Baseball vets share minor league experience

Having fun is serious business at the University of the Fraser Valley baseball club in Chilliwack.

Kyle Lotzkar (middle) watches Cascade outfielder Trevor Brammer throw warm-up tosses during a Tuesday afternoon practice at ‘The Yard

Kyle Lotzkar (middle) watches Cascade outfielder Trevor Brammer throw warm-up tosses during a Tuesday afternoon practice at ‘The Yard

Kyle Lotzkar and Wes Darvill agree on the most important lesson they learned as minor league baseball players.

Keep the game fun.

That’s what both men try to hammer through to players on the University of the Fraser Valley baseball club.

“At this level it’s so competitive it’s almost like a job for these guys, but we remind them to play the game like it’s a game,” Lotzkar says. “These guys are so busy with homework and studying for mid-terms and final exams, and they bring that stress to the field.”

“Baseball should be a outlet for them, a way to take their mind off of that.”

Lotzkar and Darvill recently joined the coaching staff of the Cascades, where they work under their mentor, UFV head coach Shawn Corness.

Combined, Lotzkar and Darvill played 15 seasons and 702 games in minor league ball.

Lotzkar  is 27 years old and a former first round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, taken 53rd overall in 2007. The South Delta secondary school grad’s career was marred by a series of injuries that never let him hit his stride.

“The first injury I had was breaking my elbow when I was 18, so I had a screw put in there,” Lotzkar says, listing them off. “Then I had Tommy John surgery.”

“And then, when one part gets injured you start compensating with another body part, and I did that with my shoulder.”

That led Lotzkar to tear his rotator cuff and labrum.

“And because my arm wasn’t working well I tried to compensate with my lower body and ended up tearing the labrum in my hip, and now I’ve got arthritis in both hips.”

When he was healthy, Lotzkar says he had tons of fun.

But his career serves as a cautionary tale for the value of staying healthy.

“If you’re not healthy you just get passed by,” Lotzkar says.

Getting passed by is the fear of every baseball player, but Lotzkar encourages his young charges to worry only about the things they can control.

“A lot of these guys want to go on to play pro baseball, and they get caught up in it,” Lotzkar said. “I tell them they should be thinking about how to get better day by day and reach their potential.”

“It’s a more achievable goal, and if they do that the rest will sort itself out.”

The trick for any young coach is this.  It’s easy to have the knowledge but not so easy to convey it.

Darvill is two years younger than Lotzkar, 25 years old and coaching teenagers.

“It’s fun trying to find ways to connect to the kids and get through to them,” Darvill says. “I think  it’s a big advantage that I’m still an active player.”

“I’m still playing, making adjustments and going through the same processes that they’re going through.”

“I can probably level with them a little bit more.”

A graduate of Langley’s Brookswood secondary school, is a former fifth round pick of the Chicago Cubs, drafted 170th overall in 2009.

Like Lotzkar, he spent last year with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, an unaffiliated team in American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

Darvill intends to play again next year.

The Goldeyes want him back, but he hopes an affiliated team may be interested in signing him.

“The offseason is difficult and quite long when you’re looking for a job and things aren’t coming up,” he says. “It worked out for me last year because I kept working hard on the things I thought I needed to improve to get back to where I once was.”

“I worried about the process more than where I was going to end up and I ended up in a good situation in Winnipeg.”

“Work as hard as you can and you won’t have regrets.”

Darvill knows his playing career will eventually end, which is why he’s here. He’s taking business courses at UFV while giving back to the game he loves.

“Being around baseball is fun and I really enjoy helping these guys with the things I’ve learned over the years,” he says. “I can help coach, go to school and stay in shape.”

“It’s all worked out.”

Lotzkar says he’s ‘probably’ retired, that his body just can’t hold up to a full season.

He’s happy to help the Cascades while he figures out what’s next.

“Shawn (Corness) invited me to help out and I’m loving it. It’s been a great substitute for playing,” Lotzkar says. “I almost prefer coaching because you get the competitiveness and you don’t have the constant battle with injuries.”

“From that perspective I think it’s better.”

The Cascades have just wrapped up their fall-ball schedule and will be training throughout the winter.

The team will gear up for the Canadian Colleges Baseball Conference season which starts in the spring.

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