BASEBALL: Chasing a Dream

Amber North

It’s Christmas break and senior right fielder Matt Gunning is headed back to his hometown in West Canada.

He is sitting behind the wheel, traveling through Montana’s harsh, cold weather and congested traffic. The left lane is covered in ice, leaving the right lane full of slow-moving cars.

Growing impatient, Gunning takes a risk by moving into the left lane in order to elude the traffic.

“It was real snowy, and I got an older car – it was an adventure,” Gunning said. “And the defrost didn’t really work.”

What he didn’t know was that once he got back into the right lane, he’d fly down the interstate sideways and land dead smack into a ditch, with the trunk sticking in the air.

In the frigid snowstorm, Gunning got out of his car to try and remove his car from the ditch.

“I took some T-shirts out of my bag and I tried to put them under the tires because they kept spinning and I couldn’t drive out,” Gunning said. “So if you can picture (this), there’s this interstate and a fairly steep ditch and I’m perpendicular to the road.”

Just when this story sounded more and more like a fictional Discovery Channel epic, the situation was about to worsen.

“I hear all these horns honk and I’m lying on my stomach to get something on the tires,” Gunning said. “I look up and there’s this snow truck driving by the interstate.

“You know how they throw a crap load into the ditch? Yeah, I got absolutely smashed with mud, snow and ice.”

Gunning was eventually rescued by a tow truck.

“I had to shower at a truck stop in Billings, Mont. That was so funny,” Gunning adds, laughing.

The approximately 50-hour drive is not the reason this Canadian came to Western – baseball is.

He could’ve done a few things to prevent this situation such as flying home or never moving to America in the first place.

But if he wanted to continue his love for playing baseball, he really didn’t have any other choice but to try to achieve that dream in the States.

“It was my best option as far as furthering my baseball career,” Gunning said. “There are very limited opportunities to play collegiate baseball in Canada, so if you want to continue to play, that’s pretty much what you have to take.”

Gunning also said there aren’t many collegiate teams, and with the playing season starting in February, the Canadian climate just wouldn’t have allowed it.

Instead of playing competitive baseball at his high school, Gunning was a part of the British Columbia Premier League, which boasts the brightest talents in the province.

But before he found his love for America’s favorite pasttime, Gunning’s first love was Canada’s favorite pasttime – hockey. When he learned how to walk at 2 years old, he learned how to ice skate.

Then he stopped skating when he broke his leg in his junior year of high school. He said bye-bye to the pucks and skates forever and chose to solely play baseball.

“I loved playing hockey, but I love the game of baseball and everything about it,” Gunning said. “I just enjoy playing it, practicing it, talking about it (and) reading about it.”

At age 17, right after he graduated high school, Gunning took the offer to let that dream come true when he went to the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, Idaho.

It was a culture shock for the young Gunning, being in America for the first time and leaving his family behind.

“It was a lot different from home, but it was a fairly easy adjustment process,” Gunning said. “I had a great time there in two years.”

After two seasons with the Dixies, Gunning was looking to finish up his two remaining collegiate seasons someplace else, different from his hometown or Idaho.

He decided that becoming a Hilltopper was the right fit for him, even though Bowling Green is so far from home.

Although Gunning was looking at different schools in the northwest because it was close to home, he decided to come to Western to see a new part of the country.

“I’ve never been this far east or south before, so I wanted to come and take a look,” Gunning said.

Coach Joel Murrie learned about Gunning’s game through networking and connections, and assistant coach Dan Mosier saw him play at Southern Idaho and saw that he could make the program better.

“Matt has multiple skills,” Murrie said. “When he came to the team he was able to play two positions, the right field and first base. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for with mental awareness and base instincts.”

Murrie said that Gunning’s defensive ability is also something to notice.

“No one ever writes about defense,” Murrie said. “He’s an outstanding outfielder. He’s as impressive defensively as he is to most people with offensive numbers.”

In his first season as a Hilltopper, Gunning started 53 of the 54 games, hit .274 and collected 55 hits with 26 RBIs.

But Gunning’s performance this season has been more than stellar, outdoing himself compared to last year’s numbers.

He leads the team with a .374 batting average, 61 hits, 53 RBIs, 16 doubles and 11 home runs. And the season isn’t over yet, with 18 regular season games left on the schedule.

Not to mention that he’s playing with a sore left shoulder, back and legs.

“Though he has multiple injuries, he refuses to give into making excuses and has never asked for time off,” Murrie said. “His role is important and he is very much a leader who leads by his actions.”

Being in the states for four years now, Gunning has grown accustomed to being away from home. The only time he gets to see his family is during Christmas break because baseball season and conditioning goes on all year.

“I was home for a week last year, then it was time to turn around back to school,” Gunning said. “I can’t go home for Thanksgiving, and during spring break we’re in season. It’s nice to go home and see high school friends and stuff like that, but I don’t get homesick really.”

Gunning will graduate in May with an exercise science degree. He wants to get his master’s degree in biomechanics, but, of course, he also wants to continue to play baseball.

“Hopefully after we finish our season, that’s my goal anyway, to play professional baseball somewhere,” Gunning said.

Looks like home will have to wait again.

Reach Amber North at [email protected]