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Sports This Week: Saskatoon softball pitcher on national team

Added to the Men's National Team pool and wore the Team Canada jersey for the first time in 2017
Patrick Burns is currently preparing for the upcoming 2021 WBSC Americas Men’s Pan American Qualifier scheduled to take place from November 18-29 in Parana, Argentina.
SASKATOON - If there is one sport I wish had a far higher profile than it does it would be softball – what I grew up playing when it was widely called fastball. 

I remember watching Saskatoon’s Gene McWillie on TV in the 1970s and 1980s, and wishing the New Osgoode Bandits team I played first base with was a quarter that good. 

The Bandits never won anything of note, in spite of taking in events from Connaught Fair to Golburn, Perigord and Invermay, but we had a lot of fun. 

When I moved to Yorkton to start my newspaper career in the city softball was still going rather strong. 

Again I recall a night in Stockholm covering an all star contest that pitted pitchers Sandy Reed against Joey Basaraba, which proved a rather memorable evening of fine pitching prowess. 

It comes down to softball being a sport near and dear to my heart as they say. 

So it’s always great to get a chance to speak with elite players in the sport, as was the case recently as I hooked up with Patrick Burns, who was recently among 12 players named by Softball Canada and the Men’s National Team coaching staff to be selected as core players of Team Canada for the 2021 WBSC Americas Men’s Pan American Qualifier. 

“Definitely it’s a great honour to be named among the core 12 players,” he said. 

Hailing originally from Saskatoon, and now residing in Cochrane, AB., Burns is a softball player working on building a very solid resume in the game. 

He was added to the Men's National Team pool and wore the Team Canada jersey for the first time in 2017. He competed at the WBSC Americas Qualifier that year, batting .368 with two runs batted in and five runs scored at the plate while chipping in with three innings in the pitcher's circle, striking out five batters without allowing a hit in a win against the Bahamas, noted the Softball Canada page. 

Burns won back-to-back Gold medals with the Saskatoon Selects at the U19 Men's Canadian Championship in 2008 and 2009. At the Men's level, he has been named to the Canadian Championship All-Star team as an Outfielder the last two years (2017 and 2018) with the Saskatoon Angels. 

The highlight though has to be when Burns pitched a three-hit, one-run complete game as Canada captured the bronze medal in the Men’s Softball World Championship 2019 in the Czech Republic. Canada beat New Zealand, 2-1, and collected the 13th medal in the history of the event. He threw a total of 97 pitches to fan 12 hitters, with two walks and three hits in seven innings of work. 

“It was my first World Championship. It was a great honour to be on the team, to go and represent my country, my family and friends, my community and myself,” he said. “There was a big sense of pride in what you’re doing.” 

And, it is where the best face the best. 

“It was a very high level of competition,” said Burns. 

While winning a gold was the goal, in capturing the bronze the Canadian team did leave the field winning its final game at the event. 

Burns said having success in that last game did make the bronze medals special. 

“It was the biggest game I’ve ever pitched in for my country,” he said. 

Burns said he began playing the game largely following family footsteps. 

“Two older sisters played before me,” he said, adding “I never even tried baseball.” 

Burns would play other sports, including basketball at the university level, but after graduating, he turned his attention back to his first love, softball. 

Admittedly, interest in softball is waning, especially on the men’s side of the game. 

Burns said the decline is not just a Saskatchewan thing, but is “Canada wide.” 

So, why the decline? 

“Kids have other things to do,” offered Burns, adding that often means being connected to the Internet and video games these days. 

While the cyber world does ensnare many these days, so too, do a far more varied offering of sports to participate in. If one looks at Yorkton there are now minor football and field lacrosse programs, disc golf, skateboard park, racquetball courts and other options that were simply not available in the Reed / Basaraba era. 

While numbers are down, Burns said there remain pockets of great softball in Canada, and around the world the game has enclaves of strength, from New Zealand to Japan to Czech Republic, to Argentina which won the last Men’s World Championship. 

Now Burns prepares for the upcoming 2021 WBSC Americas Men’s Pan American Qualifier scheduled to take place from November 18-29 in Parana, Argentina. The top teams will qualify for the 2022 WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup, originally slated for February 19-27, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand, but recently announced to move to November 2022. 

Preparing is of course not easy amid a pandemic. 

“The past year has been a challenge for everybody,” said Burns, who said they were allowed to play some games last summer, but this spring facilities were generally locked down. 

So he runs, lifts weights, heads to a nearby park to throw, and waits. 

But why, in a sport without the promise of big pro contracts, does he continue on. 

“Just the love of the game I grew up playing ... Just my competitive nature,” offered Burns. 

And, the chance to travel to places such as the Czech Republic and Argentina, and hopefully New Zealand, helps motivate too, he said. 

Given his performance for the bronze medals in 2019, it is likely Burns will play a significant role if Canada is to qualify this fall in Argentina. Burns said he does feel some added pressure as one of the core 12 selections, but he’s ready for that pressure “having a little bit of experience on that stage, I accept the challenge of that pressure.”