It’s rare to find a player in baseball that knows the ins and outs of both sides of the plate.
Sam Tourtilott is that player at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games, pitching and catching for Team Wisconsin.
Perhaps it’s rare to see this pitcher/catcher combination because Major League rosters tend to contain specialists. However, with only 12 players on the team, the utility player needs to be a jack-of-all-trades.
“You get to learn the zones of the umpires,” Tourtilott said, in an interview with Centennial Sports TV. “When you’re catching, it’s easier because you’re setting up and you know where it is better, so when you go to the mound and you have that same umpire, you can pick out the spots.”
The level of knowledge that goes into playing both as a pitcher and catcher is something that his teammates surely depend on as they march through the tournament. Like the player, that same trust goes two ways.
“I’m finding the game pretty good behind the plate, on the mound, and in the field,” Tourtilott said. “I trust my defence when I pitch, and when I catch I usually take care of the runners for my pitcher.”
That comradeship was also present at the 1995 North American Indigenous Games. Wayne Wilbur coached Wisconsin to a gold medal in Minnesota, and is now coaching some of the sons of those players as they inch closer to their coveted prize their fathers once achieved.
Coach Wilbur also stressed the importance of getting the whole team involved in the tournament going into Thursday’s playoff rounds.
“We’re trying to make sure everybody gets a chance, everyone gets an opportunity,” Wilbur said. “We have some shorter games so that’s saving us on our pitching end a little bit, and we’ll have plenty of pitching left for the gold medal rounds.”
Team Wisconsin started the tournament with a 10-6 victory over Team Ontario, which almost mounted a comeback in the game.
“They came back to us, and we got a little lazy,” Tourtilott said. “They showed us not to be lazy because they could have taken the lead right there.”
It was a wake-up call for the lone American team in the tournament. They started firing on all cylinders in the rest of the round-robin matches, finishing with a record of 4-0 and outscoring their opponents 63-11 in the process.
Confidence and concentration were at an all-time high for Wisconsin going into the semifinals, and it culminated in a 10-0 victory over Alberta. The team is staying calm and collected after the gold medal match was moved to Friday because of a lengthy rain delay.
“I don’t want it to get in our heads and get all big-headed about it,” Tourtilott said after throwing 33 pitches on Wednesday. “We just have to stay focused, stay humble, and just keep doing what we’re doing.”
“Stay focused” is a mantra that’s repeated by each member of Team Wisconsin, player and coach alike. It’s something Wilbur ingrained into the minds of his team to make them the favourites to win it all.
“It’s about staying focused and remembering the process,” Wilbur said. “If we keep together as a team, stay strong, and the kids back each other up, I like our chances against anybody.”