Jonathan Harpestad calls it self-reliance. His mother, Heidi, calls it maturing. But they both agree that the sports academy he has attended in Okotoks, Alta., since age 16 has taught him more than baseball skills.
In his two years at the school, the Eston, Sask., youth has improved his pitching while taking academic courses and learning to grow up sooner than the average Grade 12 student.
The 6 foot, 4 inch, left-handed pitcher has already set his future. After graduation next month, he’s heading for New Westminsster, B.C., where he will play on the Douglas Royals ball team for the local college. His coach, a former scout for the Milwaukee Brewers, helped him make those connections.
Harpestad will take courses in sports science for the next two years. Depending on how his arm holds out and whether the scouts like him, he could then be headed for American professional ball.
When at home, he helps on the family’s three section grain and cattle farm, including tending to his own cattle.
He credits the farm with building his arm strength because of hauling bales and handling cattle.
Harpestad started playing ball when he was seven after hearing his dad talk about how much fun it was. From the local team, he moved up to play for Saskatchewan teams in Kindersley, Biggar and Saskatoon.
A teammate was interested in the Okotoks program so Harpestad and his parents also went to take a look.
“When he saw the facilities, his eyes lit up,” said Heidi, who was a little reluctant. “I didn’t want him to go —the mommy thing.”
Okotoks has turned its recreation centre into an indoor baseball field with a turf infield and batting cages.
After class, the baseball students learn skills, take advice from the coaches and work out. They also play a lot of games around Alberta, as many as 250.
Harpestad said one of the adjustments he had to make was living in a bigger place. Eston has 1,500 people.
Another challenge was his first year when his arm gave out.
“I got quite discouraged,” said Harpestad, whose arm improved after two months of physiotherapy.
He called it another life lesson about the payback from the amount of work a person is willing to invest.
Harpestad conceded working at his baseball skill and moving away from home overshadowed his teenaged years.
“One day you have to grow up so it may as well be sooner,” he said.
The Harpestads, who often travel to watch him play, will attend his games in Great Falls, Mont., in June and Spokane, Wash., in July. They also watch his games on the internet.
There are no baseball schools in Saskatchewan and the family was reluctant to see him go to the United States.
Some U.S. schools lure kids with the promise of athletic scholarships but may bench 15 out of 40 they bring in.
The student then loses the scholarship offer for lack of playing time and can be left paying for the tuition, which can be as high as $40,000 for a year.
The Okotoks academy offers a strong academic program and costs them a more affordable $12,000 a year.