By Tom Bone
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — Growing up in the western Canadian province of Alberta, Tanner Kirwer’s favorite Major League team was the only one headquartered in the country: the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last month when the major league draft was entering its final stages, he got an “amazing” phone call. The speedy outfielder from the community of Sherwood Park was about to be picked by his favorite team.
“I was actually so nervous about the draft that I had to go golfing to get my mind off of it,” Kirwer said in a recent interview at Bowen Field. “When I got the call that I was going to get drafted, it was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever had. Being my favorite team, for as long as I can remember, it was unbelievable.”
Toronto chose him in the 20th round and signed him on June 19. A couple of days later, he was on his way to Bluefield.
His hometown is located “about half an hour” outside the capital of Alberta, Edmonton, he said. Many people don’t realize the size of the provincial capital. “Edmonton’s pretty big, it’s about a million people,” Kirwer said.
In his senior year of high school, playing for the Sherwood Park Dukes, he compiled a .521 batting average and won NorWest League Player of the Year.
He got a big break when he was chosen to compete in the 2013 Canada Games, where he was among his nation’s best prep players. “Playing in big tournaments like that allows me to see how good players actually are, and I can adapt myself to their level,” he said.
He helped the Alberta squad to a third-place finish, batting .368.
It was also a great chance to show his stuff to scouts.
“Being from Alberta, it’s kind of hard to get seen, to go to the next level,” Kirwer said. “Being able to go to big tournaments like that allowed me ... to be able to advance to college baseball.”
That turned out to be Niagara University, a private Catholic liberal-arts institution in New York located just four miles from the world-famous Niagara Falls. Kirwer joined a team that competes in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference on the NCAA Division I level.
He said that when he first reported to the field at Niagara, “I just knew my game. I knew I wasn’t a power guy. I knew I was a speed guy, who could bunt and hit the ball on the ground. And that’s how I stayed consistent, throughout my college years, knowing the player (that) I am.”
He posted batting averages in the .325 range for the Niagara Purple Eagles in his first two seasons. In his sophomore season, he was named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association National Hitter of the Week after a three-game series in which he was 10 for 14 at the plate and drove in 12 runs.
This spring, in his junior year of college, he batted .335, leading the team in hits, runs, doubles (20) and his specialty, stolen bases, going 23 for 25 in steal attempts.
The adrenaline rush of beating a throw to a stolen base is “what I play for,” Kirwer said. “It’s one of the greatest feelings. ... I’m just doing it to get on base and in scoring position for the big hitters behind me. Anything to help the team.”
Joining the pro ranks, he said, “was the same as being a high school player going to college. I had to make that jump, and this is just another jump in my career.”
“(It’s) still the same game. Different people, though.”
He is still trying to get the hang of hitting off minor-league pitching. Going into Monday’s game, he had 19 games under his belt and was batting .188, with 12 hits in 64 at-bats. He had struck out 23 times, drew five bases on balls, produced seven RBI and scored nine runs.
He also had two stolen bases, and a zero in the “caught stealing” category, on his season stat sheet.
“I still have to learn a lot,” he said. “I’ve had a kind of slow start, here at the start, but I think I’m starting to feel more comfortable at the plate and adapting to the level of the pitching.”
“It’s been a dream of mine to play pro baseball, and now that it’s happening, it feels surreal. But I’m just going to go out there and try my best every day, and try to make the next level.”
— Contact Tom Bone at