Day III: Wilkes wears Martin Academy big M with pride

INF Robbie Wilkes (Regina, Sask.) of Inside Pitch, attends the Martin Academy.

INF Robbie Wilkes (Regina, Sask.) of Inside Pitch, attends the Martin Academy.

By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network

Robbie Wilkes was spotted walking around the Rogers Centre concourse Wednesday night after his game.

He was sporting a T-shirt with a large green M.

Could it be for the 

Marshall Thundering Herd?

Manhattan Jaspers?

North Texas Mean Green?

Or the Mercyhurst Lakers?

You see a lot of logos during Tournament 12 from Utah University Utes to the University of Kentucky Wild Cats to the Stony Brook Seawolves.

But what does the green M stand for?

Well, although Wilkes with his mom Rhonda and father Ron, who also made the trip to Toronto, the big M did not stand for Mom.
No, the green M was the logo of the Martin Academy Monarchs.

The Martin Academy Monarchs?

“It’s a new baseball academy they started last year in Regina,” said Wilkes, who is at T12 playing for the Prairies Purple team and genial skipper Jim Baba (Ottawa, Ont.), along with coaches Jonathan Ali (Winnipeg, Man.), Phil Garner look-a-like Andy Boehm (Brandon, Man.) and Denny Berni (Etobicoke, Ont.). 

“We go to school first, second and third periods practice all afternoon and get credits for our curriculum outcomes,” said Wilkes.

Last year the Monarchs travelled to the Okotoks Academy in Alberta as well as making a 10-day trip to Bakersfield, Calif.

“Our coaches are all about getting us exposure,” said Wilkes and the men in charge are Rob Cherepuschak and Justin Eiswirth.

Cherepuschak is the academy coordinator as well as an instructor after serving as the pitching coach for Team Saskatchewan (2001-05), culminating in 2005 at the Canada Summer Games and the Regina Red Sox of the Western Major Baseball League (2006-08), before taking over as manager (2009-11) guiding the Red Sox to two league finals and the Red Sox first WMBL championship in 2011. 

Eiswirth pitched for Team Saskatchewan (2003-05) and Taft College Cougars (2005-06, 2008), returning home to pitch for his hometown Red Sox. After his playing career ended he took over from Cherepuschak as pitching coach for the Red Sox (2009-11) and managed Regina to the title in 2012.”

“We’re trying to make our Academy like the ones in Alberta,” said Wilkes, who received an offer to attend an Alberta school heading into grade 12 but elected to stay at home. “It depends who you ask but a lot of people might say that Vauxhall Jets have the best players but Okotoks Dawgs have the best facilities.”

The cost?

It’s always about the cost in the ever-expensive sport of baseball.

“It cost me $600 and I live at home, five minutes from the school,” said Wilkes, who also learns from coaches Ryan Hodgins, who doubles as a hockey coach, Mitch MacDonald and Morgan Reiter.

Hodgins played for Team Saskatchewan (1996) and skated for the North Battleford Stars and the University of Regina Cougars, while MacDonald was with Team Saskatchewan program (2004-05), Monterey Peninsula Lobos, earning Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian college team Second Team honors in 2007 and Honourable Mention honors in 2006.

Drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 46th round he played two seasons in their minor league system with the rookie-class Gulf Coast Marlins and class-A Jamestown in 2007-08. He played for his hometown Red Sox winning the Triple Crown in 2010 and followed that up with back-to-back championships in 2011-12 and is now hitting coach with the Red Sox of the WMBL.

Reiter is a professional instructor at the Inside Pitch Baseball Academy. He pitched for the Texas State Bobcats and played two years of independent ball (Regina Cyclones in Prairie League, 1997 and the Bend Bandits in the Western League, 1998). 

Wilkes accompanied Reiter’s Inside Pitch team to Texas and Seattle for high school showcases.

Mom Rhonda, who works for SaskTel, and father Rob, head facility operator for the public school system, also have two other children daughter Jordan, 19 and son Brayden, 15. 

“It only cost $450 including tax for fly here and get a hotel room, you feed yourself when you get here,” said Wilkes.

So, what’s the best thing about a youngster from the Prairies playing infield at the Rogers Centre.

“Overwhelming?” asked mom.

“The Rogers Centre is different on my first visit than it looks on TV?” Wilkes said.

And how is that.

“Well, sometimes you have to stand there and look around ... take it all in ... like tonight we were in the visitor’s dugout and someone went to the water fountain. A guy said ‘hey Derek Jeter probably drank out of that same fountain.'”

They were right about Jeter ... and 27 years of other visiting thirsty major leaguers.

An infielder Wilkes will attend Friday’s Boston Red Sox-Blue Jays game to cheer for his team and cheer for his guy Troy Tulowitzki, except he knows he won’t see the shortstop have an at-bat.

“I know he’s injured -- what a strange injury, I saw how he got hit and dropped the ball, you say it was Kevin Pillar’s chin that broke the bone in his shoulder blade? -- but he’s still my favorite,” Wilkes said. 

Meeting the commissioner -- and we don’t mean Bud Selig or Rob Manfred -- was a thrill too.

“Chatting with Robbie Alomar was really fun and before we hit tonight his father (Sandy Alomar) spoke to out team,” said Wilkes.

During the winter the Monarchs take ground balls at Evraz Place, a soccer facility, with indoor turf.

“We had 37 players the first year at Martin and were hoping for more and we had 67 show up the second year,” said Wilkes. The infielder is still looking for a school but has had interest from the Jarvis Christain College Bulldogs in Hawkins, Tex. 

Wilkes wasn’t selected to represent the province at the Canada Cup, due to "political reasons" and was spotted at the T12 tryout in Regina.

Imagine a province bothered by politcal problems around the diamond? Sounds like oh, nine other provinces.

Now that the ‘M’ T-shirt mystery has been solved ... what on earth is Etobicoke’s Berni doing coaching with the Prairie team?

Did we miss the trade in the transactions?

After his first year at Orange Coast Community College in 1985 Berni caught for the Swift Current Indians.

“The year I was out west was Jim Baba’s last year playing in Moose Jaw, before he moved to Saskatoon (to take over Saskatchewan Baseball),” said Berni, who finished his second year at Orange Coast, transferred to Vanguard and was signed by the Boston Red Sox playing three seasons for the rookie-class Gulf Coast Red Sox, class-A Elmira and class-A Lynchburg from 1990-92.

Loud welcome: George Bell was screaming. No surprise there.

“What are you doing here, I remember you,” said Bell when he spotted Albert Red coach Greg Morrison.

Bell was a minor-league hitting instructor under general manager George Bell in 1997.

Morrison was a third-year pro in his first year in the Blue Jays system after being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 71st round of the 1994 draft.  

Playing for his hometown Medicine Hat Blue Jays Morrison won the rookie-class Pioneer League triple crown hitting .448 with 23 homers and 88 RBIs. 

He also had 16 doubles, three triples and finished the 69-game schedule with a 1.299 OPS.

Morrison was voted 2013 WMBL executive of the year after becoming owner of the Medicine Hat Mavericks in 2009. Fan attendance averages doubled under his first season as owner.

He played 12 seasons as a pro with in the Dodgers and Jays systems, retiring in 2006. In 2005, he reached career milestones 1,000 hits and 100 homers as a pro. 

Morrison played for both the Jr. and Sr. Canadian National Team a combined seven times including the bronze medal 1999 Pan-Am Games. In 2000, as part of Team Canada at the World Cup Qualifier in Panama he led the tournament in RBIs, and earned himself a spot on the All-World team.