For the last few years, Garrett Popplestone has played volleyball in the winter and then switched his focus to baseball in the summer by joining the Brandon Cloverleafs of the Manitoba Senior Baseball League. This summer has been different for him.
After returning home from playing his first season of professional volleyball in Sweden, the 23-year-old Brandon University Bobcats graduate opted not to hit the diamond and instead focus on training for a chance to go back overseas.
"Going overseas and making that a reality put new perspectives on what should be in order," he said. "I think volleyball was the better choice than playing baseball. Even though I love playing baseball, it was something I had to set aside to see if I could reach my goals."
Popplestone, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound setter, capped his three-year career with his hometown BU Bobcats by helping them win their first Canada West conference title and a Canadian Interuniversity Sport bronze medal at the 2013 nationals. He got a call last August that Sodertelge, a team in Sweden, wanted to sign him to play professionally and he jumped at the chance.
Popplestone’s new team struggled, going 4-14 in the Swedish league’s regular season before getting swept in all three of its playoff quarter-final matches to eventual runner-up Linkopings. However, Popplestone loved his time in Sodertelge, which is 33 kilometres southwest of Stockholm.
"It was a great experience for my first year being out and overseas," he said. "I went in open-minded. You have ups and downs with every season and as it was we were battling middle of the pack the whole year, but I feel like I fared well for myself and showed the league what I brought to the table.
"At the end, there’s the top four teams that are doing really well in that league and have a lot of expensive players and higher talent. It’s tougher for those teams in the middle of the pack to compete for those top spots, but it was a great experience. I loved living there, maybe a little too far away from home, but there was a lot of people who were supporting me and made the experience easy and fun for me. I was happy to be there and enjoyed it as much as I could."
There were a few things that Popplestone had to get used to while in Sweden. For the previous five years — two of which were spent at Medicine Hat College — he was used to balancing classes, homework and training with the volleyball team. In Sweden, his lifestyle adjusted to having a full day to prepare for volleyball practices and the weekend’s matches.
He also had trouble figuring out what was on the menu at restaurants early on in his time there, but Popplestone was helped out by the locals, most of whom spoke English.
While Popplestone wants to continue his professional volleyball career, he has not been invited back to Sodertelge next season. He has hired an agent in hopes of finding a new team and is hoping to receive an offer later this summer.
"Just the way it works out financially for the club, I’m not going to be going back," he said. "I have an agent in the Netherlands right now looking for something, so I’m hoping something will pop up in the next couple months to give some options. I’m just spending some time with my folks at the new house in The Pas and doing some training and trying to stay in shape for if I get a call somewhere."