WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Try a little word association with Canada, our neighbor to the north, and what often comes to mind are hockey, snow, and words with strange pronunciations like "aboot" and "eh."
What doesn't leap to mind are words like "baseball." For fans of Whitman College baseball, however, that might soon change. Kyle Carothers, a 2002 Whitman graduate, heads north early next week to take part in the inaugural season of the Canadian Baseball League (CBL).
Carothers leaves Walla Walla on May 6 to join the Kelowna Heat, one of eight teams in a new professional league that spans the Canadian continent, reaching from Victoria, British Columbia (Capitals) to Montreal, Quebec (Royales). The Western Division, which includes the Heat and Capitals, is also home to the Calgary Outlaws and Saskatoon Legends. In the Eastern Division, the London Monarchs, Niagara Stars, and Trois-Rivieres Saints will join the Royales.
The first CBL season will span four months and 72 games, with most games being played Thursday through Sunday. Opening day for the league is set for May 21, although Carothers and the Heat start with a series against the Calgary Outlaws on May 22. The league plans a mid-season all-star game and a post-season championship in September.
The league will also unveil a concept it calls its "Showcase Series," whereby two league teams play at a neutral site. Playing games in communities without a team franchise will bring the game closer to a greater number of Canadians, one of the league's primary goals. Carothers and the Heat are scheduled for a "Showcase Series" in late July, playing Saskatoon in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Carothers, a first baseman and outfielder at Whitman, has invested a lot of time into off-season training in preparation for his first professional season. "I've been lifting three days a week, running three days a week, and hitting six days a week," the former Missionary slugger says. He's also been working five days a week on defensive drills.
Carothers, who played his high school ball in Oak Harbor, Wash., expects the CBL talent level to be much higher than what he faced in college. The level of play will be "significantly higher, especially the pitching," he says.
The CBL's website profiles one pitcher who throws 95 miles-per-hour, several players who have Major League experience, as well as players from such prominent NCAA Division I programs as the University of Washington and Oklahoma State University. The list of former Major Leaguers includes Francisco Cabrera, whose game-winning hit in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series sent the Atlanta Braves to the World Series. Cabrera remains a national hero in the Dominican Republic, where he continues to play for its national team.
Mangers of the various CBL teams include a number of retired Major League players. The manager at Montreal is Willie Wilson, a two-time all-star who played 19 seasons and earned an American League batting title in 1982 with the Kansas City Royales. Saskatoon's manager is nine-year Major League veteran Ron LeFore, an all-star with Detroit where he led the AL with 126 runs scored and 68 stolen bases in 1978.
The CBL is drawing its first crop of players from the U.S., Canada, Latin America and Asia. The league is modeled after professional leagues in Japan, Mexico, Taiwan, Holland, Italy and other countries.
Carothers, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder who swings from the left side of the plate, managed to make a strong impression during his tryout with the league last September. He is one of a handful of players profiled on the CBL website, which takes notes of the "impressive power display" Carothers unleashed during his tryout.
Hitting for power will be part of his role with the Heat, Carothers believes. "I have a feeling that I'll be a middle-of-the-rder power guy." Still, he adds, his goals for the season are simply to be a "starter" and "solid contributor."
Since graduating from Whitman last May, Carothers has served as assistant baseball coach for his alma mater. During his senior season, he led the Missionaries in batting average (.350), home runs (11), RBIs (33), on-base percentage (.484), and slugging percentage (.692) on the way to his second All-Conference Honorable Mention award. In his four seasons at Whitman, Carothers hit .318 with 21 home runs, 42 doubles and 111 RBI in 146 games.
Had Carothers been assigned to the CBL's Victoria team, he would have been played his home games just a short ferry ride across Puget Sound from his Oak Harbor home. Playing in Kelowna won't take him too far afield, though. Kelowna, a community of 98,000 along the shores of Lake Okanogan, is about 175 miles inland from Vancouver, B.C.
Carothers and his teammates on the Heat will play their home games in Elks Stadium, which also is used by the Kelowna Falcons, the only Canadian squad in the 11-team Pacific International League (PIL). Billing itself as the Northwest's premier summer league for college-age players, the PIL also has teams in Yakima, Spokane, Portland and Bend.
While the CBL will limit most of its games to four days a week, Carothers expects to stay busy. Travel times in Canada can be lengthy, and the league is planning community service projects for each team. Those projects will include "coaching clinics for the kids, which will be fun to do," Carothers says.
Steve Johnson, Whitman Sports Information, (509) 527-5425
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information, (509)