PBL Profile: Corey Epp
Posted March 1, 2020
On and off the field you would be hard pressed to find someone who enjoys the game of baseball and having a good time more than Corey Epp. The Tofield native has spent eighteen seasons in the PBL between the Tofield Lakers (2002-2008), Ryley Rebels (2009-2016) and Tofield Braves (2017 to Present).
Corey hails from a large family that has spent their fair share of time on baseball, softball and slopitch fields. At one point during the Rebels tenure, a lineup could consist of Epp, cousins Curt Stensrud, Blake and Tyler Helgeland, brother in law Josh McDonald and cousin in laws Tyson Schielke and Brian Tavaroli, whose wives spent their summers on a softball field and slopitch field.
Brian Tavaroli, Curtis Stensrud, Corey Epp (LtoR) in 2009 with the Ryley Rebels
In the first part of his career Epp was a young ball player playing with the older guys in Tofield before moving into a player/manager role when he helped re-start the Ryley Rebels franchise in 2009. He also helped bring Powerline Baseball League baseball back to Tofield in 2017 in the form of the Braves. While operating the Ryley Rebels, Epp was instrumental in reviving the famed Ryley Sports Days baseball tournament and dance. For decades it was a staple during Ryley’s annual event but disappeared after the original Rebels team folded in the early 2000s. The ability to hold an annual dance that provided lasting memories, or horror stories, for many guests was something that people still talk about today. While the Ryley baseball tournament is once again not there, fans in the area can still see Epp’s influence with the annual Curtis Stensrud Memorial Slo-Pitch Tournament which happens every Ryley Sports Days as well as the re-born Tofield Canada Baseball Tournament.
On the field Epp is the fun loving guy on the field that can easily be heard laughing, either with or at a teammate or opponent or just something else entirely. A pitcher with a rubber arm who has moved from a slash hitting, take a lot of walks, base stealing type player to a player who heads to the plate with a power hitter mentality in his later years. He is an old school baseball player who believes in wearing proper baseball uniforms, playing the game hard and having fun on the field. A big part of the success, and fun, of the Ryley Rebels was having a guy like Corey Epp on the team.
Here is Corey’s profile:
What was your baseball background prior to playing in the PBL?
Grandpa Cecil was the first person that taught all of his grandkids ball, there’s 18 of us so there was never a shortage for pickup games. Curt was easily the best of us and I really looked up to him so some of my fondest memories are when he would bring me along with to play him and his friends at the school yard next to auntie Shiela’s. I started playing organized ball around 5, I broke my arm when I was 12 and missed a year then decided to golf instead.
When did you start playing the Powerline Baseball League?
My first year was in 2002 when I was 16. Kenny Perrant’s parents used to be our neighbours, the Tofield Lakers were struggling for players so he asked me if I was interested in playing, I also ran into Brian Theisen at the Tofield Graduation and he also asked me to play. I only played slopitch with my dad’s team for the last few years at that time so I was pretty hesitant. I can’t remember what made me finally decide to play but I’m guessing it was during discussions with the Neufeld brothers and Reinholt brothers since they all started playing in Bardo that same year.
Do you remember your first game in the Powerline Baseball League?
I don’t remember too much about it, I think it was against the Powerline Brewers and Dennis Danilak was pitching.
What was that first year of Powerline Baseball League baseball like for you? Were there any surprises?
My first year was a lot of fun. We had a few veteran guys from the 90’s teams like Kenny Perant and Neil Anderson that taught me a lot, then some guys a little older than me like Josh & Eldon Banack and Brian Theisen, it was a fun group of guys. The Lakers were a rebuilding team so we didn’t win many games so it was a good fit for me to get back into baseball since I got a lot of playing time and there wasn’t too much pressure.
How did the Powerline Baseball League change during your years in the league?
The teams and number of teams have changed a lot. I think overall the quality of ball and parity has continuously improved during my time in the league. The organization has improved, I remember in some of my first years there’d be a few games where there would be guys without jersey’s and in sweat pants, I haven’t seen that in many years other than the odd tournament. A lot of that has to with Craig Neufeld at Sportfactor and Dave Boreman at Battle River Hockey Plus and how easy it is to order jersey’s now.
I think Jason Buzzell started the website right around when I started so the coverage has been good since I started. Between Jason and Kris Kushnerick the PBL’s online presence grows and becomes more interesting every year. I really enjoy reading articles about the history of the league and Alberta baseball which Kris has been writing and researching. When we started in Ryley Kris made the Rebels website, we had some great Reinholt and Solberg brother stories plus we had stats for the first time.
Moving to wood bats was probably the biggest change since I’ve been in the league, I think it was also the best change.
Epp was insturmental in bringing the Ryley Rebels back to the PBL in 2009.
Is there a specific game or games that come to mind as being memorable for you during your time in the Powerline Baseball League?
The most memorable is Curt’s last game vs. Ray Lehman, the team gave auntie Shiela and uncle Stan a shadow box of Curt’s jersey and the box score of that game which hangs in their living room. Ray gave our family a great recap of his story about that game and his memories of babysitting and playing ball with him throughout the years. Kris Kushnerick wrote a great recap of the game last year.
Below is the touching letter from Ray and his wife Carla to the Helgeland family after Curt’s passing that Corey provided.
Sheila and Stan:
I remember baby sitting Curtis, I have to call it that, because I was in my teenage years and he was 3 or 4 years old. What you both don’t know was, I would have looked after him for free, we had more than our fair share of fun at Grandpa and Grandmas house in Ryley. He had a phenomenal smile that lit up the room, and this hilarious laugh. His eyes would light up each time the ball came out and we would play a little catch, OK, A LOT OF CATCH. I’m sure on more than one occasion Curtis was the one still up when you came home.
It was on Ryley Sports Day, 10 or so years ago, he pitched for the Ryley Rebels in the final game. The smile he had on his face that day reminded me of that when he was 4. He dominated, don’t remember who the opposition was, didn’t matter, they never stood a chance.
July 25 this year, last game of the regular season. I saw Curtis getting his shoes on near the dug out, knowing I was going to pitch against him, (kind of a weird feeling), when I walked over to him and said, “looks like the old guy vs the young guy tonight”. He turned, then looked at me, with an almost sarcastic type of smile. I knew he meant business.
Well, he won, pitched the whole game and gritted it out, Stensrud style. He was not to be denied. We never stood a chance.
I went over to congratulate him and his efforts after the game, and after he gave me this great big hug, I looked up, way up, and saw that smile again. That was the smile I knew, and won’t forget.
Our Prayers are with you. God Bless: He will be missed.
Ray and Carla Lehman
Our first game with the reborn Rebels was also memorable, I don’t remember much from the game other than it was an exhibition against Leduc in Ryley. The memorable part for me was the team becoming a reality from a drunken idea Kevin Reinholt and I had at a slopitch tournament in Mirror and also playing with so many longtime friends and family whom I never played ball with.
Game 3 the year (2014) we won the championship against Holden.
A few of our other Ryley vs Bardo games also stand out, the game when Dylan Berrecloth and Kyle Reinholt had a collision at first and our benches cleared and the game when Curt Stensrud & Donnie Oslund pitched 11 innings each in a 1-1 tie.
Our first playoff game in our first year with the Tofield Braves, we won 2-1 with a walk off hit from Chad Nelson in the bottom of 7.
Was there a pitcher in the Powerline Baseball League that you perhaps dreaded facing or just had your number for some reason?
There’s been a ton of great pitcher in this league that are always tough to hit, some guys that come to mind are Donnie Oslund, Ray Lehman, Steve Ofrim, Paul Ofrim, Jon Antsey, Steven Paul, Kyle Muzechka, Scott Peterson and Joel Beottgoer. I also played with some of the better pitchers in the league so I didn’t have to face them much, Dylan Solberg, Curt Stensrud and Sean Pilgaard, I also had the chance to play with Ray Lehman and Donnie Oslund in recent years.
The most intimidated and excited I ever was for an at bat was my first at bat against Curt at Bardo Sports Days in my first or second season. I went to a lot of his minor ball games when I was a kid and I was so proud of how great he was, it was an amazing feeling to be on the same ball diamond as him. Even playing against him I was still cheering for him and wanted to see him dominate. He told me he was only going to throw me fastballs before the game and unlike everyone else that faced him other than maybe Ray I knew he would be careful not to hit me so I knew he wouldn’t throw anything inside but I still struck out. It’s really special to see so many guys listing him as a pitcher they dreaded facing and seeing the impact he left on the league.
Epp usually found himself on base atop the Rebels order.
Is there a particular hitter that you had a tough time getting out?
There are several, Craig Neufeld & Dylan Berrecloth always gave me trouble before we were teammates with the Braves. Dylan was tough because he can get the barrel on it no matter where the pitch is, he’s the only guy I know that can consistently barrel up a ball above his head. Craig was tough because he had patience and power and covered the plate very well. Others I can think of are Trevor Paul, Zak Lang, Zenan Sherbaniuk, Doug Morris, Ray Lehman, Rob Berrecloth, Mike Leclair, Josh Banack and Steve Enright.
How would you describe the difference between the regular season and those best of three series in the playoffs?
The best of three series is really short so you can’t afford to have a bad game and if you have multiple guys in slumps its over pretty quick. It’s usually easier to get a full roster out and everyone is more excited to play unless it was the Tuesday after the Edson slo-pitch tournament.
What was the most memorable playoff run like?
I won one with the Ryley Rebels in 2014. The playoff run was great, we had a wet summer so the season ran late and we had a bunch of make-up games to play in two weeks and we got hot. The season ended in a 5 way tie for first and we ended up getting first in a controversial tiebreaker vote. Our last game of the season was against Leduc which we lost then we ended up beating them in 2 games in the semi-finals, I think it was our first and only series win we had against them, they knocked us out of many playoff series. We beat Holden in the finals in 3 close games. We celebrated at the Ryley diamond for quite a while then went to Round Hill to pay our respects and share the victory with Curt and ended up having a bonfire at my place until 7:00 am.
Grandma Shirley Stensrud celebrates the Rebels 2014 PBL Championship
There have been numerous on-field, maybe even off-field, rivalries in the Powerline Baseball League over it’s history. Was there a particular rivalry that you were involved in that was memorable and why was it so memorable?
Ryley vs. Bardo, there was a lot of close friends between the teams and everyone got along off the field but it was very competitive on the field and sparks often flew. We were also pretty evenly matched most years. The Tavaroli rule (21 man rosters instead of 3 games played by a certain date) was a result of that rivalry. A few players had history with both teams, Kevin & Kyle Reinholt played in Bardo before we restarted the Rebels and Donnie Oslund and Ray Lehman were long time Rebels before the original team folded. We were able to convince Donnie to come back to the Rebels after he took a year or two off.
I think both the Bardo’s Athletic’s and Ryley Rebels last regular season game was against each other in 2016 before we combined to form the Tofield Braves the following season. The Tofield Braves was a result of that rivalry, the Bardo players weren’t willing to become Rebels and the Ryley players weren’t willing to become A’s so a compromise was made and a new team would be formed and we’d play out of Tofield. Tofield also put a lot of money into diamond improvements and was very accommodating so it made the decision easy.
Are there any stories that you have heard, seen yourself or know about that would be great to share with the community?
I remember Pat Kowaluck hitting three homeruns off us in Ryley in one of my first years with the Lakers when he was with the Brewers. They where all no doubters and I think one one-hoped off of the curling rink in Ryley.
Jay Sutherland turned a triple play in Armena. He was at short and I was playing second so anytime we bring him out he likes to mention how he turned it himself.
The cop from Camrose (I can’t remember his name) hit a monster homerun at the all-star game. That was the hardest hit ball in any game I ever played in. Editor’s Note: This was probably the famed home run from Camrose Colt’s Jeff MacDonald who drove a ball into right centre that appeared to narrowly miss hitting the light stand about half way to two thirds of the way up at the 2005 PBL vs BRBL All Star Game. It was one of those “holy s**t he got all of that one” types of hits.)
Always up for baseball, Epp played with the Camrose Axemen in the NCABL as well as the Ryley Rebels from 2010-2016.
What was your favourite baseball field to play on and what were some endearing features of that field that made it your favourite?
My favourite was Ryley for several reasons. It always brought back memories of being a kid and walking from my grandparents to play ball with my cousins, it was special to play on the same diamond that grandpa Cecil played on and grandma Shirley, Fred and my parents went to every game. I also got to play with several cousins (Curt, Blake & Tyler), cousin-in-laws (Brian & Tyson) and my brother-in-law (Josh) so we always had lots of family watching the games.
Were there any memorable moments that have stuck with you about those tournaments?
Ryley Sports Day was always fun, there’s a bunch of memorable moments from those tournaments. One memorable moment is when Dylan Berrecloth hit a homerun off of me and slid into second. It was well over the fence, I think it hit the bleachers at diamond three but he said since he’s not a home run hitter he didn’t think it was over so he was just hustling. Dylan told me Brian Tavaroli had few words for him at second.
Capt Ayre lake was my favourite tournament to travel too. So many things happened there, the Solberg brothers fighting one night, the Reinholt brothers fighting the next morning, watching some guy pummel a guy against a trailer with Kyle Reinholt then realizing its Craig Koughan beating the guy up, Landfill passing 20 motorcycles in the motorhome on the way there, Dustin Solberg using Kyles bumper as a perch cause he doesn’t like outhouses, Kyle and Ryan Mehler driving a water bike down the road after the dance, Dylan Berrecloth getting kicked out of the dance then climbing the fence to get right back in, Kevin spraying his fire extinguisher on me in his trailer to wake me up, Mehler leaving us with eight guys cause he has a rule he doesn’t play on Sundays.
Bardo Sports Day was always great. One of my favourite memories from there is when Dustin Solberg got fireworks and shot them off whenever Ryan Stauffer did anything.
The July 1st tournament in Tofield always has the biggest crowds I’ve seen in the PBL which is fun.
What has been your experience as a member of the PBL Executive been like?
The meetings are pretty tame, it’s usually spent trying to clear up ambiguous rules which we got heated about the previous season.
One final PBL memory?
Tyson Schielke stepping up to the plate and riding on the harrows behind Donnie on the quad in Ryley when we where trying to get the diamond playable after rain. He was covered from head to toe in dirt.
After rain flooded the Ryley Ballpark harrows were needed to get the field playable against the Beumont Angels. Despite a tree stump on the harrows more weight was needed so Tyson Schielke took one for the team.
A big thank you to Corey for answering some questions for us and bringing back some great memories. If you ever want to hear some great baseball stories that aren’t safe for the website, you will have to bring Epp a beer, or an old fashioned, after a game and settle in for story time. Baseball fans can look for Corey with the Tofield Braves for the upcoming 2020 season as they look to bring a PBL title back to Tofield for the first time since 1994.