Niagara’s star centerfielder reflects on his career and team
One of the most talented all-around baseball players not just the Purple Eagles roster, but in entire MAAC, is Niagara centerfielder Tanner Kirwer. Entering his junior year in 2017, the Alberta, Canada-native looks to have another impressive season and hopes to bring winning baseball back Monteagle Ridge.
Kirwer is coming off a 2016 season in which he led the club in multiple categories, including batting average with .327, RBI with 29 and 14 doubles. Since the start of the season in February, he has posted a .302 average in 16 games, with a home run and nine RBIs.
“The biggest thing in the offseason that has helped me throughout my career is putting in the work so that when the season comes along, I have my preparation to fall back on,” Kirwer said. “It makes a huge difference when you are truly confident that your pre-season work will carry over into the season, which eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress.”
Last season saw Kirwer transition from the infield to the outfield; he did not miss a beat. In April, he was named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association National Hitter of the Week, going 10-14 with 12 RBI and seven runs scored in a series against Saint Peter’s University. He was also named to the All-MAAC Second Team for the second straight year.
“The biggest transition in my 2016 season was that it was my first season at Niagara playing in the outfield,” Kirwer said. “Since we had so many skillful infielders on the team and coming into the program, Coach McCoy thought it would benefit the team the most if I played centerfield.”
Kirwer attended Archbishop Joran Catholic High School in Sherwood Park, Alberta and played for the Sherwood Park Dukes baseball team. He was named the NorWest League Player of the Year in 2014, batting .521. Kirwer also represented Alberta in the 2013 Canada Games, hitting .368. Now suiting up for Niagara, he has received attention from several Major League Baseball clubs, but remains focused on the Purple Eagles.
“Playing professional baseball has definitely been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” Kirwer said. “I have had some teams contact me showing interest for the upcoming drafts, but I can’t look too far into the future especially when I have a full season of baseball ahead of me with NU.”
Now it his third season, Kirwer has taken notice of a culture-change in the ballclub. This is due in part to the presence of a mental coach.
“Since I was a freshman our program has made a huge stride in the mental part of the game,” Kirwer said. “In my sophomore season we acquired Brian Cain, our mental game coach, and he has helped us in the mental side of the game. Being able to stay present and not letting results or fear of failure interrupt with our playing abilities has made an amazing difference in our program and we are still looking to build in those aspects.”
Niagara opened their season with a series against Baylor in Waco, Texas on Feb. 17-18. While Baylor swept Niagara in three games, Kirwer went a combined 5-14 at the plate, and connected for the Purple Eagles first home run of the series in the second game.
“Baylor was a great experience for our team as it got us back into the flow of things and to do it at a beautiful baseball stadium like that was amazing,” Kirwer said, “We didn’t end up on top but we competed for the most part against a very good team, so we are going to build off of a solid weekend and learn from it.”
Niagara picked up their first wins with a three-game sweep of Norfolk State on Feb. 25-26. They now stand with a record of 3-3.
Kirwer is one cog of a Purple Eagles lineup that also features returning shortstop Greg Cullen, who led the team in hits and run scored last year, and junior transfers Philippe Langlois and Wyatt Olson. Langlois hit .355 with Muscatine Community College last season, while Olson led Indian Hills Community College with 11 home runs. Kirwer spoke highly of both transfers, along with a pair of freshmen, Pete Battaglia and Matt Brash.
“Pete will be our starting first basemen for us throughout the season and early on you can tell he is going to make a huge impact in our offense. Being a freshman, he already has a beautiful swing and a very mature approach at the plate.”
Battaglia captained the Williamsville North varsity ballclub his junior and senior years. He went 4-10 in Niagara’s opening series against Baylor. Brash pitched for Team Canada in the 2015 Canada Cup, and was voted the Bayridge Secondary School’s top male athlete of the year each year of high school. He picked up a win against Norfolk State on Feb. 26, striking out seven hitters over five innings.
“Brash may be what our pitching staff needed in order to make a huge push for the championship. He has a very smooth, live arm and he will definitely be one of the guys we look towards to go deep into games as a starter and give us a great chance to win the ballgame.”
Kirwer, who may find himself in the pro ranks, patters his game after some of the big outfielders in the bigs.
“Being a center fielder I try to model my game off some of the best outfielders in the game,” Kirwer said. “I have always been a huge fan of guys like Kevin Pillar, Mike Trout, and Andrew McCutchen because they are outstanding players who play the game hard and are very successful even at the highest level of the game.”
Time will only tell with Kirwer can match the MVP-levels of Andrew McCutchen or Mike Trout, or the defensive expertise of Kevin Pillar. The sky could be the limit for one of Niagara’s most promising athletes.
“What helps me is that when things aren’t going the way I want them to, being able to make the appropriate adjustments both at the plate and in the field, helps me stay a consistent player,” Kirwer said, “This comes with experience and knowing your abilities as a ballplayer.”