WESTLOCK - Ryan Rau, a former Red Lions player, manager and supporter for a quarter century, has received the 2022 Ken Schultz Memorial Award, an honour considered to be the “highest and most prestigious” in the North Central Alberta Baseball League.
Rau, 45, officially received the award prior to the start of Game 2 of the NCABL Championship Series between the Red Lions and Parkland Twins played Aug. 27 at Keller Field in Westlock with league commissioner Paul Riopel noting award recipients are respectfully referred to as "Pillars of the NCABL.”
Rau, a Clyde native, first donned a Red Lions jersey back in 1996 at the tender age of 18 and was one of four rookies that year that included Curtis Smith, Mark Mirus and Paul DeChamplain. Following he spent two years playing junior ball in Barrhead, then returned and suited up exclusively for the Red Lions until 2011. That year, with another child on the way, he moved over to the Grey Lions, Westlock’s other senior baseball team for players ages 30 plus.
“It’s a really big honour to be even mentioned with some of the other names who have won the Schultz Memorial Award … they’re the who’s who of baseball around this area over the last half century. It’s cool to even be thought of with those men and an overwhelming honour to be picked,” said Rau moments after receiving the award. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m at a diamond most days of the week from May through July and really, where else would a person rather be?”
Truly the award speaks to Rau’s love of baseball, a sport he became enthralled with as a five year old “playing in the backyard, looking at my baseball sticker book and pretending I was one of them.” He started playing minor ball in Clyde, then moved on to play for Westlock clubs throughout his teenage years before joining the Red Lions.
“And of course, watching my dad play fastball back in the day was huge, too. He played for a lot of years and we’d always go and watch and then he moved on to play slo pitch and we were always out there watching his games,” he said, while Game 2 of the league final played in the background.
Rau, who works as a pharmacist, thanked his wife and three kids for allowing him to share his love of the game with them. Friends and family, as well as current Red Lions and the opposing Twins and their fans, showered Rau with applause when he received the award.
“Without them I wouldn’t be playing. My family has been so supportive of me throughout,” said Rau. “A lot of guys when they get married, they just kind of disappear from the game. I’m lucky enough to have a wife who’s allowed me to continue to pursue my passion and to share it with our children.”
“Extremely deserving of this award,” says current Red Lions skipper
Current Red Lions player/manager Chris Brand nominated Rau for the award, calling him a “special athlete, individual, father, husband and teammate” who was “extremely deserving of this award.”
Brand’s nomination, which was read by current Red Lions Nathan Brown during the ceremony, notes Rau has been a part of the organization as a player, manager and even as scorekeeper and also played on past provincial and Western Canadian championship teams.
“Ryan has been a very vital part of the Red Lions, even mentoring a lot of the guys on this roster … I think for most of the guys on this team, Ryan was their first manager,’ said Brand in a follow-up interview. “Ryan has molded a lot of the guys and is a real role model. It’s always nice seeing him around the diamond.”
He also noted Rau put in “countless hours and energy” into the NCABL’s 50th anniversary commemorative magazine released in 2017, with Riopel telling Rau during the award ceremony that without his hard work, the magazine never would have happened.
Brand also said that Rau continues to play a “critical role” in the success of both the Barrhead and Westlock minor ball associations as he’s put in “immeasurable hours coaching, volunteering and assisting in a variety of roles.”
The Ken Schultz Memorial Award has been awarded annually since 1993 and candidates must have contributed significantly to the game of baseball in a franchised area within the NCABL's geographic region over an extended period.
Riopel said Ken Schultz was a “devoted” umpire within the NCABL who succumbed to complications resulting from severe diabetes in his early thirties, “yet he persevered through much pain and health challenges to umpire and mentor younger umpires.”
Riopel explained that the measure of a candidate's contributions to the game can cross several categories, or just one and include the quality of service to the league as an umpire, the quality of service and dedication to the NCABL and/or to minor baseball as a manager or coach, or an individual's advancement of the game of baseball within their community through the promotion and support of the game.
“In summary, the award is emblematic of an individuals' commitment, service, and perseverance in the promotion and growth of the game of baseball within a franchised area of the North Central Alberta Baseball League,” said Riopel.
Eligibility is limited to anyone who is not a currently active player, though they may have elevated the game through a distinguished playing career within the league as well as distinguishing themself as a builder, promoter, umpire, or administrator.
The award winner is chosen annually by a committee, led by Riopel, and continues to be supported and presented by a member of the Schultz family.
Past winners from the Westlock area include Dean Fagnan, 2019, Cliff Cyre, 2010, Raymond Senkoe, 2008, Rick Provencal, 2006, Bryan Keith, 2005, John Golonowski, 1999, Dwaine Jolliffe, 1998, and Chuck Keller, 1996.