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Whistler minor baseball exploding in popularity

Registration doubled year over year; infrastructure changes may be necessary to support growth
Baseball
A Whistler minor baseball player throws a pitch during a game earlier this season.

As recently as three years ago, minor baseball in Whistler was nonexistent, and the only option for kids in the area to play the sport was to make the drive to Squamish.

Now, largely thanks to the work of Jennie and Mike Kyle, as well as the many parent volunteers who have stepped up over the last two seasons, Whistler’s minor baseball program is thriving, and looks to continue growing for years to come.

Pre-pandemic, the Kyles spent multiple nights a week each spring driving their kids down to Squamish to play baseball. Then, after two years of no baseball anywhere due to COVID-19, they decided it was time to bring baseball back to Whistler.

“Our kids love baseball, and we were trying to play baseball in Squamish pre-COVID, but we thought there’s just no reason why we shouldn’t have this in Whistler. There’s enough kids and we have such a good softball program … it was surprising we couldn’t get something a little more substantial happening,” said Jennie, who also serves as communications director for Howe Sound Minor Ball.

The program launched in 2021, but registration was capped at just 50 kids due to COVID-19 restrictions. In 2022, the number of kids playing baseball in Whistler more than doubled to 102. That growth, and the partnership with Howe Sound Minor Ball in Squamish, has set Whistler up for success in the future.

However, while the growth of the program from Year 1 to Year 2 has been encouraging, it does present some challenges, particularly when it comes to the lack of baseball infrastructure in the resort.

Currently, all the games and practices (for five different age groups) are played on just two nights a week at the two fields in Meadow Park, according to U13 coach Micah Cianca.

“I’d say infrastructure-wise it’s hard, because there is not a ton of space. Even at Meadow Park you’ve got U11s going at the same time as U13s and like 40-plus players total, so you’ve got to fit all that in to the two smaller Meadow Park fields,” he said.

“That makes it difficult, especially when you compare it to what Brennan Park [in Squamish] has, where they have multiple ball diamonds, batting cages, and bullpens.”

Adding to the struggle is Whistler’s climate, which can often delay the start of the already short season due to snow and inclement weather, as was the case this year.

But according to Jennie, a simple indoor or covered facility for batting and pitching would go a long way to solving many of the issues facing baseball in Whistler.

“We were at a facility recently in Washington state that specializes in developing pitchers and hitters, and it was just a little warehouse tunnel and we thought if we could build something like that it would be super supportive for the minor ball,” she said. “North Shore starts their season in April and they’re warming up and doing all their spring training in March and obviously we can’t really do that. We pushed Meadow Park to open really early for us this year and they worked their butts off to get us ready for May 2, so that was great, but we do need gym space.”

However, even if an indoor facility is sorted out, the fact remains that the Meadow Park fields are too small to be used by the age groups above U13, meaning interested kids will once again have to make the drive to Squamish or North Vancouver to continue playing baseball.

But while that is an unfortunate reality for baseball in Whistler that won’t be solved anytime soon, it doesn’t mean a successful, long-lasting program can’t be created here.

“As long as we can keep a core group of kids and coaches, and the kids are keen and happy to do it and want to learn and have that desire for baseball, I think there is a lot of potential to keep it going,” said Cianca. “Even as the coaches’ kids get older, new coaches are going to pop up when their kids are coming up. I think that there is a lot of interest and I hope that continues and judging by the younger groups I think that that is going to continue to happen.”

This year’s season, which started in early May, wraps up at the end of June. But for kids wanting to play all summer, the program’s new affiliation with BC Minor Baseball gives kids the eligibility to play summer ball, either down in the city or in Squamish, if they make a team.

Parents of kids who are interested in playing summer ball or who are interested in signing their kids up for next year’s season can email whistlerminorbaseball@gmail.com.