By Matt Ouellet
The Ryerson Rams baseball team played in 135.2 innings last season and if ace pitcher Bryan Vardzel had it his way, he would have thrown in all of them.
"We were playing Western in a doubleheader and Vardzy had started the first game," catcher Keith Capstick* recalls. "And in the seventh inning of the second game, we fought back and it was a huge deal for us because Western is one of the better teams. [So] Vardzy just went to the bullpen and started warming up, he had already thrown 130 pitches that morning."
Since the program started two years ago, Vardzel has served as the anchor of the Ryerson baseball team and has acted as a consistent force for a team that is still trying to find its footing in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA).
"Bryan has sound mechanics and a very repeatable delivery," head coach Ben Rich says. "This results in him throwing a lot of strikes, as evidenced by his extremely low walks per nine-innings."
Vardzel exudes confidence in his own abilities, having been around the game since he was six years old. He started in the Wexford Baseball League in Scarborough, Ont., and exhibited great skill for the game at such an early age.
"I was generally a little bit bigger and stronger than other kids even at a really young age," Vardzel says. "I had good hand-eye motor skills so it came pretty naturally and easily to me."
Vardzel doesn't rely on his natural talent, he takes every opportunity he can to learn more about the game and observe other pitchers. He studies their approaches to game situations as well as pitch sequences. He takes pride in his "sports IQ" and hates the notion of the "dumb athlete".
"I think just having that knowledge of the game and being in tune with the game, I find gives me a competitive advantage," he says. "I take a lot of pride in making sure I'm prepared to accomplish what I can, I have a pretty strong mental focus, I'm pretty hard on myself at times and I expect a lot out of people."
Vardzel's focus can often come off as intense both on the diamond and in the dugout. It can often take coaches a few minutes to convince him to leave the mound once it's time for the closer to come in, and even then, he's not always happy about it. It can be said that Vardzel would rather play the whole game and be the reason why the team lost, than come out and watch the team lose for another reason. And according to Capstick, Vardzel's not shy about his high expectations for his teammates.
"If you're being dumb, or not trying hard enough, Vardzy will let you know about it and it won't be pretty," the catcher says.
Vardzel also takes this calculated approach to his studies. He had some scholarship offers from American universities, but wasn't satisfied with their academic quality. He instead chose Trent University — where he spent two years studying environmental science — before he realized he wanted a career where he'd have more stability and financial wealth, so he switched to marketing at the Ted Rogers School of Management.
Vardzel has dreams of working on Bay Street, a world his parents know very well. His dad is a risk audit manager for Royal Bank of Canada while his mom is a senior vice president in charge of business process outsourcing at Capgemini, an IT company. They are two very busy people, but they always made sure to make time for him.
"They've always supported me with everything that I've done through the sport," Vardzel says. "They were willing to sacrifice a lot of time and money along the years to make sure I have the best equipment, drive me to all the away tournaments. It was pretty much every weekend in the summer we were in a tournament somewhere."
Vardzel's life as an athlete doesn't begin and end with baseball. His main sport as a kid was hockey, which he played at the AAA level up until his minor midget draft year, but was forced to stop when he had to undergo two knee surgeries that were caused by injuring himself playing volleyball in gym class. He was also a member of his high school's golf team and boasted a single digit handicap. His favourite golf course is TPC of Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Between his athletic and academic schedule, it may seem like Vardzel would have time for nothing else, his serious persona taking over his entire life. But he prefers to think there are many different sides to him, sides that show all aspects of his personality.
"I have a very relaxed side to me when I'm hanging out with my friends," he says. "I do have a serious side when it comes to sports, but I can turn that switch off when I need to."
Even still, his coaches and teammates report occasions where — in the middle of being serious — Vardzel will have a one liner or Pokémon reference that will leave everyone doubled over laughing.
Whatever side of Vardzel you're getting, it can't be denied that his contributions to the young baseball program will be greatly missed when he graduates this year.
"With us being such a young team, organizationally, it's important to have a guy like Vardzy around," Capstick says. "It's all about consistency. It would be difficult for the rest of us to do [our] job without a guy who can consistently take the mound every Saturday or Sunday morning, and you know you can rely on seven innings, 120 pitches and a shot to win the game. That's what Vardzy brings that sets him apart."