Aaron Graves looked like he’d never been away.
After playing a pair of recent road games with the Red Deer Riggers following a four-year absence from the Sunburst Baseball League team, Graves made his 2015 home-field debut Tuesday night at Great Chief Park and did so in grand fashion.
The Lacombe native went three-for-four at the plate with a solo homer and two singles and made a diving catch in right field to seal the final out in a 9-3 Riggers victory over the St. Albert Tigers. And so what kept Graves busy during his rather lengthy hiatus?
“Being a dad,” he replied. “I’ve retired a few times over the years and I think you come back a little hungrier each time. This is a good team and I’m just glad to be a part of it and help out wherever I can, in whatever role.
“It’s been a long four years but it feels pretty good.”
Graves was attending a recent golf event with a handful of Riggers players when it was mentioned that the team was in need of another body.
“I jokingly said that I feel pretty good and it translated into a practice the next day and now a few games,” he said. “My wife’s not overly excited about the whole thing, but you know what, you should do it while you can because you miss it when it’s gone.
“This might be my last hurrah and this is a great group of guys.”
The Riggers trailed 3-2 when catcher Curtis Mazurkewich approached the plate in the sixth inning and cracked a two-run shot over the right-field fence. From there, the hosts exploded for five runs in the seventh frame, with Jason Louis contributing an RBI single, Kerry Boon smashing a three-run homer to left field and Graves singling home Mazurkewich.
Jaret Chatwood doubled and scored Red Deer’s first run in the fourth inning and Graves hit a solo shot in the fifth.
The Riggers improved to 9-7 with the win and moved into a tie for first place with the Sherwood Park Athletics. St. Albert fell to 8-8.
“This is a big win,” said Graves. “We needed this because the league is tight. This is a change to when I used to play in that the league means a lot more now in terms of provincial weighting. Everyone came to play tonight, it was good to see.”
Josh Edwards worked the first six innings on the Riggers’ mound, giving up three runs on six hits — including a solo homer by Taylor Wiebe — while recording nine strikeouts. Dustin Northcott blanked the Tigers over the final three frames, surrendering just a single hit.
St. Albert starting pitcher Craig Tomas was chased in the seventh inning and reliever Brad Macuch gave up a single run before being replaced by Wiebe, who worked the eighth. Wiebe gave up a double to Chatwood in a scoreless inning.
Northcott surrendered a lead-off single to open the ninth frame, but then fanned the next two batters and watched as Graves went full out for the final out.
“Might as well wrap it up proper,” said Graves, in reference to his defensive play. “It was a fun game to be a part of. I’m just glad to be back.”
• The Riggers kick off their own tournament Friday with a 7:30 p.m. contest against the Tigers.
The Edmonton Confederation Park Cubs meet Sherwood Park at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and the Calgary Cardinals and Tigers follow at noon. From there, the Athletics and Calgary Wolfpack clash at 2:30 p.m., the Cubs and Wolfpack battle at 5 p.m. and the Riggers and Cardinals meet at 7:30 p.m.
The semifinals are set for noon and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, to be followed by the championship game at 5 p.m.