WINNIPEG – The Manitoba Junior Baseball League title came down to a fifth and deciding game between the Elmwood Giants and Winnipeg South Chiefs Friday night.
The Giants emerged with a 1-0 win to capture their second league title in three years, and for head coach Ed Kulyk, it was one of the most intense games he’s ever been a part of.
“You teach your kids that you want the ball hit to me, right? And it was at a point where these guys were coming off and saying, ‘I don’t want the ball hit to me.’ Guys are squeezing the bats like there’s water coming out of them. Nobody wanted to make that mistake,” Kulyk says. “Our pitchers were great, like Brendan Perron pitched probably the game of his life. Winnipeg South scored the most runs this year, and to keep them to nothing in the final was amazing.”
This year was Kulyk’s second as head coach of the Giants, but he knew pretty quickly there was something special about this crew.
“It was pretty rewarding seeing them celebrate. The group of kids we got this year, I’ve had other coaches compliment me, asking me, ‘How do you have 15-17 kids, age 21 and under, get along the way they do?’ They do everything together. It’s a weird group of kids, there’s no ‘me, me, me,’ it’s all a team-first attitude, and it really showed this year.”
The team features players from 16-21 years old, and for some of them, their next chapter in life has already begun.
“One kid is going to Pennsylvania, one’s going to South Dakota, and one’s in California. Seeing these kids thrive on getting a scholarship of some sort, playing college baseball in the States, it’s kind of nice to see that.”
Kulyk also played with the Giants in the 80’s, but never won a title. This is his first, and he says it’s great but at the same time, seeing his players gel as a team is more rewarding for him than any title could be.
“Hundred percent, hundred percent. I’ve coached a lot, between hockey and football and baseball and this is one group I can’t ever explain how they got along the way they did. Even [Friday’s] game, one kid is a second-year midget, he’s only 16. Seeing him react and get a taste of what he’s got to come, it was pretty rewarding.”
Kulyk admits they may have jinxed themselves before their game four loss, saying they had champagne ready to go had they won the game. But alas, they still got their chance to pop bottles and celebrate a summer well spent.