Carberry’s Josh Loewen pitches for the U of W Wesmen baseball team. (SUBMITTED)
For the longest time, baseball players from the Westman area who wanted to play the sport at the university level were forced to move abroad to places like Alberta, B.C., or the United States.
That changed last year when the University of Winnipeg established a Wesmen baseball team. It’s been slow going to organize the program, but Carberry native Josh Loewen is loving his time there and believes it will attract players from all over Manitoba and Canada in the next few years.
"It’s really nice (to be close to home," said the 24-year-old left-handed pitcher. "It’s very convenient. You can get a job here year-round and it’s everyone you know. It’s really convenient."
Playing close to home wasn’t an option for the 6-foot-0, 200-pound Loewen when he graduated high school. So, he went to North Dakota and played for three years with the Jamestown College Jimmies in the NAIA. He took some time off from school before he looked at finishing off his arts degree and work on his education degree. He received a phone call from Wesmen head coach Mike Krykewich last season to play and he’s been grateful ever since.
Not only did that phone call give Loewen — now in his second year with the Wesmen — a chance to play university baseball again, it allowed him to avoid the red tape of receiving post-secondary education in the U.S. and trying to use it to teach in Canada.
"I really wanted to get my education done here," said Loewen, a member of the Manitoba Senior Baseball League’s Neepawa Farmers. "We’re still playing against U.S. teams and it’s good competition."
While Winnipeg’s baseball program is in its second year, it’s not perfect. It isn’t a funded program by the university and has to work hard to raise funds.
It’s also playing an exhibition schedule, although all the teams the Wesmen face are in the NAIA. The Wesmen initially hoped to join the Dakotas conference, but it lost schools over the last few seasons and eventually dissolved. That left a large number of independent teams. Krykewich hopes Winnipeg can join the independent teams to create a new conference in the NAIA.
In the meantime, the Wesmen — who also feature Wade and Drew Haight from Binscarth — are focusing on this season. They got off to a solid start in Minneapolis with a pair of victories over Valley City State before dropping their next two games to Oakton Community College (Ill.).
With such a young program, Krykewich is hoping to be competitive in the Wesmen’s games this season.
"I can’t say we have a goal to play .500, but our team goal is to be competitive and not be whitewashed in our games," he said. "We want to be competitive in that loop."
The Wesmen’s home schedule begins on April 20 when they host the Jimmies at Winnipeg’s Shaw Park.
Winnipeg’s baseball program may be new, but it doesn’t mean the school isn’t taking it seriously. The school is building a new facility that will allow players to work on live hitting and Krykewich believes the Wesmen will have a bright future in baseball.
"The program is making strides," he said. "It’s little by little. It wasn’t built overnight. We’re progressing and we hope things keep progressing."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 9, 2013