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Wesmen baseball program taking baby steps

U of W spends most of season on the road but future looks good

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Wesmen baseball players Rory Mitchell (from left), Paul Esteves, Brendan Gaunt and Zach Campbell were busy getting the  Chalmers Community Centre field ready for Friday's home game.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Wesmen baseball players Rory Mitchell (from left), Paul Esteves, Brendan Gaunt and Zach Campbell were busy getting the Chalmers Community Centre field ready for Friday's home game. Photo Store

Mike Krykewich knows what he and the budding University of Winnipeg Wesmen baseball team have signed up for is part folly, part having the dream and part loving the game.

And he knows the team's nickname would be more suitable if it were "Nomads."

Coming to the end of three seasons of nothing but exhibitions and friendlies, the Wesmen will be taking a big step for the next competitive school year when they will join the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).

"Our goal next year will be applying to the North Star Athletic Conference in the NAIA," Krykewich said, citing the conference members in North Dakota and South Dakota (Dickinson, Mayville State, Valley City State, Jamestown University, Dakota State in Madison, S.D., and Presentation College). "We think it will really help us progress the program."

So far, it's been a lot of seeking out willing opponents to prove the Wesmen have the stomach for the college baseball weather and the travel.

"We're challenged climate-wise, sure, but now, hopefully with us joining the NAIA, we can expand our recruiting base a little bit," he said. "Home games? Very few, no argument about that. But every school in North Dakota battles it. It's not a foreign idea.

"Here's a common thing -- let's say on March 28, we were in Dakota State, if the conditions aren't great, we go south, probably to Kansas, to play that game. Every northern school battles the lack of home games. In general, we seem to be a week to two weeks behind Fargo as far as fields being ready.

"When we host games, they'll be in a bunch and be over a four- or five-day period at the end of April. It's just when things would be available."

Here is what the Wesmen have embraced as a schedule in this school year.

They got busy in September with six weeks of five-a-week practices and a steady diet of intrasquad games, helping Krykewich sort out the talent and the lineup.

The team continued its own workouts after mid-October, then reconvened in mid-January -- no, not at Shaw Park for a twin bill, but to plot the route that would start them in mid-February for a series in Topeka, Kan., and beyond for the spring seasons.

The team also took a trip to Tucson, Ariz., for more competition. Its only series cancellation of the year so far was early this week in Mayville, N.D.

It's 32 games and counting, with a few engagements to go such as this Friday, -- a rare home appearance -- against Northland College of Thief River Falls, Minn., and later next week at North Dakota State.

This weekend, if Mother Nature could just show a hint of kindness, brings another highlight for the fledgling program. On Sunday, the Wesmen are scheduled to meet the Winnipeg Goldeyes for an exhibition game at Shaw Park.

"That's the best," Krykewich gushed. "This will be the third time they have more or less offered this to us and it's almost a great way to end our year.

"What a way for us to experience, for one day, what it is to be a minor pro. It's just awesome. We get to hit the BP. We get the visitors' locker-room. I hand in my lineup card. It's a big deal and it should be noted that the Goldeyes, just because we're a university team, they treat us like any exhibition game. That's so great for us."

In the meantime during a drizzly Wednesday, Krykewich was trying to scramble his team together via texts to try a workout at Chalmers Community Centre in Elmwood, site of Friday's schedule meeting with Northland.

"Today's practice, just like every other northern school, is 25 guys with rakes trying to get a field ready so you can play on Friday," he laughed. "It is hard sometimes when you don't have home games but when you have them, they're a big deal."

Right now, as impractical as it all seems, the games, not the results, are the foundation for a developing program, Krykewich said.

"We are challenged, no question about that," he said. "Youth is served on our team. We have a lot of guys who are first-year players who have just come out of the Manitoba AAA midget league and we're playing against guys that have four years eligibility and against 22- and 23-year-old players. We've been holding our own but it's not a lot of wins.

"But we have definitely been educated in what it takes to be successful."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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