University of Winnipeg president Dr. Lloyd Axworthy threw out the first pitch Monday at the Duckworth Centre, as the downtown campus announced it was adding baseball to its list of intercollegiate sports.
Judging from the gopher ball he delivered, it'll be a frosty Friday in Death Valley before Wesmen coaches Guy Yerama and Mike Krykewich call on him in the bottom of the ninth as their ace closer.
"Look, I told you I have a great sinkerball," quipped Axworthy, who had previously offered his services if the team ever found itself in dire needs. "We don't get much chance to work out on the third floor of the Wesley Building. Now that the team is here, you just might see an old crock warming up on the sidelines."
Student-athletes in the baseball program will begin classes and training in September with a full slate of games beginning in the spring of 2012.
The goal of the program is to compete as a full member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics within a few years. The closest NAIA competition is the Dakota Athletic Conference, which features schools in North and South Dakota.
In its first full season, the Wesmen will play 35 to 40 spring games against teams in the NAIA, National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Junior Colleges Athletic Association. The Wesmen will play home games at Shaw Park, home of the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
Yerama said that by playing non-conference games the first year (2012), they'll be able, "to get all the kinks shaken out, and hopefully be ready in our second year to play in the NAIA."
The university schedule includes a fall program of six weeks in which they will train and practice, with a few exhibition and intersquad games thrown in. "In January we'll start our indoor workouts," said Yerama, "and really get going about late February and early March when we'll travel to where the weather is warm enough to play. From there we'll work our way north until we are playing home games in mid-April or so."
The first two players to commit to the program are second baseman Cody Hunter and shortstop Wes Pomeransky. Both are members of the 2010 Western Canadian junior champion Elmwood Giants, and the national junior Team Manitoba that captured its first Canadian title in 28 years.
"When I was finished high school, I did look for an opportunity to go down south," said Pomeransky, "but at the time I was rehabbing a shoulder injury, so I thought it would be better to stay home and let it heal. Now that this opportunity is here it's just fantastic."
Hunter also looked south of the border. "Getting accepted in the faculty of education here was more important. But now that this is offered here at home, I'm on board, and it will be awesome."
"Right now we're going after the local talent here," said Krykewich, who is heading up recruitment. "We're looking at our AAA and midget players first. We're also looking at some of our players who have gone south, who are at two-year junior colleges. This will be a hometown option for them to come home. Also, all those guys who played in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League are prime guys to get right now."
Baseball is not in the CIS plans for the future, but U of W athletic director Doran Reid said he might start investigating the possibilities.