A team of bantam veterans dot the lineup of the Red Deer Bantam AAA Braves, as they prepare for the season.
Taking advantage of a few imports afforded to bantam AAA teams, the Braves are drawing a few players in from Innisfail and one player from Stettler.
Randy Gehring, team coach, said the team has mostly competed together for about four or five years in Red Deer.
“We hit the ball well,” said Gehring. “We should have decent pitching and our fielding should be fairly good, but in the AAA league you’re playing teams like Okotoks and St. Albert, who are very, very strong teams.
“We’ll have to feel things out and find our place, but I think if everybody puts their best foot forward and everybody is on the same page and works together, I think we’ll be OK.”
Last season, the players that are on the AAA Braves team were predominately on the AA bantam team, making them second years at the bantam level. Gehring said the team has 10 second-year bantam players and two first-years, one of which played AAA pee wee.
“They’re a good group, they work hard at practice and that’s one of the things we want to stress,” said Gehring.
“You play how you practice, so we’re making sure they don’t develop bad habits in practice that could transfer into games.”
It’s about at the bantam level where the cerebral side of the game starts to come in, Gehring said it exposes players to the truly competitive side of baseball.
“In hockey, every 45 second shift you’re out there and things are firing and you have to get your feet moving,” said Gehring. “In baseball, you can have four-and-a-half minutes of complete boredom followed by 15 seconds of complete panic. You always have to be on your toes and you always have to think about what could happen.
“All those different scenarios have to be running through your mind and you have to know what you’re going to do the minute that ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.”
Helping the program, which boasts a bantam AAA team and two bantam AA teams, is a glut of kids taking up baseball this year. Gehring said the “Blue Jays effect,” was partially responsible.
After Canada’s only Major League Baseball team had a successful season and a playoff run, Red Deer minor baseball saw their numbers swell. Three years ago about 350 players were in the system, this year they have 656 players.
The Braves season starts this weekend with games in Okotoks against the home team and Calgary.