Brandon’s Luke Whelpton pitches for Vauxhall Academy in a game earlier this season. (SUBMITTED)
When he was eight years old, Luke Whelpton was hit so hard by a baseball he wanted to quit the sport.
His parents, however, encouraged him to continue playing baseball and the 18-year-old Brandonite is extremely grateful he didn’t give it up 10 years ago.
Whelpton has developed into a solid pitcher who left Brandon to attend Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in Vauxhall, Alta., this school year and the move has paid off with a college baseball scholarship. Whelpton has verbally committed to play for the Owens Community College Express and plans to sign his letter of intent next week. The Express are an American Division 2 junior college school with three campuses in Ohio.
"If it wasn’t for my parents, there’s no way I’d be here," said Whelpton, who received a scholarship that will cover his full tuition. "They instilled the confidence in me to continue moving on and get over (being hit by the ball). Now I’m not scared of the ball anymore, but they helped me adjust as a youth to where I am now for sure."
Playing baseball at an American college has been a goal of Whelpton’s for quite a few years. The 6-foot, 175-pound left-handed pitcher stood out on the mound as he came up through the Brandon Minor Baseball program and with the Vincent Massey Vikings in the Prairie West High School Baseball League. He also played for the Brandon Marlins in the Manitoba Senior Baseball League last season.
Recruiters from Vauxhall’s Academy of Baseball tried to recruit him for his Grade 11 season, but he declined their offer. He agreed to go there for this school year and is impressed with how much he has improved since August.
"I haven’t exactly gotten any taller or more physical features, but my fastball has improved a lot speed wise and location wise and just the way I handle myself on and off the mound," he said. "Before I came (to Vauxhall), I showed a lot of emotion and my competitive nature got out of me most of the time. Coming here, I’ve learned to control it and monitor it in a good way. I just play the best I can every day and try to keep my emotions in check."
Whelpton will be back in Brandon this summer, where he is expected to be one of two overagers playing on Manitoba’s 17U provincial team that will compete at the Baseball Canada Cup from Aug. 7-14 in London, Ont. He will also rejoin the Marlins’ MSBL pitching staff.
After that, he’ll be off to Ohio, where he hopes to continue developing his pitching abilities so he can eventually play in the NCAA.
"Hopefully I’ll see my fastball velocity increase a bit more," he said. "After my two years are up, I’d like to sign with an actual NCAA Division 1 school somewhere. That and just make some new friends and continue on with my baseball career."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 12, 2012