Curler Thiessen to throw first pitch at Jays game

Nolan Thiessen’s baseball career began in Brandon, Man., where he caught the eye of a bird dog and was recruited sight unseen to play for a private high school in Louisiana in Grade 12. (CP/Jonathan Hayward)

Nolan Thiessen once dreamed of playing in Major League Baseball. On Monday night he will finally get to The Show – as a curler.

Thiessen, the lead for Kevin Koe’s 2010 World Championship rink from Calgary, will throw out the ceremonial opening pitch at the Rogers Centre for the Toronto Blue Jays game against the Chicago White Sox.

Thiessen is in Toronto for the Players’ Championship, the final Grand Slam event of the 2012-13 World Curling Tour. The tournament runs Tuesday through Sunday at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and Sportsnet, which bought the rights to the Grand Slam last year, will broadcast all the action starting on Thursday.

When the opportunity to throw out the first pitch was made available to players on the WCT, Thiessen began lobbying for the opportunity, telling his fellow competitors he had a background in baseball as a junior college pitcher in the U.S. The decision of who would represent the curlers went to a vote and Thiessen received the chance.

"I said ‘It would be an honour if I could do it and don’t worry guys, I won’t embarrass curling,’" he said. "I tried to tell everyone I know what I’m doing out there, it’ll look good. We wouldn’t want to have somebody go out there and hit the mascot."

He isn’t expecting to do anything fancy with the pitch, just a straight fastball and hope to get it down the middle. We’re not talking anything wild like Nuke LaLoosh here.

"It’ll be exciting," Thiessen said. "I’m a fan first and foremost. My dream when I was four years old was to be a Major League pitcher. I know it’s just throwing out one opening pitch, but it will be exciting. I’ve thrown a little bit at home in Edmonton leading up to it. I’ve just got to get loose. Not that I’m going to impress anybody, but I just hope I don’t embarrass myself."

Thiessen’s baseball career began in Brandon, Man., where he caught the eye of a bird dog and was recruited sight unseen to play for a private high school in Louisiana in Grade 12.

That led to an opportunity with a Vernon Junior College in Texas. He had a fastball clocked at 87 m.p.h., but lasted only a year because he was bothered by some shoulder problems and knew he wouldn’t develop as a professional ball player.

"I was never going to get to The Show," Thiessen said. "I knew it wasn’t going to be anything super long-term."

Thiessen, now 32, said he last pitched competitively in the 2001 Summer Games. He took some time off after that, finished school and started a career. He is a self-employed chartered accountant.

But Thiessen, who threw right-handed as a pitcher and is also a righty as a curler, has made it to The Show in curling, playing in the 2010 Brier national men’s championship as the lead for Koe and going on to win the Worlds. Koe’s team made it back in 2012, losing in the final.

"It’s been great," he said about his curling accomplishment on the world stage. "We got to represent our country once and got on the podium for a gold medal. It’s weird to think we’re world champions; that we’re kind of in the elite echelon. I don’t know how to compare it to Major League Baseball, but I guess in our sport the Grand Slams, the Briers and the World Championship are the pinnacle, so it’s cool to have played in them and done well."

Koe’s team started off the Grand Slams this year by winning the opening tournament, the Rogers Masters of Curling. It represented their first Slams win, but also put the foursome into a position to win a $1-million bonus that Sportsnet put on the line for any team that swept the four Slams.

"We’d been trying so long to win one," he said. "It was on our mind (to win the bonus), but not at the forefront. It was nice to be the only team that had a chance and it would have been fun coming up to this tournament if it were still in the air. But it was exciting to finally win a Slam."

Thiessen didn’t play in the second Slam, the Canadian Open of Curling, because he and his wife celebrated the birth of a child. His team bowed out in the quarter-finals. Koe’s team made it to the semis in the third Slam, the National, won by Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton.

The top team in terms of points from the four Slams will win a $50,000 bonus, the runnerup gets $30,000 and the third-place team $20,000. Koe’s team leads with 24 points, followed by Stoughton with 22.

"It’s probably a little hard to get it cranked up (after a long season), but it’s the best of the best and it’s your last chance to really state your claim and there’s a lot of money on the line," Thiessen said. "We’re all so competitive and out to beat one another, so it’s nice to play a bonspiel this time of the year and really battle each another."

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