International Falls be warned—there is a group of Canadian hockey players masquerading as baseball players in your town.
The Fort Frances Kiwanis Junior ‘B’ baseball team has been in operation for the past month now, but don’t be fooled. This group of nine- and 10-year-olds are hockey players first and foremost.
“I don’t think there’s one kid that isn’t a hockey player,” said coach Don Larson, now in his second season coaching the team.
But while the players (and even the coaches) are counting down the days until summer hockey camps get underway, these kids like their baseball, too.
“Yeah, I like baseball,” said Judd Gardiman, 10, who is playing his second season. “I just like throwing the ball and getting some hits.”
“I like it when I get to pitch or play first base or second base, and I really like hitting the ball,” echoed Brayden Webb, nine, after a game against Coca-Cola last Thursday over in the Falls.
The game saw Kiwanis, who had entered with a 2-4-1 record, start out well enough, but in the end, they were tagged with another loss (this time falling 12-6).
Actually, it was a game Kiwanis almost won by default.
Larson’s watch indicated that game time had already passed, but Coca-Cola, which entered play with a 2-2-1 mark, was one player short. And though the skies overhead were finally clear after a week’s worth of rain, things were looking bleak on the diamond.
“We don’t want to have a forfeit,” said Larson.
“We want to play ball. I mean, we’re already over here,” added Duff Mosbeck, who also coaches the team along with Scott Gobeil.
Coca-Cola would pick up a player and play would start, but not before a little bit of coaching advice to a few players while they took a couple of practice swings before stepping into the batter’s box.
“I want to bunt,” Webb said after taking a swing.
“Oh, you don’t want to bunt. Bunting is for girls. Homers are for boys,” Mosbeck said with a chuckle.
There would be no homers, or bunts, in the game, but Kiwanis was able to play good “small ball” and take advantage of smart base-running to grab a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
But the lead didn’t last long as Coca-Cola scored four runs in the bottom half.
Kiwanis scored again in the top of the second when Gardiman scampered home on a wild pitch to cut Coca-Cola’s lead to 4-3.
But Coca-Cola would cement the win in the bottom half with four more runs (the maximum allow per inning in the five-team Major Junior ‘B’ league).
“It wasn’t one of our better outings,” said Larson. “We couldn’t get enough strikes at the start and we had too many walks and those cost us runs, and that’s been our downfall most of the time.”
“If the pitcher isn’t throwing strikes, then we lose the game, and if the pitcher is throwing strikes, then we win the games,” added Larson, who would see Colton Spicer, Tyler Mosbeck, and Gardiman take the mound for his squad.
After Kiwanis struck out three-straight times in the top of the third, Coca-Cola added three more runs in their next at-bat to make the score 11-3.
The next two innings (games usually run six innings, but because of the delay at the start, they had to call the game after the fifth) would see much of the same from Kiwanis: stranding runners on base because of strike-outs.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it can be frustrating because I don’t think the umpiring is consistent enough,” said Larson. “Our strike zone is smaller than theirs. That’s not hard to tell, but what are you going to do?”
Kiwanis were scheduled to play three make-up games this week, with the playoffs starting next week. Larson is hoping “to go into the third round of the playoffs. That would be my goal heading into the playoffs.”
What were his goals coming into the regular season?
“After the first game, I didn’t think we would win a game but we’ve won a couple,” Larson remarked.
So how much has this team developed since the start of the season?
“Leaps and bounds. Leaps and bounds,” Larson replied.
Not bad for a bunch of hockey players.
The Kiwanis Junior ‘B’ baseball team also includes Jordan Larson, Chris Jensen, Cobe Gardiman, Chad Galusha, Cameron Gobeil, and Mark Loveday.