Wesmen players left stunned after baseball program cut
By Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
Little did the University of Winnipeg Wesmen know, their regular season finale would also be the program’s swan song.
Days later they are still searching for answers.
“I don’t know how it came about,” Morgan de Pena, head coach of the Wesmen, said. “The athletic director came into my office and told me they were cutting sports. I wanted to know why baseball was being cut.”
The budget, burden on athletic staff, facility usage and travel to the United States are some of the reasons being thrown around, something de Pena isn’t completely buying. The university’s board of regents approved $3.7 million in cost cuts in the 2017-18 operating budget on Monday evening.
Chris Minaker, senior executive officer with the University of Winnipeg, told the CBC the choice came down to tough decisions created by stagnating funding from the province. The school cut funding for baseball, along with funding for the men’s and women’s wrestling teams and this season’s men’s soccer. This ended Winnipeg’s six-year run at having a baseball program.
Roughly 70 students play on the affected teams and the school estimates it will save almost $400,000 from the cuts.
“We make up our deficit,” de Pena said. “It’s a shame. If the university doesn’t want us, they don’t want us.”
Many players found out their futures were about to change via a media release.
“We had planned on having a team wind down for the end of the year. I felt we were going to be better next year,” de Pena said. “I didn’t have any answers for them.”
To make things worse, had the Wesmen won a game in their final weekend against Mayville State they would’ve punched a ticket to the North Star Athletic Conference tournament. A big step in the right direction for a relatively new National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics member.
A decision like this doesn’t come without consequences. The University of British Columbia and Douglas College are two options to stay in Canada while playing an American based schedule, but the loss of the Wesmen is a hit to baseball in Canada.
“I had players coming from all over,” said de Pena. “You don’t get this opportunity all the time. It eliminates potential of staying in Canada and playing high level of baseball.”
The University of Winnipeg now joins the University of Buffalo and the University of North Dakota as institutions who have dropped their programs in the past 14 months. Buffalo currently has two Canadians on their roster, senior outfielder Alex Thrower (Toronto, Ont.) and redshirt junior right handed pitcher Brett Cleland (Toronto, Ont.). The latter will have to make a decision on what to do with his remaining eligibility, a question now facing many of the Wesmen players.
The reason for the decision also hasn’t been all that clear.
“I was in shock,” he said. “There had been no consultation that this was going to happen. It hurts, it hurts the players, the coaches, the parents.”
Junior 3B Marc Lepore (Vaughan, Ont.) told the CBC that losing the team has been like losing a best friend, he said.
“It was almost like a family. You live with these guys, you practice with these guys every day,” said Lepore. “This (program) did keep me in Canada.”
He has not decided yet where he will go to finish his degree in criminal justice. But after three years of living, breathing and feeling a sense of community and belonging.
“And then you wake up one morning and your program is cut,” Lepore said. “Those were probably the best three years of my life.”
Michael Krykewich was the man who started the baseball program and he shares in the sadness and frustration felt by many.
“I was pretty gutted like everybody else,” he said. “The first thing that came to mind was the guys who came through the program and that are in the program now. It’s over. What are these guys going to do?”
The response from former players on social media has been overwhelming according to Krykewich. The team seems to have simply been caught in the crossfire of a budget cut.
“There is a trend in university sports, not just in Canada, that programs are starting to get slashed,” Krykewich said. “The players are heartbroken and some of them feel lost.”
The programs debt may not be completely accurate based on the fact that the season had just ended. The team does a lot of fundraising and receives financial help from many different sources even after the season is over to make sure that they break even according to de Pena and Krykewich. Making part of the reason for the cut confusing.
“All the expenses came in but not all the revenue,” Krykewich said.
There is another interesting take on the financial situation of the baseball program. Krykewich estimates that baseball has brought in between $750,000-$900,000 in tuitions since being introduced, which doesn’t even include residence and potential meal plans.
Unfortunately, that argument doesn’t appear to hold up with everyone.
“In all my talks with the university, they don’t value bringing in tuition through sports,” Krykewich said. “They say it’s irrelevant.”
Anyone looking for information on the team’s season will have to do some digging. The athletic website has already removed the baseball pages, making a fresh wound sting that much more.
“Your heart is ripped out to go on the website and baseball is gone. That was hard to see that part,” he said. “There is still a lot of shock factor. Eventually it will sink in.”
Krykewich, who was inducted into the Manitoba Hall of Fame last June, is extremely proud of the progress the program has made over the years and is thankful to the many people who gave their time to help make it successful. He is angry that not everyone can see the good that was brought to the community.
“Why can’t people see the value in something?” he said. “Why does it always have to come back to money? We have had players move here and call Winnipeg home.”
Despite the anger, sadness, frustration and any other emotions that have set in, no one wants the legacy of Wesmen baseball to be defined by being cut.
“I think the No. 1 thing is we had guys receive a good Canadian degree and the opportunity to play college baseball in an American conference,” Krykewich said. “It was a living, breathing program.”
A program that has now taken its final breath.
* * *
The Mayville State Comets beat Winnipeg 7-3 in the final, final game before the suits turned off the lights and put the bases away for good.
Austin Pistawka (La Salle, Man.) doubled twice knocking in a pair of runs in the second game of the doubleheader. Aiden Brook (Oakbank, Man.) singled and knocked in a run.
Tyler Moskalyk (Thunder Bay, Ont.) took the loss for Winnipeg pitching six innings, surrendering seven runs on eight hits, while striking out three.
Winnipeg lost the opener 17-2. Nik Kauenhofen (Blumenort, Man.) took the loss for pitching four innings, surrendering 10 runs on 10 hits and striking out two. Nolan Handley (Kelowna, BC) singled for the Comets.
Cole Armstrong (Winnipeg, Man) homered in the seventh inning and Zac Comeault (Pitt Meadows, BC) did the same in the sixth. Cole Paquin (Regina, Sask.) and Comeault each collected multiple hits for Winnipeg.
On the program’s second-last day, Mayville State swept another doubleheader 13-8 and 10-1.
Garrett Jewell (Cambridge, Ont.) and Marc Lepore (Maple, Ont.) each homered in the opener, while Wyatt Kemball (Winnipeg, Man.) singled in a run in an eight-run third. Armstrong, Paquin, and Lepore all had multiple hits.
Max Rydholm (Thunder Bay, Ont.) took the loss for Winnipeg. He threw five innings, surrendering two runs, seven hits, and striking out one. Cody Bartell (Blumenort, Man.) started for Winnipeg working two innings, allowing seven runs, four hits, and striking out one.
Kody Rock (Canora, Sask.) started for Mayville State pitching five innings, giving up seven runs, nine hits, and striking out 10. Taylor Lawrence (Burnaby, BC) singled and knocked in a run for the Comets, while Handley singled to drive in a pair.
In the nitecap, Brendyn Perron (Winnipeg, Man.) took the loss for the Wesmen pitching four innings, surrendering eight runs on nine hits. Paquin had two hits and drove in the only run.
Cole Paquin (Regina, Sask.) led hitters with a .349 average, eight doubles, two homers, 19 RBIs and a .925 OPS.
The rest of the leaders included Cole Armstrong (Winnipeg, Man.), who batted .343 with seven doubles, six homers and 25 RBIs with a .931 OPS, along with Jackson Dartnell (Winnipeg, Man.), .318, one double, one homer, four RBIs, .848 OPS and Garrett Jewell (Cambridge, Ont.), .305, four doubles, two homers and 23 RBIs with .791 OPS.
On the mound Wyatt Kemball (Winnipeg, Man.) was 0-1 with a 6.10 ERA walking two and striking out a pair in 10 1/3 innings.
A pair of workhorses were Tyler Moskalyk (Thunder Bay, Ont.), who went 3-10 with a 6.65 ERA with 14 walks and 68 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings and Brendyn Perron (Winnipeg, Man.), 3-7, 9.35 with 21 walks and 32 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings.
The Wesmen finished with a 7-38 record, as DH Garrett Jewell earned Second Team all North Star Athletic Association, while Cole Armstrong and Tyler Moskalyk were named honourable mention.
While the Winnipeg Wesman may have vanished as someone hit the ERASE button we hear at thee Canadian Baseball Network are not going to forget the over 100 players and coaches who wore the Wesmen uniform:
University of Winnipeg Wesmen
All-time list (players and coaches)
First Name Last Name Seasons Years Hometown
Keller Anderson 2014-15 1 Quadra Island, BC
Alain Andre 2012-16 4 Winnipeg, MB
Cole Armstrong 2015-17 2 Winnipeg, MB
Cody Bartel 2016-17 1 Blumemort, MB
Kyle Becker 2016-17 1 Winnipeg, MB
Drew Birss 2015-17 2 Winnipeg, MB
Tony Blad 2016 1 Steinbach, MB
Jesse Braun 2014-15 1 Abbottsford, BC
Daniel Braun 2014-15 1 Winnipeg, MB
Aiden Brook 2015-17 2 Winnipeg, MB
Michael Buffie 2011-12 1 Winnipeg, MB
Zac Campbell 2013-15 2 Winnipeg, MB
Colton Carlow 2012-16 4 Winnipeg, MB
Zac Comeault 2015-17 2 Pitt Meadows, BC
Aaron Couvier 2014-15 1 Winnipeg, MB
Matt Craine 2011-12 1 Winnipeg, MB
Aaron Cripps 2016-17 1 Winnipeg, MB
Brenden Daniels 2013-14 1 Regina, SK
Jackson Dartnell 2015-17 2 East St. Paul, MB
Curtis de Pena 2014-17 3 Winnipeg, MB
Dustin Donald 2011-12 1 Portage la Prairie, MB
Zach Dram 2013-14 1 Winnipeg, MB
Quentin Dreger 2012-13 1 Grahamdale, MB
Nicholas Drews 2011-14 3 Lundar, MB
Joshua Drews 2011-13 2 Lundar, MB
Brent Dunn 2012-14 2 Carman, MB
Tim Dunn 2015 1 Carman, Man.
Joshua Epp 2012-13 1 Steinbach, MB
Jared Esau 2014-15 1 Grunthal, MB
Paul Esteves 2011-15 4 Winnipeg, MB
Bryan Evans 2011-13 2 Somerset, MB
Blake Flinn 2016 Fall 0.5 Riverview, NB
Conner Gates 2013-14 1 Swan Lake, MB
Brendan Gaunt 2012-14 2 North Vancouver, BC
Liam Grier 2014-15 1 Winnipeg, MB
Drew Haight 2011-13 2 Cartwright, MB
Wade Haight 2012-13 1 Cartwright, MB
Bret Heselwood 2011-12 1 Brandon, MB
Jarrett Hogue 2013-15 2 Lundar, MB
Chris Hourihan 2011-15 4 Winnipeg, MB
Tony Ingram 2013-14 1 Winnipeg, MB
Jewell Garrett 2016-17 1 Cambridge, ON
Ben Judt 2015-16 1 Winnipeg, MB
Nik Kauenhofen 2016-17 1 Blumemort, MB
Tyler Kemball 2013-14 1 Winnipeg, MB
Wyatt Kemball 2016-17 1 Winnipeg, MB
Jason Kirkland 2014-15 1 Portage la Prairie, MB
Jamieson Krentz 2011-13 1 Steinbach, MB
Ryan Kuhtey 2011-13 2 Winnipeg, MB
Branden Kuzyk 2011-14 3 Winnipeg, MB
Keenan Lewis 2016-17 1 Miniota, MB
Miguel Letain 2014-15 1 Dauphin, MB
Joshua Loewen 2011-14 3 Carberry, MB
Adam Luelleman 2011-14 2 Stonewall, MB
David Mabon 2011-13 2 Winnipeg, MB
David MacDonald 2015-16 1.5 Winnipeg, MB
Joshua Malcolmson 2011-12 1 Winnipeg, MB
Michael Meany 2011 0.5 Thunder Bay, Ont.
Rory Mitchell 2011-15 4 Winnipeg, MB
Cam Morin 2011-13 2 Winnipeg, MB
Tyler Moskalyk 2015-17 2 Thunder Bay
Curtis Neskar 2011-12 1 Winnipeg, MB
Adam Nocita 2014-15 1 Winnipeg, MB
Chase Palka 2014-15 1 Winnipeg, MB
Cole Paquin 2014-15 2016-17 2 Regina, SK
Brenden Perron 2015-17 2 Winnipeg, MB
Christian Peters 2015-16 1 Winnipeg, MB
Drake Pilat 2014-17 3 Winnipeg, MB
Austin Pistawka 2016-17 1 LaSalle, MB
Ethan Plante 2011-13 2 Winnipeg, MB
Bennett Podolsky 2011-12 1 Winnipeg, MB
Wes Pomarensky 2011-12 1 Winnipeg, MB
Riley Poole 2015-16 1 Sanford, MB
Kyle Pososki 2014-15 1 Winnipeg, MB
Joshua Robinson 2011-13 2 Winnipeg, MB
Max Rydholm 2016-17 1 Thunder Bay, Ont.
Matt Schneider 2014-16 2 Stonewall, MB
Jeremy Shebaylo 2011-12 1 Winnipeg, MB
Mike Sigrist 2016-17 1 Rochester, MN
Brent Silver 2013-14 1 Winnipeg, MB
Austin Smith 2014-16 2 East St. Paul, MB
Caleb Smith 2011-13 2 Winnipeg, MB
Matt Smith 2011-15 4 East St. Paul, MB
Joshua Stolar 2012-13 1 Stony Mountain, MB
Eric Swanson 2014-15 1 Stonewall, MB
Joe Sworyk 2011-13 2 Winnipeg, MB
Shane Turk 2013-14 1 Winnipeg, MB
Garrett Virtue 2014-16 2 Winnipeg, MB
Joshua Voth 2011-12 1 Altona, MB
Alex Whiteside 2014-16 2 Toronto, ON
Daniel Worb 2012-13 1 Winnipeg, MB
James Zamko 2012-14 2 Surrey, BC
Michael Krykewich 2011-16 Winnipeg, MB
Morgan de Pena 2012-17 Winnipeg, MB
Kevin Dunn 2011-15 Niverville, MB
Don Neusitzer 2011-17 Winnipeg, MB
Robbie Lebleu 2011-17 Winnipeg, MB
Brendan Gaunt 2015-17 North Vancouver, BC
James Zamko 2015-17 Surrey, BC
Brendan Kuzyk 2016-17 Winnipeg, MB
Colton Carlow 2016-17 Winnipeg, MB
Josh Drews 2013-14 Lundar, MB
Paul Esteves 2015-16 Winnipeg, MB
-- Roster compiled by George Farelli, Kevin Wall