Warkentin's swing in tune with Bismark Larks

Great Lake Canadians grad 1B Matt Warkentin (Leamington, Ont.) is having a summer to remember with the Bismark Larks. 

Great Lake Canadians grad 1B Matt Warkentin (Leamington, Ont.) is having a summer to remember with the Bismark Larks. 

By Dave Selvig

Professional baseball scouts grade players on five specific tools -- hit, power, run, arm and field.

Makeup, or character of the player, also often factors in.

Up until now, Bismarck Larks first baseman Matt Warkentin has not been drafted. Based on the criteria, it’s hard to figure why.

“It’s a good question. I don’t know why,” said Larks manager Sean Repay. “I really don’t.”

Warkentin seems to check all the boxes, especially after his banner season in Bismarck.

Hit? Warkentin carries .312 batting average for the season. Power? Oh yeah. The muscular 6-foot-6 slugger has clubbed 13 home runs, tied for second-most in the Northwoods League, which uses wood bats. Run? For a big man, Warkentin can move. He has six stolen bases, only five Larks have more. Arm? Warkentin pitched previously in his college career. Field? Ask his manager.

“There isn’t a better defensive first baseman in the league than Wark. I’m sorry, but there’s just not,” Repay said.

Makeup? Check.

“I don’t take any credit for the way the guys play on the field. They play how they play because of their abilities and their talent and because of the expectations they have for themselves and the expectations we have for them,” Repay said. 

“What I’ve worked hard on is clubhouse culture. That’s one thing I take pride in is finding guys that play the right way and finding guys that will appreciate this city, appreciate how this city supports us and go out and play hard every night for them.

“The guys on our team do that and Wark is a big part of that.”

He’s also the NWL iron man. Warkentin has played in every game but one.

“When he got here he told us he was going to play every game ... I wasn’t going to argue with him, he’s 6-7,” Repay joked.

Warkentin’s journey to Bismarck has been a winding road. Originally from Leamington, Ontario, he began his college career at NCAA Division I San Francisco. From there, he spent one year at Johnson County Community College in Kansas before transferring to D-I Xavier in Cincinnati, where he hit 14 home runs last spring.

“I’ve loved it. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of unique experiences,” he said. “The biggest thing for me was going to a JUCO. That was the best thing I could’ve done. There aren’t as many rules and regulations for the coaches so you can take as much BP (batting practice) as you want, you can take ground balls all day long. I needed a place where I could get a lot of work in.”

Warkentin was intent on improving all aspects of his game this summer.

“Coming here I was focused on becoming a better all-around player and a better hitter and the power has stayed even though I’ve been able to make better contact,” he said. “This year at (Xavier) I had decent power numbers, but I didn’t hit for a very good average. There were definitely things I needed to improve on and I feel like coming here has really been a great thing for me.”

Repay credited Larks’ hitting coach Brett Lindsey for Warkentin’s marked improvement.

“I could see it the first day of BP, he was a dead pool hitter,” Repay said. “But he and Brett work hard at it every day, and you look at how he’s progressed through the season. He has the high average (.313), but now he’s hitting the ball to all fields with power.”

Warkentin has the frame of a college basketball player, but not surprisingly, played hockey growing up in Canada.

“I played mostly defence man, but a little forward too,” he said.

Canada also has been known to produce big, powerful first basemen such as former American League MVP Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins and current Cincinnati Reds All-Star Joey Votto. But it’s a lesser-known professional that Warkentin is close to.

“Jamie Romak is a guy from my area that I’m pretty close with. We hit together in the offseason and he’s been a big influence on me,” Warkentin said of Romak, who had played briefly for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks and is currently playing professionally in the KBO League, the top pro league in Korea.

Despite not having his name called yet professionally, Warkentin remains committed to the cause.

“That’s definitely my goal for sure,” he said.

If it happens, he said his time in North Dakota will have played a big part, despite his initial unfamiliarity.

“I’d never heard of Bismarck. Obviously it’s the capital, but I didn’t know that. I’m Canadian,” he joked. “But I’ve loved it. Bismarck has to be the greatest place to play summer ball. The crowds are unbelievable every night. The host families are great, they feed us great pregame and postgame meals.

“We have a really good bunch of guys and we’ve had success. I’ll never forget this summer. It’s been a great experience.”