YORKTON / WARMAN - When the airplane touches down in Argentina later this month and the Canadian Men’s Softball team disembarks it will be a ‘dream come true moment’ for Justin Laskowski.
It will be the first time for the middle infielder from Warman, Sask. to suit up for national team, and it’s a critical first outing in terms of this country’s pursuit of a World Championship.
The tournament in Argentina is the Americas qualifier for the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup, which runs April 24-30, with a total of 10 countries from the American continent, including world No. 2 Argentina, No. 6 Canada, No. 7 USA, No. 8 Mexico, along with Venezuela, Guatemala, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Puerto Rico.
“This is my first go round,” said Laskowski, adding back in September 2021, he was still hoping to get added to the 40-man roster for Team Canada, a list from which teams for events such as the one in Argentina are ultimately selected.
“It was a dream to just be on the 40-man roster,” he said.
So after a tournament last fall when the phone rang and it was the senior team’s coach, Laskowski crossed his fingers he’d cracked to 40. He was sort of expecting the call, having been given the coach’s call at the tourney.
“He said ‘I’ll be touch’,” said Laskowski, adding the call was “obviously a dream come true.”
It was a case where a spot on the 40-man roster “was the next step to get on the player pool,” he said.
But the coach had a different message when he called. He said he wanted to offer Laskowski a spot on the National team.
“I froze. I didn’t say anything for a second. It was all a blur. I was freaking out in my mind,” said Laskowski.
Once Laskowski calmed down and said yes, he realized he had to prepare to play at the highest level of his life through a Saskatchewan winter.
“I tried to go to the gym, just getting back in shape,” he said, adding he was lucky Saskatoon has the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, where he and other national team and junior national team played could meet to workout.
Other players on the senior team with Saskatchewan connections include Patrick Burns, Devon McCullough and Zach Pierce, all from Saskatoon, although Burns is now in Alberta.
In January the National Team flew to Florida for a camp too.
“It was one of the best weeks of my entire life,” said the 24-year-old Laskowski.
It is likely Argentina will top the week in Florida.
The top-four finishers in the standings at the event will advance to the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup to be played in Auckland, New Zealand, from Nov. 26 to Dec. 4. The championship will also qualify five teams for the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 and the Central American and Caribbean Games San Salvador 2023, details www.wbsc.org
“I’m definitely not expected to start, or play much at all,” said Laskowski, adding he knows his role is back-up to more veteran infielders.
The four qualified nations from the Americas will join No. 3 Australia, No. 4 Czech Republic, No. 5 New Zealand, No. 9 Denmark, No. 10 South Africa, two teams from Asia and a wild card at the 12-team WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup.
As for his background in the sport Laskowski said he essentially became a softball player based on genetics.
“Growing up my mom (Marla), played a lot of softball . . . She had a passion for softball,” he said, adding his dad played too.
With parents involved in the game Justin wanted to play too, but that wasn’t as easy as it might sound.
“There was no softball team in Warman,” he said.
So his mom created a team, drawing players from all across the local area; Duck Lake, Hague, Dalmeny and others.
“She had to scrounge up enough guys,” said Laskowski.
As a youngster Laskowski was one of the best on the team playing the infield and doing some pitching along the way too, but as he advanced into Junior A he was told to pick a path. There were better pitchers so he stuck with the infield.
“It was kind of going back to when I was younger,” he said, adding “. . . I thought I was a better shortstop and hitter.”