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A baseball bond that will link friends across North American
2022-06-30
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There’s no denying that the bond which unites the 2022 edition of the Sudbury U18 Voyageurs is a tight one – likely far more firm than most of the competitive baseball teams that have taken to the Terry Fox diamonds over the years.

It’s a bond that they all, to a man, believe will survive, even as the next step of their baseball dreams takes them to outposts ranging from West Virginia to the south side of Chicago – or even just around the corner at the local post-secondary institution which welcomes local prospects to the OUA (Ontario University Athletics).

That was just part of the chatter as four more team members were recognized in firming up their baseball commitments earlier this week at The Baseball Academy, with Jacob Larivière (Laurentian Voyageurs), Yanick Loiselle (Prairie State College Pioneers), Braedan Pakkala and Scooter Rienguette (both – West Virginia Tech Golden Bears) all celebrating the news with family and friends.

“We’ve become a really tight-knit group,” said Loiselle as the 19 year-old prepares to head to Chicago Heights (Illinois), some 45 minutes or so due south of the Windy City. “We all love what we’re doing; it’s just been a blast.”

It wasn’t always that way for Loiselle, who experienced some pretty significant changes to his lifestyle in order to pursue this dream. “When Covid hit, I was still overweight,” he said. “At first, I lost forty pounds, just for myself. I had never really thought about playing college baseball – and if I was going to play, I was just going to stay in town.”

“But once I lost the weight and got back on the field, I had a breakout year that next season,” added the starting pitcher who was on top of his game once again this past weekend, nicked up for just one unearned run over 6 2/3 innings while striking out nine in a tough 1-0 loss to the first place Oshawa Legionaires.

“That’s when I realized I could probably to this.”

Much like Pakkala and Rienguette, Loiselle has become a true student of the art of pitching, including the fact that change is the only constant when he takes to the mound. “Against Oshawa, those guys had faced me last year and the year before,” he said.

“They’ve all seen me. They’ve seen my fastball, my curve ball, my change-up. So I started incorporating a slider two weeks ago. It’s still a work in progress, but little things like that do help.”

More than happy to be staying at home, donning the same colours that he wears proudly this summer, Jacob Lariviere was also in need of a change, making his way back to Sudbury after two summers out of town with the Team Ontario Astros in Vaughan. In fact, the local homestead ended up playing a huge role on the fact that he will have this new opportunity at all.

“I honestly think it was with the help of my parents, pushing me through the tough times, teaching me to keep trusting the process,” said the 18 year old who can play multiple positions but is likely to look at either first or third base as a primary option come September. “I started weightlifting (a few years ago) and that caused a big lack of mobility in my game.”

“Playing defense was definitely a weak point for me. What really turned it around was when I started putting a lot more emphasis on recovery and mobility, remaining flexible and hitting the ball hard. I became a better ball player for that reason and now I’m having a good year.”

Truth be told, there will be times when less is more, certainly when it comes to a single-minded focus on adding strength alone.

This realization is just part of the reason why Braedan Pakkala caught the attention of West Virginia Tech head coach (and friend of Jean-Gilles Larocque) Lawrence Nesselrodt, who graduates Sudbury catcher Rilley Dube this month.

“I knew that I needed to be more consistent on the mound,” said Pakkala. “My mindset coming in was putting the work in on my arm, focusing on arm care. I really wasn’t focused on getting bigger and stronger, more on arm care and how to move properly, figuring out the way my body should move as a pitcher.”

Given his nature and just how much he cares about his current program, Pakkala will be straddling a very tight and interesting line this summer. “Obviously, I still want to help the Vees win,” he noted. “I’m a very competitive guy and always want to win, but I have to realize that there’s a bigger picture in play here.”

“Being healthy is something I really need to focus on.”

Thankfully, come the fall, Pakkala will have a very familiar roommate at his side in the form of Scooter Rienguette as he settles into his home away from home in Beckley, West Virginia. It certainly isn’t difficult to imagine countless conversations regarding their prime passion, with Rienguette offering the following assessment of his three-hit 11 strikeout shutout of Oshawa on Saturday.

“They’re in first place in the league and I shut them down, so that was nice,” said the pitcher/infielder combo. “My curve ball was working well. They had a lot of righties so I could start the curve ball at them and it would finish away. They weren’t able to touch it that day.”

But as any pitcher well knows, off-speed pitches don’t always enjoy the same degree of deception, a function of countless variables including temperature and humidity and a host of others within the control of the specific hurler on the bump.

“I feel that I am able to adjust,” said Rienguette. “If my curve ball is not moving as much today as other days, I’ll start it in different spots. Changing the grip helps in terms of changing the action of the break, whether it’s a more vertical or horizontal.”

Clearly, these lads will have plenty to talk about in years to come – and being separated by thousands of miles is not about to change that any time soon.

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