By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Tyler Vavra is finally done school.
After six years of post-secondary education and baseball between three different institutions, the 24-year-old leaves Canisius College with his Master’s degree in Sports Administration after completing his undergraduate degree in Sports Management, and he just wants to stay on the diamond.
“I finally graduated,” Vavra said. “It’s been six years of baseball and I’m actually going to Regina this summer to play summer ball and I want to keep on playing. I’m going to play forever, as long as I can … I got a master’s in sports administration – I decided to continue on that path – and I might end up working in hockey or professional spots hopefully, but I want to play baseball as long as possible.
“I’ll train when I get back to Calgary in September and try to play the highest level of baseball I can, whether it be overseas or Australia, wherever. [Former Golden Griffins reliever and Nova Scotia native] Alex Tufts went to Austria – we’re good buddies and we stay in touch – and he said I could do that, or Holland would be really cool, or Australia, just to travel the world and play.”
The right-hander started his collegiate journey at junior college in Idaho where he spent two years before heading to Eastern Michigan University for two more. After having to undergo Tommy John surgery in his first season with the Eagles and having a hard time coming back in his second year, Vavra became eligible for two more seasons of college baseball, and joined the Griffs in Buffalo.
Before winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship and heading to the Springfield Regional to close out his final season, the Calgary, Alta., native’s career was highlighted by early appearances that created fond memories.
“The highlight of my college life would be getting my first appearance,” Vavra said. “It was with Eastern Michigan. Well, my first start against Duke was kind of my highlight because I got my first start but then I tore my UCL so it was kind of a bit of both, but the three innings I pitched before I got hurt were really good. I got to where I wanted to get to in baseball. It had been my dream to play Division-I baseball and that was the highlight.
“But playing against [Washington Nationals outfielder] Bryce Harper was one of the cooler things I did at junior college. He was at Southern Nevada and I was at the College of Southern Idaho, and squaring up against one of the best hitters was a cool experience. He took me deep, but I got him out a few times. He got the best of me in that case. Those are the two that stick out in my head.”
After taking the top spot in the conference into last year’s final round and suffering a devastating loss in the championship, Vavra’s collegiate career came to a successful end with the Griffins after Canisius lost the first game of the MAAC tournament and had to come out victorious in the next five straight matchups to move on, a task that they accomplished, and never appeared to faze them.
“You always want to go into the tournament as the No. 1 seed, right?” Vavra said. “But in the grand scheme of things, having the No. 1 seed is sometimes a curse in the MAAC tournament … I like the group of guys we have and we’ve grown together. There’s been some ups and downs and that helps you in the long run when you’re going through a tournament and you really have your backs against the wall.”
The graduate of the Vauxhall Baseball Academy now passes down the reigns at Canisius to fellow former Jets hurler and New Glasgow, PEI native J.P. Stevenson to continue to represent the program, as well as the island. The freshman already impressed in his first year with the Griffs, going 7-4 with a 4.81 ERA over 18 games and 14 starts in 73 innings with 18 walks and 69 strikeouts.
“I’m so pumped for J.P.,” Vavra said. “He is such a stud. He’s had [some] rough outings, but … he handles pressure extremely well and he just doesn’t let anything really get to him. I guess that might be the island mentality right, not taking it too seriously and just getting the job done. He’s a fiery competitor and he’s one of those great guys to have on your team.”
Before Stevenson arrived in Buffalo last September – following his final trip as a member of the Canadian Junior National Team to La Paz, Mex., where he and the rest of the squad earned bronze medals and a bid for this year’s team to the world championships in Koshien, Japan in September – Vavra already knew plenty about him because Vauxhall head coach Les McTavish had given him the full scouting report on the impressive southpaw.
“Les and I always talked about him,” Vavra said. “He said he’s a world-class competitor and he doesn’t get nervous on any stage. When he was with Team Canada in Mexico, it was no surprise that he went out there and pitches well against Mexico in such an environment like he was in.”
Vavra welcomed the newcomer and the two quickly became friends. He has no doubt the young lefty will continue to find success throughout his college career, and looks forward to seeing what the remaining representative of Vauxhall can do.
“It is fun to have [an] islander because I know exactly how they are,” the senior said. “They always fit in wherever they go, so it was really easy to welcome him. I just said, ‘If you have any questions let me know,’ and we became really good friends over the season. He’s an easygoing guy as all islanders are, he just has a good personality. He comes to the park ready to work and he’s a hardworking kid.”