Oh, what a beautiful day it was for baseball.
The skies were clear, the sun was hot, and a slight breeze was streaming in from the north, which kept the flag situated near the diamond gently flapping in the air.
The American flag, that is.
Confused? Well, keep reading and you’ll discover why we are sitting on the bleachers of Tony Rizzo Field across the river in the International Falls chewing on some peanuts and sipping some Coke last Friday.
We’re here to watch Tylyn Silander, a 12-year-old from Fort Frances who loves her baseball.
She’s the only Canadian player in the under-12 girls’ softball league, which consists of four teams, and Friday was an important day for Silander and her Midwest Sports teammates.
The game against Truestar would decide who will be the number-one seed heading into the playoffs, which begin this week.
But the real reason why we’re here to see Silander is because you won’t be able to watch her step into the batter’s box or don a glove for quite a while.
You see, she won’t have anywhere to play next season, or the season after that, or the season after that. In fact, Silander won’t have a place to play until she turns 17, when she would be allowed to play in the adult mixed slo-pitch league in Fort Frances.
“Once they hit seventh grade in the Falls, they play in the high school league [which consists of an under-14 team and the varsity squad],” noted Silander’s mom, Andrea. “So this is basically, ‘That’s it and that’s all,’ because she’s got nowhere to go.
“There’s no girls’ softball in Fort Frances, and once these [American] girls hit seventh grade, they play in the junior high league so she can’t come back,” she added.
“There’s really nothing for me to do but baby-sit,” Tylyn Silander cringed.
She had tried soccer for a season, but it wasn’t her cup of tea. Then she tried figure skating for a bit, but injuries kept her out of that.
And right when she thought she had nowhere to turn, that’s when baseball came knocking on her door.
At first, she wasn’t as effective as her American teammates, who have been playing baseball—a game which is their national pastime—for much longer.
“Last year, she couldn’t hit the ball,” noted her coach, Ed Rognerud, who has coached her for the two seasons she has played in the Falls.
“And this year, she’s the hottest hitter that we have. She’s definitely the most improved player on the team,” said Rognerud, who has Silander as the number-three hitter in the batting order.
But her drastic improvement from last season was very close to having happened at all. A year ago, with the playoffs looming, Silander was accidentally hit by a pitch that caused more damage to her thumb than first thought.
“She got hurt by her coach in the batting cage. She took a wild pitch and broke her thumb, but we didn’t think she had broken her thumb,” her mom recalled.
“So she played the game, but stopped after a while because she couldn’t do it. And we stopped by the hospital on the way home and her thumb was broken in two places.”
Doctors advised Silander to stop playing until it fully healed, but her love for the game outweighed those words of caution. Or did it?
“This year, when it was time to sign up, she didn’t want to come back,” Andrea Silander said.
“Gary [Tylyn’s dad, who is a long-time ball player] and I said that, ‘If you’re not playing because you don’t want to, then we’re behind you, but if you’re not playing because you got hurt, then that’s not good enough and you really need to think about it.
“She came out of her room the next morning and told us to sign her up, and she’s 10 times the player this year than she was last year,” her mom added.
A bold but accurate statement. Just look at the three make-up games Silander’s team played last week as proof.
All the games came against the league-leading Truestar, with Midwest Sports needing a sweep to get that all-important number-one seeding for the playoffs.
First, there was Wednesday’s game, which Midwest Sports would win 14-2 with Silander collecting four hits. Then came Thursday’s game, which Midwest Sports would win 10-7 with Silander notching three more hits.
“For this league, that’s a lot of hitting,” said Rognerud.
Then came Friday’s pivotal game. Both teams were tied with 8-3 records and the drama on the diamond was high, which is something Silander will surely miss next season.
But she is doing her best to leave a lasting impression, going 2-for-3 to drive in two runs. She also stole three bases and crossed the plate herself to help her team to a convincing 9-2 win.
“That was the best game I’ve seen you guys play this season,” Rognerud could be heard telling his team in the dugout afterwards.
“She’s going to miss this immensely,” Silander’s mom said. “Right now this is her life. This is all she breathes. This is all she talks about. It gives her something to do.
“And I’m of the opinion that if you keep them busy with sports that you’re keeping them out of other stuff.
“I don’t know what she’s going to do,” she added, who will be putting her youngest daughter, Teanna, who is eight, into the same league her sister is currently playing for next season.
And that’s really the ultimate question—what is Silander going to do?
Youth soccer is hugely popular in Fort Frances, with about 650 youths taking part every year, but what if you don’t like soccer? Where do you go then?
Silander found baseball but now, because of her citizenship, she’s in a position where she won’t be able to play competitively for almost five years.
“I hope we can find a coach and have a team,” said Silander.
Any why not?
“What we hope to do is to get people interested. Maybe there are some people in the west end that don’t know about this or maybe want to get something started,” added her mom.
“[Fort Frances] Little League isn’t just about the boys, parent pitch, or T-ball,” she noted. “Girls’ softball does fall under it, so we could start something and be under their umbrella.”
While it’s too late to get anything going for this season, there’s still two months left in the summer and another two seasons ahead where parents can get together and try “to get something going.”
Dave Sande, a long-time organizer with Little League baseball in Fort Frances, agreed there aren’t too many options for Silander.
“She can play junior hardball, but we don’t get too many girls in the hardball because at that age group [13-16 years old] it’s hard to bring girls in,” he noted.
But the problem isn’t only relegated to 12-year-old girls, added Sande. The boys are affected the same way in that there is no place for a 13-year-old to play in the Falls if they are from Canada.
As such, Sande took the time and effort to create a league for 13-16 year-olds in Fort Frances that is now at three teams with one of those consisting of players from the west end of the district.
Meanwhile, the local Kiwanis Major Junior ‘B’ team is part of the Falls’ league, but that is a league for nine- to 10-year-olds and they also and have the same problem. “Little League over there comes to an end when they are 12 years old and that doesn’t make sense, so that’s why we put our junior baseball league at 13-16.
“But what’s missing here is a girls’ softball team that goes from 13-16, as well, and we need some organizers,” said Sande, who added he could provide instruction to any volunteers but could not offer more as his time already is spread too thin as it is.
“We can open the doors for players to play more baseball, and there’s lots of options. It’s just a matter of organizing them,” said Sande.
Meanwhile, youngsters like Silander are hopeful something can be done to keep her playing.
“I just love everything about the game, and I want to keep playing,” she enthused.
Oh, what a beautiful day it was for baseball.