By Charles Vanegas
Last week, Ryerson Recreation released information regarding a potential baseball team that would play in the Ontario University Athletic conference (OUA) next fall.
The movement is being led by Ben Rich, once a star catcher at Western University and former head coach at Carleton University. While completing his undergraduate degree in political science at Western, Rich led the Mustangs to three consecutive OUA championships from 2005-07, and was named a firstteam all-star twice, second-team all-star once and the league’s Most Valuable Hitter in 2005.
After a stint as coach of the Carleton Ravens, Rich came to Ryerson in 2011 to pursue his Masters of public policy and administration.
He says he was disappointed by Ryerson’s lack of a baseball team, but says it presented an opportunity, since many Ontario universities such as Lakehead and Windsor have added programs in recent years.
“Ryerson’s vision of becoming a preeminent post-secondary institution in Canada, with athletics being a part of that… really dovetails nicely with the growth of collegiate baseball in Ontario,” Rich says.
Since the press release went out, Rich says he has been receiving daily emails from interested participants.
Among those interested is Benjamin Warsh, a first-year politics and governance student. Warsh briefly attended the University of Calgary in 2010, and was a catcher on the baseball team before a collision at the plate ended his season. Suffering a torn tendon and nerve damage in his left arm, he decided to return to his home in Toronto rather than continue going to school out west.
While he is currently attending physiotherapy, Warsh hopes to be behind the plate if Ryerson is able to field a team next fall.
“I wouldn’t be able to play any other position,” he says. “I’m not going to put myself in a position where I can’t perform to the fullest. I’m not going to play shortstop and have balls go through my legs all day. But I’m confident I can get back into catching.”
Like any other proposed club or team, Rich had to go through the necessary steps. He approached Stephanie White, associate director of athletics, in late July with his list of goals.
While he was able to demonstate his knowledge and coaching credentials, he’s also National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) certified and also coached the London Badgers 15-and-under team for three years, winning the Ontario Baseball Association Championship in 2007, all while playing at Western, White still had qualms about how a baseball program would run.
Much like with soccer, or hockey prior to the MAC’s completion, Ryerson baseball would have no oncampus site to play at. Rich plans to play and practice at Christie Pits, a park that features three diamonds located near Bloor and Christie Streets, making it a mere 20 minute subway ride – much more convenient than treks to Birchmount or Lamport stadiums, Ryerson soccer’s “home fields.”
“Being on the subway line is key as most students don’t have cars,” says Rich. “But none of the other schools in the OUA have a field that is on their main campus (the University of Toronto does have its home field at their Scarborough campus).” Now working in intergovernmental relations for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Rich has assembled a team of coaches and administrators that he believes will make a baseball program palpable.
He estimates the cost of introducing an OUA-level program to be approximately $13,000 to $15,000.
“You don’t want to say ‘we can do it for $8,000’ and then it be $15,000 and you’re totally out to lunch. You’ve got to be realistic,” he says. “How much are bats going to cost, how much is field time going to cost – we looked into all of that.”
But Ivan Joseph, Ryerson director of athletics, says the department has no intention of footing the bill, and looks at baseball as strictly a sports club at this time.
“We’re not looking to put in a team for varsity right now. What we’re looking to do is say ‘hey, anyone can start a club here at Ryerson.’ This is no different than the Quidditch club, the ultimate Frisbee club, [or] the cricket club,” says Joseph. “Maybe after three or four years having a successful club, they’ll come to me and pose me with a difficult problem to solve (becoming a varsity team). I’d like that.”
Joseph did say that perhaps a baseball program could function similarly to Ryerson’s golf team, which does compete within the OUA, but is run like an athletic club — as in, they could use Ryerson Rams branding and would receive minimal funding for uniforms, but would be responsible for travel costs, league fees and everything else. But he did stress that baseball would be significantly more challenging to do.
“It would be different, because in baseball it’s a league, and with golf its always one-and-done tournaments. [With golf] they have to be able to score a minimum before we can enter them into any individual tournament, and they all pay their own way,” says Joseph. “So if baseball was a one-day tournament, yes [it would be easy to do]. But it’s currently a league that goes for several months.”
Rich understands the athletic department’s reluctance to fund a new team, but is confident he’ll be able to secure finances through his and his staff’s connections in the business world.
If they are unable to be ready by next fall, Ryerson baseball could possibly look at the same route taken by the women’s hockey program. Prior to entering the OUA last season, the team spent four years as the Ryerson Stingers, playing in the Golden Blades Women’s Hockey League, a non-travelling hockey association based in Toronto. In their final season as the Stingers, the team finished with a record of 21-0-3 and won the league championship. Taking a by-trial path towards full-team status is fine with Benjamin Warsh.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” he says.
On Wednesday, Oct. 3, Rich and his staff will hold an information session at the Mattamy Athletic Centre from 5 to 9 p.m.
On Saturday, Oct. 20, they will run a free skills camp at Howard Talbot Park to evaluate talent and further gauge interest.