Pitcher Butkowsky going pro in Israel

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Ryan Butkowsky

Jonas Hrebeniuk

BUTKOWSKY BURNS BATTERS IN BETHLEHEM. Western's Ryan Butkowsky will head to Israel this summer to pitch for the inaugural Israel Baseball League.

After four seasons and two consecutive championships with the Mustangs, fourth-year Ivey student and men’s baseball pitcher Ryan Butkowsky is graduating and leaving London to play professionally halfway around the world.

The six-team Israel Baseball League begins its inaugural season this summer, and Butkowsky is flying over to participate in training and the player draft in early June.

“I had a couple of friends that I grew up playing ball with back home in Thornhill that went to a tryout,” Butkowsky said. “Both of those guys ended up being signed and I asked them for a contact to see what I could get. I got in touch with some people and next thing you know, I’m going to Israel.”

The league will cover Butkowsky’s flight, food and accommodations for the next three months. It will also give the Mustangs veteran financial compensation based on each team’s $20,000 salary cap.

“There is a small salary, but [it’s] worth it just for the experience and the opportunity,” Butkowsky said. “If there is one thing that I want to make a point of, it’s how much playing baseball in Israel is a dream come true for me.”

Playing professionally is a dream of virtually every athlete, including Butkowsky’s influential coach, former Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Mike Lumley.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for Ryan,” Lumley said. “I played ball in Mexico in a winter league, while I was playing pro, and that was a great experience. It’s something he’s got to experience to understand.”

With his coach and teammates behind him, leaving Western is bittersweet for Butkowsky.

“I think the first thing that comes to mind is how much I’m going to miss [playing at Western],” Butkowsky said. “The team played a huge part in my four years at Western, made life a lot easier at times and kept me grounded.”

Butkowsky was an integral part of the team’s back-to-back Ontario University Athletics championships, so his departure leaves a large hole in next year’s rotation as the boys go for their third straight title.

The struggle to maintain a winning team is all too familiar. After winning the Ontario University Athletics title in 2005 by beating the Brock Badgers in the final, the ’Stangs lost many key players to graduation, including ace Brook Coatsworth. To defend their championship, returning players like Butkowsky stepped up in 2006 and led Western to a repeat against Brock.

“It speaks to our resiliency as a team all together,” said third-year pitcher John Rubin. “Certainly, [Ryan’s absence] is going to be a big hole to fill, but we find ways to step up like we did [last] year.”

Consistently winning teams rely not only on veterans and fresh talent, but also on solid coaching.

“When we coach, we coach individuals to try to get the best out of each of them,” Lumley said. “We don’t coach the same for each kid and each player.”

Personal success like Butkowsky’s is a byproduct of the winning philosophy in Mustang baseball, in which players are encouraged to lead and take the experiences learned on the field beyond London.

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