something was wrong and that I’d need surgery.

“So I played summer ball and it was more like pain control for me, and I was proud of myself for getting through the summer. But it did hold me back in some areas and I knew I needed to get it fixed when I got back home.

“Generally when you go through a rehab like this,” she added, “people tend to come back stronger, and there’s lots of guys who come back from, like, Tommy John Surgery and they end up throwing two miles an hour faster, things like that. It’s pretty cool to see how rehab has changed in that way, and I’m hopeful that I’ll come back even stronger than I was before.”

She hopes the procedure will ultimately allow her to play more baseball in the future.

“I always say that I want to play baseball as long as I can, as long as the opportunities are there for me, and that’s another reason why it was so crucial that I got my arm fixed now, so hopefully I can have a longer playing career,” Lyszczyk explained.

“And once my playing days are over I hope to do on-field commentating and stay in the game afterward, because I couldn’t imagine my life without baseball.”

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Baseball NL

Jaida Lee leads N.L. under-17 boys’ baseball team to win

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Jaida Lee, 15, pitched Newfoundland and Labrador to a win as the only female player on her team at a recent tournament in Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Amanda Lee)

FROM CBC NEWS – NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

Jaida Lee, 15, can play just about any position on the baseball diamond, but she says there’s nothing like the thrill of staring down batters on the pitcher’s mound.

Lee has been turning heads as the only girl on the Newfoundland and Labrador U-17 boys’ baseball team, recently pitching the team’s only win at a recent Atlantic tournament in Dartmouth, N.S.

But Jaida is modest, despite her success.

“We won the game,” she told CBC Radio’s On The Go.

“It was a great show. She did very well out there pitching,” her mother, Amanda, chimed in.

“She had a great team to back her up as well. The most impressive thing to me was that it was her first time pitching of the season, she’s just back from an injury.”

Jaida said she has been pitching since she was about six years old and has learned to thrive under the pressure of pitching on both boys’ and girls’ teams in tournaments.

Lee also serves double duty as a hitter in the boys’ lineup. (Submitted by Amanda Lee)

“I like the control of it, how you can set the pace of the game,” she said.

“I find with baseball you don’t get many balls hit to you during the game but as the pitcher you always have the ball in your hand. You’re always in control of the game.”

She said the confidence has come from a desire to get better every day, along with a great support system from coaches and her parents.

“I’m always a bag of nerves for the first inning when she’s pitching,” Amanda said.

“It doesn’t matter who she’s playing or what tournament.… I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh,’ [But] as soon as the first inning is done, I’m like, ‘She did it, of course she did.'”

Jaida said playing with the boys’ team is nothing new, since she’s played with her brothers locally for years.

While Amanda said she still gets the occasional double-take from some coaches being the only girl playing in a boys’ tournament, she said the game puts everyone on an equal playing field.

“They always go, ‘Is that a girl out there?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s my daughter,'” she laughed.

Jaida said she has aspirations to play college baseball in the future, with the ultimate goal of representing Team Canada. But for now, it’s all about continuing to get better every day.

“I always try to be better,” she said. “I’m never OK with my current skill. So I’m always pitching to be better.”

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Baseball Ontario

Peterborough Junior Tigers unable to repeat as provincial champions

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Submitted by Scott Cherwaty

August 10, 2021 – The Peterborough Champs 22u Junior Tigers couldn’t put it all together at the Provincial Championships in Leamington, Ontario on the weekend.

The Tigers started off against the Simcoe Giants on Friday night and lost a tough game 2-1 after outplaying the Giants on all aspects of the game except the one that counts which was the scoreboard.

The Tigers outhit the Giants 8-3 led by Brock Newell and Matthew Curphey with 2 hits each and other hits going to Jake Lockyer, Justin Groves, Ryan Brodie and Jake Kempt. Blake Cherwaty scored the only Tiger run after Brock Newell drove him in.

Tim Moloney pitched an excellent game going the distance striking out 11, giving up 3 hits and walking 3. The Tigers left the bases loaded twice and on runner at second and third, all with only one out.

In game 2, the Tigers next played Wyoming Wranglers and the game did not start off well at all for the Tigers as the Wranglers put up 6 runs in the first and 2 runs in the 3rd to take a 8 run lead.

The Tigers struggled a bit on the mound and in the outfield to start the game off. Brock Newell started on the bump going 3 innings giving up 7 hits and 9 runs ,6 of the runs being earned as well as striking out 3 Wranglers.

In the bottom of the 3rd the Tigers woke up and exploded for 9 runs led by Groves grand slam homerun. The Tigers took advantage of the Wrangles’ pitchers who walked 10 batters plus gave up 7 hits.

Brodie and Groves had 2 hits each with other hits going to Cherwaty, Lockyer and Curphey. Groves drove in 5 runs with Lockyer and Cherwaty having 2 each and Ethan Milele picked up the other RBI. Runs were scored by Miele(3) and Curphey(3), Evan Downer(2) and single runs scored by Steve Garvey, Cherwaty, Lockyer, and Groves.

Connor Cavanagh came in relief and pitched a strong 3 1//3 innings giving up 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts giving the Tigers a chance for the comeback. Brodie came in and picked up the win with 2/3 scoreless innings.

In Game 3, The Tigers came out on fire after their amazing comeback, to take the lead 8-1 after 2 innings over the Corunna Giants. The Tigers again outhit the competition with 7 hits vs 6. Downer led the way with a 3 run homerun in the 2nd inning and other hits went to Moloney(2), Groves, Kempt, Curphey and Cherwaty. Tiger runs were scored by Groves(3), Lockyer(2), Moloney(2), Cavanagh, Miele and Cherwaty.

Brodie went 2 innings on the mound striking out 6 and waking 2 leaving with a 8-1 lead. But three Tiger pitchers struggled after that and walked 9 batters and hit 3 which allowed the Giants to rebound with 7 runs in the 4th inning, tying it up at 8-8.

The Tigers did rebound with 2 runs in the 5th and 6th inning leading 12-9 going into the bottom of the 7th. and last inning. The Giants scored 4 runs to walk off the win.

The Simcoe Giants ended up winning the Championship with a 10-3 win over Leamington Lakers.

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