Let me tell a story. It takes a major event for a reflective story like this.
I was part of a very skilled group of fastball players growing up. You know, “girls baseball”. It’s not “girls baseball” at all; ladies happen to play the game more than men, specifically at the college ranks. But straight up, fastball is a better game than baseball. It’s way faster, more exhilarating, and takes a much higher level of skill to play.
I was part of this really strong fastball group growing up. Our group of 11-year-olds had to travel upwards of 16 hours to find another team to play that would keep us to within 10 runs. It became expensive for our group to continue playing and we ultimately fizzled out.
When the time came for the team to fold, each player had a choice as to whether they could convert to baseball or quit playing altogether.
Our group was from Winkler, which is nestled in between two baseball-playing communities, about a 10 minute drive from either town. Most Winkler kids went to Plum Coulee to play baseball. It was unheard of to ever play out of Morden — the rival community to the west. To this day, there is an unwritten rivalry between Winkler and Morden. It’s not a good rivalry. It needs to be torn down for the area to progress forward. But it’s there and it was unheard of to ever cross that border.
I asked if I could play in Plum Coulee. I was told Plum Coulee had already picked their team and didn’t have room for me. I was a broken-hearted 12-year-old. I loved baseball. I was pretty good at it. And I was told they wouldn’t make any exceptions.
So my dad called an older gentleman in Morden to see if Morden still had room on their baseball team. The coach said the team had already been picked, but he never wanted to see a young man quit playing baseball. So he let me come down for a one-practice tryout. I grabbed my glove — an old 12.5-inch mitt from the 1980s I found in my grandma’s garage, as I didn’t have a baseball glove, I had a fastball glove — and went to that one-practice tryout.
I didn’t know anyone. I felt completely out of place. I felt like I had broken an unwritten rule by crossing that Morden/Winkler boundary. I felt sick to my stomach when I first arrived.
By the end of the practice, the older coach said he would love to have me on the team. He thought I would play regularly and deserved a chance to play.
Of course, I showed up at the first game of the year, made a big play with my gigantic glove, and the rest is history.
I played a lot of baseball after that. Over 100 games a year, for sure.
I was approached to play on the Manitoba provincial team the year after as a 13-year-old. From then on, I quickly rose the ranks to being the top shortstop in the province, being named team captain of the Manitoba Youth Selects provincial team that played in Alberta at a major national championship. I was scouted for the youth national team (though never made it; a friend of mine from Winkler actually made it — what an incredible accomplishment) and played baseball right through my teenage and early adult years. I won a batting title in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League, helped startup a senior baseball team in Winkler, coached multiple U18 and junior teams, and am currently helping rebuild the baseball park in Winkler. I worked at the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame as a young adult and now sit on the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame board as the interim treasurer.
Even better, because I played in Morden as a 12-year-old and crossed the dreaded boundary between the 2 rival communities, I developed my closest group of friends. I didn’t go to high school with them, but I played baseball with them. To this day, this group of Morden friends is the closest group of friends I ever had.
That group of friends led me straight to my wife. My Morden baseball buddies vowed they had met the woman for me and they set us up on our first date. Indeed, we got married 4 years later as young 22-year-old whipper snappers. We have 3 beautiful girls together today.
Because I had broken that barrier between Winkler and Morden, I had no problem as a young adult working in Morden as well. I gained employment in Morden and eventually found my way into a CPA office in Morden. I completed my CPA designation in 2021 at the same Morden office after 10 years of study and moved my young family to Morden to build our lives here.
Morden is home. It was home from the very moment that older coach gave me a chance to play baseball. I grew up in Winkler. But Morden is home.
Joe Wiwchar today is 87 years old. He became just the 5th Manitoban to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, standing with legends that played and built the game of baseball in our country. Joe coached baseball for 70 years before retiring from the game as a coach only last year.
It was in his 50th year as a coach — after coaching a thousand players before me — that he gave me that last minute chance to play baseball.
Of course, I also had a chance to coach with Joe after my youth baseball years. He gave me a job at the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame, where we worked shoulder-to-shoulder for six straight months in a closet of an office. Joe and his wife came to our wedding. I’ve met and competed with Joe’s grandkids on the baseball field and on the hockey rink and bantered with them at Joe’s dinner table over baseball cards and baseball jackets.
Being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is the highest baseball honour you can achieve in our country. There is no person more deserving of the highest baseball honour. I owe a great deal to Joe and I’m so, so happy to see him receive the recognition he deserves.
It was that simple act of giving a young boy a chance to play baseball that altered the course of a life forever. Who knows where I’d be today. Who knows who I would have married. Who knows what I’d be doing.
We can all have this sort of impact. You simply never know how your actions will alter the course of a person’s life, especially when you can impact them in their mouldable youth years.