America’s pastime in Canada
In a cold basement 1,532 miles from the UALR campus laid three twin-sized beds. Under close quarters and four hours from the U.S. border, this basement would be the home of three Trojan baseball players for two months.
And John Clark, Bryson Thionnet, and Chris Burk, wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The Western Major Baseball League is a Canadian-based summer league that gives college baseball players the opportunity to play a summer baseball season. Leagues like this are found all over the United States, but this one just so happened to be north of the border.
Melville, Canada was the host town for three Trojan teammates who would join the Melville Millionaires for a rigorous and taxing 46-game regular season.
For Clark, a senior first baseman, this summer was his second time to play in Melville. After a successful first summer, Clark had no second thoughts about returning to the Millionaires for another season.
“It was fun and good competition,” Clark said. “You don’t have to worry about all the stuff that goes along with college baseball, just play ball and have fun.”
This past summer, Clark asked Thionnet and Burk to accompany him to Melville.
“My first thought was, ‘I don’t know if I want to go all the way to Canada,’ but I knew that I had to go up there to better myself and taking a summer off wasn’t an option for me,” Thionnet said.
Convincing teammates to play in Canada is one thing, but convincing them to live with someone they’ve never met before is a different story.
When college baseball players play so far from home in these leagues, volunteer host families offer to provide housing for the players.
Holly and Jason Schoffer, natives of Melville Canada, opened their home to the three Trojan teammates and immediately expressed their hospitality.
“As soon as we signed up for the league, they contacted us and wanted to know what they could do for us,” Burk said. “Holly and Jason did everything for us, and very seldom asked for anything in return.”
Thionnet said the generous accommodation was apparent everywhere.
“The hospitality of the town was unbelievable,” Thionnet said. “The people there were just so nice.”
Despite a little uneasiness at first, the boys felt more than taken care of.
“When you go into somebody’s house, you have no clue about them,” Thionnet said. “But the camaraderie that they brought to us just made us feel like we were part of their family.”
An example of that camaraderie was exemplified following a late game.
The guys had just returned from the field, exhausted and worn out. In the kitchen at 11:30 p.m., “Momma Holly,” as the boys called her, was in the kitchen cooking them dinner. There they sat, strangers no more than a month ago, eating dinner and talking baseball.
“You want that feeling of comfort when you come home,” Thionnet said. “It was a good feeling to have.”
On the field, the Trojan players were put through a strenuous season that tested both their physical and mental toughness. Long bus rides would often have the boys returning to Melville as the sun was coming up. They would then return home to sleep for a few hours, only to turn right around for another game the following night.
“It gives you a little taste of what professional baseball is like,” Clark said. “Summer league baseball is an everyday thing; you might get a day off a week.”
With so many games in such a small amount of time, players have a tendency to get lackadaisical about the game. But, Clark said this was not the case for them.
“A lot of people get burnt out on baseball, but summer baseball I found out, rejuvenates you,” he said. “You remember why you’re there. You’re just there to have fun and play the game you love.”
Burk saw the summer as a chance to get as many repetitions as he possibly could.
“I can go hit off the tee all day, but seeing live pitching everyday is completely different,” he said. “I wanted to go up there to get as many live at bats as I could.”
As the summer progressed, the guys developed a strong bond that they hope to bring back and extend to their new teammates at UALR.
All three of them will look to their summer as experience in becoming leaders.
“On our team up there we were three of the older guys, so we took the lead role,” Thionnet said. “I think that will translate to this upcoming season here at UALR.”
With the baseball off-season upon them, the boys are more than aware of the benefits of their summer in Canada.
“Baseball is a game of timing. You need to play as much as you can,” Clark said. “You don’t want to sit at home and get rusty. There is always something to work on.”