AAA Braves aim to sharpen up after rough start to season

No one expected the Red Deer Carstar Braves to storm out of the gate for the opening of the Norwest Midget AAA Baseball League regular season.

Dawgs White 15 Braves 12

No one expected the Red Deer Carstar Braves to storm out of the gate for the opening of the Norwest Midget AAA Baseball League regular season.

“Right now we’re definitely a step behind most other teams,” said Braves head coach Terry Letkeman. “We’ve had some kids with the Kings volleyball club, one in badminton and others have had work commitments.

The first practice we had together was last Tuesday.

“Plus we don’t have the indoor facilities some of the other teams have. We get to the Collicutt Centre when we can, but it’s not available on a regular basis.

“We’ll use the month of May to get to know each other and get our game up to speed.”

The Braves opened their season last week and had their home opener Wednesday as they dropped a 15-12 decision to the Okotoks Foothills Dawgs White at Great Chief Park.

It was obvious Wednesday the Braves defence isn’t as sharp as it will be, as they committed a number of errors.

“That’s an issue, but we encourage the guys to be realistic in terms of where we’re at compared to other teams,” said Letkeman. “Some teams have already played 15 to 20 games. So looking at where we’re at I believe we’re going in the right direction.”

The Braves have seven players back from last year, six of whom — Brandon Bodemer, Nathan Damiani, Jason Garrett, Mac Guckert, Reign Letkeman and Jonah Penner — can pitch. Outfielder Stephon Fontaine is the only one who won’t take the mound.

Guckert and Letkeman are expected to be two of the team’s top pitchers, along with left-hander Ian Chevalier of Canmore and Mitch Vanson, who is six-foot-four and rated one of the premier 16-year-old right-handed pitchers in the province.

Both Chevalier and Vanson, along with catcher, pitcher, infielder Levi Moon are at the Badlands Baseball Academy in Oyen and won’t join the team for a couple of weeks.

Letkeman likes the fact the trio have been playing all winter.

“They play a lot and get excellent coaching,” he said. “They also get year-round conditioning and when they come back they’ll add needed depth in several positions.”

Overall the team has depth on the mound, but Terry Letkeman feels pitching will be an issue until everyone is available and healthy.

“Mac is expected to be a top pitcher, but was playing badminton, and hasn’t thrown for a couple of weeks and Reign has a sore back,” Letkeman explained. “And the other two guys aren’t back yet.”

The Braves also have some experience in catcher Sam Schierman of Innisfail, who played the last two years with Okotoks, and pitcher-infielder Dylan Borman of Camrose, who played for the provincial champion Camrose midget AA team last season.

Brett Barrett, Nik Fischer, Joel Mazurkewich, Moon and Vanson all played bantam AAA last year. Justice Letkeman and Ty Elliott played midget AA.

“We’re keeping 17 players this season, which was designed to make sure we have depth before the three guys get back from Oyen, and later in the season when we’ll be missing some others,” said Letkeman. “This way we have a consistent lineup of 13-15 guys.”

The Braves also have a strong coaching staff in last year’s head coach Pat Penner, Cam Moon and Dave Borman, who coached the Camrose AA team last year, as assistants. Ed Mazurkewich is the manager.

“I like our staff,” said Letkeman. “They all bring different pieces and are flexible.”

The Braves led 12-9 after five innings in the cold and wind Wednesday only to see the Dawgs score five times in the top of the sixth as the Braves defence struggled.

Barrett, who worked the last three innings took the loss, with Bodemer going four innings.

The Braves offence had 16 hits with Borman and Garrett collecting three each and Mazurkewich, Damiani, Penner and Elliott two apiece.

“We have some good pop in our bats, it’s just a matter of getting more reps to get where we need to be,” added Letkeman, who didn’t mind what he saw from his pitchers.

“I thought they did a great job, the defence let them down.”

The Braves face Sherwood Park Gold Saturday at noon and 3 p.m. at Great Chief Park.