April 30, 2017

The road to redemption

Queen’s “well-kept secret”, the baseball team, is stepping back in the spotlight

(From left) Laaren Bensette, Tim Peters, Gavin Ronan and Coach Ryan Abraham at practice.
(From left) Laaren Bensette, Tim Peters, Gavin Ronan and Coach Ryan Abraham at practice.

On September 25, 2010, the baseball team had been found drinking on a team bus on the way back from a game against the Waterloo Warriors. 

On top of that, 11 of the team’s players that were on that bus had also been involved in an alcohol related incident surrounding a rookie party in 2009. 

To sanction the team, Queen’s Athletics charged those 11 players with repeat offences and they were given two-year suspensions from the baseball program, essentially wiping out the majority of the team’s roster. For many of the players, this signified the end of their baseball career, as they would graduate by the time the suspension was over. 

The University had originally decided to suspend the entire program, but reversed that decision because they felt that there was an obligation to the other schools in the OUA to have a team to compete that year. 

Subsequently, the baseball team was put on probation for three seasons, with the understanding that “any future misconduct, violations and/or infractions” over the probationary period would lead to the suspension of the program all together.

Ryan Abraham, a Queen’s alumni who played on the team for five years before becoming the team’s coach, has had a first-hand experience with the team’s rocky rebuilding attempts.

“Guys just weren’t behaving in the standard that Queen’s expects the varsity athletes to,” Abraham said.

During his first year on the team in 2011, 18-year-olds were thrust into competition against much older teams. They only won one game.

“The guys that we have now, they all want to be there. No one was paying money and riding school busses to lose games by 20 runs that didn’t want to be there,” Abraham said.

According to Abraham, it was up to Dave Venturi — a player from the 2010 team — to complete an unprecedented number of volunteer hours and their old coach Ken Spicer to fight for the team, to stop Queen’s from closing the baseball program.

Currently, the baseball team is considered to be a varsity club rather than a varsity team. While the difference in labels between “club” and “team” might seem insignificant, the implications for the players and coaches aren’t.  

One of those differences is having to pay their own way. According to Abraham, all players pay $550 to be on the team. Instead of getting their own equipment, they share it with a local team 

For Gaels catcher Tim Peters, the biggest difference comes with recruiting. Peters, who works with Varsity Events, has seen first-hand the repercussions that a lack of funding has on a program as delicate as the baseball team. 

“I had someone come in during the visit weekend last year and ask about baseball and what kind of scholarships [he] might get. I said, ‘no there’s nothing like that, we pay to play.’ He couldn’t believe it and I could just tell he pretty much ruled out coming here just because of that,” Peters said.

For the Queen’s team, this means that they miss out on recruits to OUA schools like Brock, Western, Laurier, who focus on their teams through advertisements and pushing attendance. 

Playing off campus has made it difficult for the team as well, as they find it tough to fill the stands. 

“We’re still a well-kept secret around Queen’s. You go ask 100 people about the baseball team, at least half of them don’t know we’re there,” Abraham said. 

While the team has been fighting an uphill battle to keep the program going, Abraham sees the team’s struggle as a point of pride. 

Historically, Queen’s is known as a rag-tag baseball team — showing up to games on school busses with mis-matched jerseys and hats when Abraham first started.

Although the lack of funding causes problems for the program, they are attempting to rebuild their once-fraught relationship with the school. 

 “Obviously we knew that being on probation we had to be on our best behavior and we’ve worked really hard to start building a positive image for ourselves.”

By doing more with Queen’s and being active in the community, Athletics has begun to support the team more. For example, through extensive fundraising, the team is getting new jerseys this year.

While it has been a shaky road back from its darker days, it has brought the team together more. 

“We’ve just learned to rely on each other and it’s become a family, the guys have learned to lean on each other 100 per cent,” Abraham said.

The lack of sufficient funding for the team has been effective in weeding out bad attitudes or undedicated players. 

“Everybody wants to be there,” Abraham said. “I really think that’s a testament to the guys that we have and their ability to take initiative to take it upon themselves and build the program.”

While it has been a long road for the baseball team to recover the respect and recognition lost by the actions of the past, there are no hard feelings from the guys that are currently on the team.

“As shitty as it was at the time, I think it was a bit of a blessing for us to be able to rebuild from new,” he said. “It’s a rare thing to be able to build a brand new culture in a school that’s been around for 175 years and to do it right, and I think that we have.”

“The future looks very bright for this program.”

Check out the Gaels full schedule at http://gogaelsgo.com/schedule.aspx?path=baseball-m&

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