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July 16-18: Elks at Yakima Valley

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July 22: WCL Home Run Derby in Bend

July 23: WCL All-Star Game in Bend

A few hours before the first game of their series against the Bend Elks, the Victoria HarbourCats strolled into Vince Genna Stadium. A few Victoria players spotted Elks pitcher Brenden Turcotte — a native of British Columbia — and greeted him with a “Hey, Turk!”

HarbourCats outfielder Ty Schindel walked over to Turcotte and gave him a hug. The duo had grown up as neighbors in Langford, a suburb of Victoria.

After Schindel confessed that he was excited to visit the last Blockbuster store while in Bend, he commented on how crazy it was that the two friends, who had played peewee baseball together as kids, were playing against each other in the summer collegiate West Coast League.

“That was definitely our goal, so it’s cool to see that come true,” Schindel said. “Even playing college ball is cool, and taking it to this level is even cooler.”

In his pursuit of baseball excellence, Turcotte said he had to leave behind his hometown, his outfield position and the other sport he loved: hockey.

Born and raised in the Victoria area, Turcotte started playing both hockey and baseball at the age of 4. He said Victoria is a supportive, sports-friendly community that was an ideal incubator for his athletic career.

“As far as sporting goes in the community, it’s one of the best in Canada,” Turcotte said. “There’s so many good players that have come out of there from all sports.”

Although he played both sports through high school, Turcotte abandoned hockey after deciding to play baseball at Central Arizona College after graduation. He made that choice for two reasons: His 5-foot-9-inch frame is too small for his chosen position of goalie, and Central Arizona College did not offer hockey.

“It was one of the hardest decisions,” Turcotte said of hanging up his ice skates.

While at Central Arizona, Turcotte first met Elks head coach Joe Dominiak, who was Turcotte’s hitting coach at the college. Although Turcotte left Central Arizona to transfer to GateWay Community College in Phoenix in search of more playing time, then again to Hope International University in Fullerton, California, that player-coach relationship with Dominiak paid off down the road, as the pair became friends.

“I really enjoyed the young man,” the coach said. “He’s very inquisitive, wanted to learn.”

Last year, Turcotte decided to abandon his two-way career both pitching and playing in the outfield to become a full-time pitcher, which he felt would give him a better path to start a professional baseball career. Turcotte added that being a left-hander made him more desirable as a pitcher.

“Pitching has always come more naturally to me, I’ve always had a good arm,” he said. “It was frustrating, because for my whole life, I wanted to play professional baseball as a hitter.”

This past spring, Turcotte redshirted during what would have been his senior year at Hope International to work on his pitching. Eventually he told Dominiak, with whom he had kept in touch, about the position switch.

“When I told him I became a pitcher, he told me he was looking for some arms for this summer, and that’s how it began (with the Elks),” Turcotte said. “I didn’t think twice.”

Dominiak said he has enjoyed having Turcotte as a member of the Elks. He said the young athlete has progressed as a pitcher this summer.

“Just knowing Turk, he would work his rear end off for whatever you told him to do,” Dominiak said. “With my little tidbits (of coaching) … he’s getting to be a pretty good pitcher. I do believe it’s working out best for him right now.”

This season, Turcotte has pitched in 11 games for the Elks, mainly as a reliever. He has notched 14 strikeouts over 25-plus innings and has a 7.36 ERA.

Turcotte has never played for his hometown team, the HarbourCats. He said in the past two summers, instead of playing ball, he worked at a Victoria-area golf resort to help pay for his college tuition.

This season with the Elks, in mid-June, Turcotte got the opportunity to pitch in Bend’s series at Victoria for three-plus innings. Playing in his hometown as a visitor was a surreal but positive experience, he said.

“It’s strange being back home, I almost felt like I was a guest in Victoria,” he said. “It was nice having family in the stands, just because my family can’t always make it down here, obviously, because it’s so far.”

Having never lived in ­Oregon before, Turcotte said he is enjoying his time in Bend and playing with the Elks — although he said he does miss being close to the Pacific Ocean.

And he still keeps in touch with Schindel and other British Columbia players in the West Coast League whom he played with or against as a kid.

“We still talk and text, because I like hearing how those guys are doing,” he said, “and (they) like catching up with me, too.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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