03/24/2017 10:40 AM
Mark Campbell, Lethbridge native has enjoyed an incredible broadcasting career and is now apart of the Lethbridge Bulls team. Mark sat down with new head coach for 2017, Jesse Sawyer to talk about plenty of interesting topics. Read below.
To see Mark's entire blog please click here.
The new head coach of the Lethbridge Bulls is Jesse Sawyer. He is no stranger to the organization having been an assistant coach along with spending some of his formative years in the PBA. It’s time to get to know Jesse a little more.
Was baseball always your first love growing up or did you compete in other sports?
I think my parents would say hockey was my first love, but it didn’t last very long. As soon as I got to about 8 years old baseball was my passion. I played other sports during high school (football, basketball, golf) but baseball was always number one for me. My goal was always to get a scholarship to a Division 1 school in the states.
Was there a conscious decision to pursue baseball or did it just go that way?
I decided pretty young that baseball was my thing. I was lucky enough to be bigger and stronger than most kids my age at that time. At 12 years old I was 5’11” and about 140 pounds. Baseball came easy to me. I could hit, pitch and play pretty good defense and I didn’t have to deal with a lot of failure. The teams that I was on growing up won a lot and that helped fuel my passion for this great game. As I got older I started to take baseball more and more seriously until I figured out that I could get a university degree because of baseball.
You represented Canada in the 2001 World Series. What was that experience like?
To this day the summer of 2001 is one of the best experiences of my life. We had a great team, and we really came together at the right time. Most people don’t know, but we were 1 out away from being eliminated from the tournament in the round robin. The 2nd baseman on the opposing team made an error late in the game that we capitalized on. We ended up winning that game and we were still big underdogs going into the playoff rounds against perennial powerhouses BC and Ontario. We played some incredible baseball in those two games and ended up advancing to Williamsport, PA for the LLWS. I remember arriving at the complex, and you get off the bus and walk out over the hill in centerfield. The same hill that you see thousands of spectators watching games on each summer. To walk over that hill and see the ball diamond, and the stadium was an incredible feeling that I remember to this day. Our team finished 1-2 at the tournament. We won the first game against Russia, lost the 2nd to Mexico after leading for most of the game. Our 3rdgame would decide whether we went to the playoff rounds or not. We were up against a heavy hitting Guam team. I started the game on the mound and what a battle it was. We played 9 innings (3 extra innings.) This was before pitch counts were incorporated into Little League. I pitched all 9 innings striking out 19 batters on the day. We came up just a little bit short losing 6-5. I remember being crushed after that loss, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. One final tidbit about that tournament. 2001 was the first year they expanded the field of teams from 8 to 16. They also added a second field called Volunteer Stadium in 2001 to accommodate the extra teams. I was lucky enough to hit a homerun in both stadiums, and as far as I know I was the first player to ever do that. Something I don’t tell a lot of people, but a pretty nice feather in my cap all these years later when you see how much the World Series has grown.
What were your first impressions when you came to the PBA?
First things first, coming to PBA was one of the best decisions I ever made in my career. I really learned what it took to be a college baseball player, and how to be a better person. When I first arrived though I was lost! I was still 17 years old in the fall of 2006 when I arrived in Lethbridge. I wouldn’t turn 18 until that October. I was away from home for the first time, I barely knew anyone in town and I really questioned whether it was the right choice for me. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to make friends with the guys on the team, and some of those friendships I built back in 2006 live on to this day. I met my assistant coach this year, Joel Blake back in 2006 at PBA. We played two years together at PBA, and then 3 more at SDSU. I am going to be Joel’s best man this summer when he gets married, and for the first time we will get a chance to coach together. I am really looking forward to that. Joel and I have been on a wild ride over the past 10 years and its come full circle for the two of us. It’s crazy to think that it’s been over 10 years since we were both young pups trying to find our way at PBA.
How did you feel when you played your final game with the PBA?
Well thankfully we won our final game at PBA. It was the 2008 CCBC Championship and it was held in town at Lloyd Nolan Yard. Another one of my best friends to this day Zach Rhodes who also went to SDSU, and played with me in the summer time with the Bulls made the final out on a sliding grab in left field to secure the win. It was a great way to cap off my career at PBA. The year before we had lost in the CCBC tournament so we really wanted to finish with a championship, and we were lucky enough to make that happen.
How much did playing for the Dawgs help when you played NCAA Division I baseball in South Dakota?
Playing at PBA really did prepare me for Division 1 baseball. I had offers to go to US schools out of high school, but thankfully Coach Hubka convinced me to come to PBA first. If I had gone straight south there is no doubt in my mind I would not have had the career I did. I learned so much about playing the game the right way, and what it really takes to be a successful college baseball player. When I went down to SDSU in the fall of 2008 I jumped right into the middle of the lineup as a sophomore, and stayed there for 3 years. I still hold the single season homerun record with 19, and the career homerun record with 50 at SDSU two records that I am very proud of. The whole experience at SDSU was an amazing one. I received my teaching degree in 2011, and again made some friendships that will last my lifetime!
Take us through your mindset of where you wanted baseball to take you in terms of a career.
I never really knew how far baseball could take me. Back when I was growing up there were no high school baseball academies in Alberta. Now there are a half dozen whose goal is to prepare kids to play college baseball in the US. I had to kind of carve out my own path. I played in Calgary Babe Ruth, which was a good program, but it kind of got lost in the mix when it came to the top players in Alberta. I was lucky enough to make a couple Team Alberta teams growing up that got me a little bit of exposure. Around this time I was starting to think that I could get my education paid for doing this. Ultimately that is what ended up happening. I received a great scholarship offer from SDSU, and got my teaching degree which is now hanging on my parent’s wall back home in Calgary. Obviously I would have loved a shot to play professionally, but as far as my parents were concerned receiving that degree was more important than any baseball accomplishment I ever received. As I get a little bit older I am seeing how important it was that I finished school, and got that degree.
You’re the new Coach of The Bulls. How would you describe what kind of coach you will be?
I like to think of myself as a player’s coach. I played 4 seasons with the Bulls, and I have been the assistant coach the last two so I know how the WMBL works, and what it takes to compete in that league. I am really looking forward to the challenge of being the head coach this summer. I like to keep the atmosphere light, and keep things fun, but when it really comes down to it I am as competitive and passionate as anyone on the field. I want to win, and I expect 100% effort out of my player’s night in and night out. Winning is fun, and the Bulls have had some major success over the past 3 years, and I want to continue that trend in 2017.
What are your expectations going into the season?
My expectations are to compete for the West Division regular season title. The west is very competitive with teams like Okotoks, and Medicine Hat being powerhouses year after year. Last year it was great to see Edmonton make a run to the finals. I know it’s going to be a grind this summer, but I expect us to be near the top of the division and take a run at another championship in 2017.
What do you like to do away from the ball park?
Anyone that knows me knows that I love to golf. Since my playing days have finished I have really ramped up the golf game. I have been a member out in Picture Butte for the last 4 years, and I love what they are doing out there. I have worked hard to become a scratch golfer, and officially hit the landmark last summer. If we have a day off in the summer, and you can’t get a hold of me there is a good chance I am at the golf course.
I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend Emily. We met in 2015 when she worked in the office for the Bulls. She moved in with me last spring, and things have been great. We both enjoy the outdoors and being active so any free time I have I enjoy being with her as well.
As always, I like to hear what your top 5 albums of all time are.
I don’t know about albums, I grew up in “Napster” age so I had access to all kinds of different music. I am definitely a 90’s rock guy. Top 5 would be something like:
Goo Goo Dolls
Three Door’s Down
Best baseball movie ever. You can name more than one if you have to.
Bull Durham without a doubt.
Best practical joke anyone has ever played on you or anyone else.
Haha I have been apart of quite a few during my day.
I will never forget some of the van wars we used to have during the summer with Bulls. Basically you try to hit the other van with anything you can find in your van. Coach Rhodes put an end to those when the rental company realized that those “punk kids” in Med Hat who kept hitting our vans with eggs were actually us players having van wars.
Describe your perfect hot dog.
Haha great question! Anyone who knows me also knows that I love hot dogs. Ketchup, Chili and cheese!
What’s your message to Bulls fans for 2017?
First of all I would like to thank them for their support. I love the Bulls, I have loved the Bulls since I first played for them back in 2008. I’m looking forward to another great summer. There is nothing better than a beautiful night in the summer playing ball under the lights with the home crowd on your side. Please come out and enjoy the atmosphere, support the Bulls I think we will have a great product on the field, and I know we have some new promotions that will help bring more entertainment value for fans!