By: Nick Ashbourne
In Thunder Bay hockey is everything.
That's may be something of a stereotype, but it's also a statement of fact that even local baseball star Carter McEachern wouldn't dispute.
“Thunder Bay revolves around hockey," he says. "You play it 12 months a year all the time.”
McEachern, the Thunder Bay Bordercats third baseman and a Northwoods League All-Star, did not have a dissimilar childhood from many other kids in Northern Ontario. Early on hockey came first.
“Baseball was sort of my backup sport," says McEachern. "My No. 1 goal, just like every Canadian being from Thunder Bay, was to play in the NHL."
Thunder Bay's climate played a significant role in the third baseman's story. The short summers allowed him to play only 20 or 30 games of baseball per year growing up.
“I played only very minimal baseball up until college," says McEachern. "It’s taken off since then."
He got the opportunity to demonstrate his talents at Trinity University in San Antonio, Tex., 2,560 kilometres from home. After ascending to a starting role with the Tigers, he was given the chance to play in a summer league. McEachern had no trouble choosing where to go.
“When my opportunity to play summer ball came up my first option and the only option I’d take was coming home," he recalls.
Unsurprisingly, McEachern is a hit at Tbaytel Field, the home of the Border Cats. Not only is he the hometown kid, but he's also having an excellent season for the team hitting .324 with one home run, 24 RBI, and 12 stolen bases.
“It’s a surreal feeling every time you get called out for the starting lineup and the crowd goes crazy when they say your name," he says.
The Border Cats have been around since 2003 and have sent three players to the major leagues: Matt Mangini, Blaine Hardy and Jonathan Diaz, who won a World Series with the 2013 Boston Red Sox and played for the Toronto Blue Jays. McEachern remembers watching the attending their games a great deal when he was a kid.
“Growing up I would always go," he says. "I sold 50/50 tickets at the games.”
Not only does McEachern find playing at home enjoyable, he also believes it helps his game.
“It eases me into the at-bat and makes me not think of anything," he says. "It really helps actually.”
Whether it's a friendly crowd or just the comforts of home, playing in Thunder Bay is clearly doing wonders for McEachern. He's not going to convert it to a baseball town any time soon, but he has given locals an athlete to cheer for who's not on skates.
In Thunder Bay that's no small feat.