Keaton Mandryk and Marcus Strother have considerably more in common than their passion for baseball.
Not only are they teammates with the Okanagan Athletics, the Kelowna teenagers will also be pursuing the next phase of their careers and educations at the same school.
Mandryk and Strother have both made commitments to the Southeastern Illinois College Falcons’ program in Harrisburg, IL for the 2018-19 season.
Athletics’ program director Evan Bailey said following discussions with the head coach of the Falcons, it was clear the two players were a good fit for the two-year junior college program.
“The (Falcons) coach reached out saying he needed a catcher and some arms and these two guys fit the bill,” said Bailey, who has been at the helm of the B.C. Premier Baseball League club since the 2010 season. “These kids weren’t hard to sell because not only do they have the baseball ability, they have high academic ability.
“They’re good kids, they’re going to work hard and that tells a coach a lot about a player.”
Mandryk, a pitcher who moved to Kelowna from Vernon in Grade 11, turned in a solid season with the A’s in 2017, posting a 5-5 record with a 3.34 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 67 innings of work.
“I’ve always wanted this kind of opportunity, it only really became reality this year,” said Mandryk, 17, a graduate of KSS. “I think going to Illinois is the best situation for me. I’m hoping to go in for fall ball, earn a spot and show them what I can do.”
Bailey said Mandryk is deserving of the opportunity for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his work ethic.
“(Keaton’s) going to go in there and compete for innings,” Bailey said. “He’s really developed himself, he spent a lot of time in the weight room and has just become stronger and stronger. He works hard and that usually gets rewarded. This is well-deserved.”
Strother, a 6-foot-2 catcher, batted .267 for the A’s in 2017, driving in 15 runs and stealing 11 bases.
While he’s competent with the bat, Bailey points to Strother’s work behind the plate as his biggest asset.
“His strong suit is his throwing ability and that’s big in the college game,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of speed at that level and he has the ability to throw runners out.
“Like Keaton, he’s another guy who will step in there and compete for playing time. It’s a nice opportunity for him.”
Not surprisingly, neither Mandryk nor Strother knew anything about Southeastern Illinois College prior to this fall.
With an enrollment of 5,000 students and situated in the middle of an agricultural area outside the town of Harrisburg (pop. 10,000), Strother is looking forward to being immersed in an entirely new environment.
“It’s kind of exciting to be going somewhere that’s unknown, kind of a smaller community, to go to school and play baseball there,” said Strother, 17, who can also play at third and first base. “I think it’ll be good for me, a pretty cool opportunity.”
Still, both players are expecting some degree of homesickness at times during their planned two-year stay at SIC.
Mandryk said going through the experience with a good friend and teammate should make for a smoother landing.
“I’m very excited,” Mandryk said. “Having Marcus there should make the transition easier. If we start missing home, we kind of have someone to talk to and lean on a bit. I think it will help.”
Mandyrk and Strother each have one more season to hone their skills at the high school level. The Athletics will host the BCPBL championship tournament in July 2018.
Then in August, the two will head to Harrisburg to kick off their freshman seasons in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference.
Both Mandryk and Strother plan to enroll in science programs at SIC.