The women of the Canadian national baseball program haven’t seen each other in person in over a year.
But the work doesn’t stop. And though it’s been 11 months since the Women’s Baseball World Cup got pushed back, Team Canada is still finding ways to evaluate talent remotely. That job has become all the more important as younger players shoot their way up the ranks.
“We really relied on a lot of technology,” said Canada coach Ashley Stephenson, who also played hockey in the CWHL. “I guess part of it was sort of a blessing in disguise. All the budget went to new tech because we weren’t spending it on the World Cup.”
Originally slated to be played in Mexico in September, the World Cup was initially rescheduled for early March 2021. It was recently pushed back yet again to later this year.
It’s a tough blow for players who have a limited clock — and limited options — on their careers. Women’s baseball has picked up in popularity, but oftentimes athletes end up pursuing scholarship opportunities in softball.
There are many national-team players with a softball background, too; Stephenson finds it to be an easier transition for players who started in baseball and moved to softball and back than vice versa.
For those who have softball teams, though, they had a little bit of an easier time staying active and taking swings. For everyone else, it was playing on boys’ and men’s teams when possible, or just reporting their workouts to Team Canada.
Allison Schroder, a pitcher, joined Vancouver Island University’s men’s baseball team last week, becoming the first woman to play in the Canadian College Baseball Conference.
“I’ve always had the goal to play college baseball, and after graduating last year was when I really made the decision, ‘OK, I want to pursue baseball at the next level,’” she said in a press release. “After taking a year off after (high school) graduation, I really weighed my options as to what I’d like to do career wise, and ultimately made the decision to pursue VIU for both academic and athletic opportunities as it’s a perfect fit.”
Stephenson highlighted Schroder as a key player when international play can begin again.
“She’ll primarily pitch for us, but she can play third, she can play short, she can hit for power,” said Stephenson. “She’s basically the epitome of a fantastic athlete.”
Ellie Jespersen. (Baseball Canada)
Ellie Jespersen is just 17 years old and playing with boys’ teams trying to stay ready for the World Cup. A middle infielder who Stephenson described as a “future star,” Jespersen plays in a midget boys’ league and has been competing for provincial teams since she was 11 years old.
“She hits lead-off for us. She’s always on base,” said Stephenson. “We’re really looking forward to these youngsters — we have a lot of them.”
Some more established veteran players without high school or college baseball teams have had to get a bit more creative. Kelsey Lalor is playing softball at Boise State, using up her last years of college eligibility after she competed in basketball at the University of Saskatchewan.
A veteran of three World Cups, Lalor batted .302 a year ago before the season was cut short.
“Baseball opportunities are somewhat limited,” said Stephenson. “(Lalor) is our left fielder, and she’ll hit middle of the lineup. She hits for power and she’s been an MVP last year.”
Kelsey Lalor. (Baseball Canada)
Canada took bronze over the United States the last World Cup, an 8–5 victory after going 1-2 in the super round got them to the medal game.
This time around they believe young talent has them in a position to compete for a higher medal. In 2016 they got there only to fall 10–0 to Japan in the gold medal game, and they’ve been in the medal game every year since 2012.
This year is a challenge for everyone, but Canada’s vast geography means they might never all get on the field together before they head to Mexico — if the World Cup does happen in the fall. Right now the contingency plan is for regional camps in Eastern Canada, either Ontario or Quebec, and Alberta and British Columbia before joining together.
That’s not an ideal way to train, but when live at-bats are so tough to come by as it is, they’re trying to make the best of their various seasons, and the technology they have to keep the group active.
“It all depends on what we’re allowed to do,” said Stephenson. “We have a Plan A and a Plan B, and Plan A is a lot simpler.”