Girls of summer at World Cup
Tara Sliwkanich of Fort Saskatchewan is one of four Alberta players on Canada's roster
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 08, 2012 06:00 am
Pitching for Team Canada at the Women’s Baseball World Cup is a dream come true for Tara Sliwkanich.
“This is the epitome of my goal, ever since I’ve known about the female national team,” said the Fort Saskatchewan Red Sox product. “It’s especially exciting for the World Cup to be here in Edmonton. It’s literally amazing.”
Sliwkanich, 21, made her national team debut in 2009 but was bypassed for the 2010 World Cup in Venezuela, when Canada finished fifth overall.
Last year the former St. Albert rugby player pitched for Canada in two games at the International Friendship Series in Cary, N.C. and earned a victory over United States Red.
Playing for Canada became a possibility for Sliwkanich in 2008 at the Canadian senior women’s championship, a yearly tournament where the national team is selected.
“I didn’t make it that year, but that was the first time that I realized, ‘Oh wow, this is something I can get to,’” she said.
Andre Lachance, Canada’s field manager at all five World Cups, described Sliwkanich as a player who refuses to lose.
“Tara is a fighter. When she gets to play she wants to compete and win and that’s a good quality,” Lachance said. “She also brings lots of positive energy off the field. She is a great teammate and everybody loves her.”
Sliwkanich brings the same intense focus to the diamond as she did in rugby as a valuable centre for St. Albert’s legendary second division Triple Crown champions: 13-1 overall as the Edmonton Rugby Union’s pennant and playoff winners and provincial gold medalists in 2009.
“As a rugby player I loved getting jacked up before the game. When I played my best was when I was so jacked up and pissed off. I like to get that adrenaline boost. It’s hard to do that as a baseball player because we try and be composed and in control all the time, especially as a pitcher, but when I’m off in the bullpen I’m getting jacked up by myself, just so the adrenaline is pumping when I go out there,” said the member of the Pirates Rugby Club, who also played for the Alberta Pandas and spent time with the U19 national development program.
Sliwkanich is expected to start on the mound tonight, when Canada plays the United States in an exhibition at 7 p.m. at Legion Memorial Park.
“I don’t throw particularly hard. I probably top out at about 68,” said the right-hander, who likes to work the plate with fastballs, curveballs and a changeup. “I’m more of a spot hitter. I have a lot of control so I’m going to get that inside pitch on you and you’re not going to be able to hit it out.
“I know people are going to get hits off me but we have the best defensive line-up out there so I’m not stressed out at all. I know my defence is going to work hard for me and we’re going to work hard for each other.”
Last month at the Senior Women’s Invitational in Spruce Grove, Sliwkanich twirled the first no-hitter of her career. She allowed one walk and struck-out one batter for Alberta in the five-inning mercy rule 13-0 win against B.C.
“It was probably one of the highlights of my career,” she said. “I honestly didn’t even know it was a no-hitter until the end. I knew I was pitching a shutout but I wasn’t stressed out at all.”
Red Sox grad
Sliwkanich was initially a catcher in baseball, the same position she played in softball.
“I didn’t really start pitching until I was about in bantam. I had always played second base for boys’ teams because it’s the shortest throw, but in midget I’ve been the starting third baseman for the past three years in Fort Saskatchewan and I pitched. I was in the regular rotation for that team.”
Sliwkanich was inspired to play baseball by her father, Terry, a noted Fort Saskatchewan sportsman. She followed her older brothers, Trevor and Nick, to the diamond and worked her way up the ranks on boys’ teams in mosquito, peewee, bantam and midget. This summer with the midget AA Red Sox was her last year on boys’ teams because in Alberta females can play overage until they are 21.
“I started playing softball when I was about seven and then switched to baseball when I was about 10. I played both for awhile, but I always loved baseball a lot more. If there was ever a conflict when I was doing both, I was going to baseball. Eventually I was like, ‘You know what? I’m done with this softball thing. I’m just going to head into baseball.’”
Sliwkanich is eager to grasp the opportunity of a lifetime at the World Cup with the gold-medal contenders.
“We’re going to win. We have one of the best defensive line-ups and our outfield is really quick. On offence our bats are unreal. We played some exhibition games against boys’ teams and we were just rocking the ball and that’s awesome,” said the bachelor of arts student in women and gender studies at the University of Alberta.
League of their own
Canada’s 20-player roster features outfielder Meagan Cornelssen of Grande Prairie, second-baseman Nicole Luchanski of Edmonton and right-handed pitcher Heidi Northcott of Rocky Mountain House.
Third-baseman Ashley Stephenson and pitcher Kate Psota of Ontario, original members of the first women’s national team in 2004, are playing in their fifth World Cup.
Eight players in total are participating in their first World Cup.
“If you look at the veteran players and rookies, we’re a pretty good balanced ball team. I really like the way we play on defence and our pitching depth is also not bad. We’ll be able to compete with everybody,” Lachance said. “When we had our first World Cup in 2004 Edmonton, compared to this year, it’s night and day. We’re way better defensively, offensively and pitching-wise. There is no comparison.
“Women’s baseball is growing in most of the provinces right now across the country and because of that we’re getting a greater pool of athletes that can fight for positions on our team, which is good. It brings the quality of ball up.”
Canada won bronze in 2004 and 2006 and was the silver medallist in 2008. Japan is the two-time defending champion.
The eight-team tournament starts Friday. Canada’s opening game is 8:30 p.m. against China Taipei at Telus Field.
“If you have never seen women’s baseball before, you will be amazed by the level of competition during those 10 days. Most people don’t know all these guys can actually play the game,” Lachance said. “You’re also going to see a Canadian team fighting all the time. They’re not really impressed with anybody and they’re going to battle hard.”