It’s not often curlers, especially leads, get recognized on the national stage in other sports.
However, that’s exactly what will happen to former Brandonite Nolan Thiessen on Monday at Rogers Centre. Before the Toronto Blue Jays take to the field for their major league baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, Thiessen — the lead on Kevin Koe’s Edmonton-based team — will take the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Throwing a pitch at a big-league ball park is a dream come true for Thiessen, who admits baseball is his first love. That’s why he left Brandon’s Vincent Massey High School for Louisiana in his Grade 12 year. He also went on to play for Vernon College in Texas after that and spent numerous seasons with the Manitoba Senior Baseball League’s Brandon Cloverleafs.
With so much baseball experience, Thiessen, a former pitcher, is planning on showing that curlers are better athletes than most people think.
"I want to show good for curling and not just stand out there halfway to the mound and not look very athletic and just lob it up there," Thiessen said. "That’s not as good as someone who gets up to the top of the mound and lets it fly. That’s what I plan on doing."
This opportunity never would have come along if not for Rogers’ purchase of the Grand Slam of Curling events. The massive media company wanted to showcase its new product and decided to do some cross-promotion with the Blue Jays, who are also owned by Rogers. The final Grand Slam event of the season — the Players’ Championship — starts on Tuesday in Toronto.
All the curlers were approached at the Grand Slam event in Port Hawkesbury, N.S., in January about the possibility of one of them throwing out the first pitch. They were given a ballot to vote on whomever they wanted to represent them. Thiessen lobbied his colleagues before the vote and came out on top.
"It’s definitely going to be very cool," said Thiessen, who won the Brier and world men’s curling championship with Koe in 2010. "Some people might think ‘Who’s this guy?’ and some curlers think Kevin Martin should be throwing it out, but it’s going to be exciting.
"For me, it’s really cool because baseball is my first love and I get to stand on a major league mound and throw a ball, even if it’s just an opening pitch for a game, a little ceremonial thing. It’s going to be fun and hopefully we’ll get a whole day out of it and go on the field and be on the field for quite a bit of it."
Thiessen hopes throwing out the first pitch and a good showing at the Players’ Championship, which will also feature former Brandonite Mike McEwen’s Winnipeg-based team, will make for a perfect finish to a very successful season. Even though Koe’s team didn’t make it to this year’s Brier — they lost the Alberta final to Martin — Thiessen feels his team was a lot more consistent.
They won $107,700 during the World Curling Tour season, one Grand Slam event and are eligible for the $50,000 bonus prize awarded to the top team at this season’s Slams.
They also accomplished their main goal for the season of earning enough points to secure a spot in December’s Roar of the Rings Olympic trials in Winnipeg.
Thiessen views the Olympics as the pinnacle of curling and would love to make another dream come true in front of family and friends.
"It will be pretty exciting and I’ll have lots of friends and family there (at Winnipeg)," he said. "I have tons of family who still live in Manitoba so they’re going to come out.
"People asked me at the last trials if it will be hard because it (was) a hometown trials in Edmonton and I think this will be harder in Winnipeg because I’ll have more family and know more people in the stands than in Edmonton. It will be exciting though. Hopefully we’re there on the weekend playing in the playoffs and the last one standing."