Mitchell teammates travel 2,000 miles to reunite in Moose Jaw
The Canadian city of roughly 34,000 located in southern Saskatchewan is 2,000 miles away from their campus in New London.
Then when you hear the back story, it starts to make sense.
Eric Marriott, who played for the Moose Jaw Miller Express last summer, convinced fellow recent graduate Markus Melendez as well as Montville's Dougie DelaCruz and Jeff Nicolosi of Plainfield to join him on a summer league baseball adventure.
They met Marriott at his home in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and then flew from Toronto to Winnipeg to the Regina International Airport and drove 40 minutes to their summer home.
They're having a ball living in Moose Jaw and competing in the Western Canadian Baseball League.
"It's been awesome," DelaCruz said by phone on Tuesday. "It's been one of the best baseball experiences that I've had. I'm seeing a different part of the world while playing the sport that I love."
So much fun that Jeremy Santos of New London, another Mariner, recently decided to stay and play for Moose Jaw while on a trip to visit his friends. He's 3-for-7 in his first four games with an RBI and four walks.
In any given game, there could be as many as four Mariners in the starting lineup.
During a recent start, Nicolosi (2-2, 4.16 ERA), a right-handed pitcher, had Melendez as his catcher with Marriott in center field and DelaCruz in left.
DelaCruz is one of Moose Jaw's top hitters, batting .318 with one home run and 16 RBI in 28 games against quality competition from Division I, Division II and Division III programs. He's riding an eight-game hitting streak during which he's gone 11 for 29.
"I started out slow but I'm starting to figure it out," DelaCruz said.
When Marriott reached out to him about the idea of making the trek to Western Canada, DelaCruz jumped at the opportunity.
Having his Mitchell teammates there helped ease his transition.
"I didn't have to come here and be shy because I was the only one from my team," DelaCruz said. "I had three other guys that I was familiar playing with, so it's been nice."
Like most people, DelaCruz didn't know Moose Jaw from Manitoba prior to making the journey. He knew one landmark from viewing Marriott's Instagram account.
"The only thing I knew about Moose Jaw was that they had a really big Moose statue here, but I had no idea where it was until two weeks before I got here," DelaCruz said.
Mac the Moose, the world's second largest moose statue at 32 feet, is just off the Trans-Canada Highway. DelaCruz plans to take his father, Dave, who arrived for a visit on Tuesday, to check out Mac.
Mitchell coach Travis Beausoleil is making the trip next week. He regularly checks in with his players.
"I talk to the guys every other day," Beausoleil said. "They're all saying they're loving it."
During his summer stay, DelaCruz has gotten to know all the local hot spots. Players spend free time hanging out at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park. The Tunnels of Moose Jaw, another tourist attraction, has a connection to mobster Al Capone who once visited the area in the 1920s.
Baseball is why they're all there.
The Moose Jaw community embraces the summer league team. Usually between 300-to-400 enthusiastic fans turn out at Ross Wells Park for home games. Some local business offer discounts to players.
Most road trips by bus take anywhere from an hour to three and a half hours. Once a season, Moose Jaw goes on a six-day road trip that stops in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, both in Alberta.
Like his Mitchell buddies, DelaCruz is staying with a host family. He's living on a farm with Moose Jaw teammate Nathan Slobodian, who's from Porcupine Plain in Saskatchewan and attends Minot University in North Dakota.
"It's very flat out here," DelaCruz said. "A lot of farmland. Much different than back home in Montville."
It won't be long before DelaCruz and his fellow Mariners return home. The regular season ends on Aug. 5 with playoffs to follow. Moose Jaw is expected to qualify for the postseason.
DelaCruz is already planning on returning to Moose Jaw sometime in the future.
To think, it wasn't too long ago that Moose Jaw never was on his radar. Same with his Mitchell teammates, apart from Marriott.
"A few months ago, we weren't even thinking of playing in Moose Jaw and now we're here," DelaCruz said. "It is pretty funny, and it is pretty rare, too."