When Colin Stefanik and Darcy Warawa took over the Red Deer Razorbacks reins this spring, goal No. 1 was to recruit more versatile and committed players.
The team had just finished languishing through two Parkland Baseball League seasons, struggling to get nine or 10 players out to games, and it showed in the standings.
They started the 2014 campaign with 19 on the roster and have picked up a few extra bodies since. Numbers this year are finally not an issue for the club and the results have improved, sitting at 4-3 this season despite inconsistency at the plate.
“We didn’t have the commitment from players, we were putting together a different lineup almost every game … and that for us in the last few years has been a bit of a struggle,” said Warawa, also noting they have lost four starters from their previous championship teams to family and work commitments in that time as well. “One thing with taking over the team, I was going to get some guys who knew what they were doing on a baseball diamond, and second off create a committed group that when they come to practice we get work done and make it worth guys’ time to come to practice.”
The strength of the senior AA club this year is the depth of their pitching staff. They are led by a pair of pitchers from Olds, Clinton Armitage and Chris Grudeski and have recently bolstered the group with the addition of Ontario southpaw Travis Bachynski, a product of the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge.
“We’ve probably got seven or eight guys this year that can probably go and throw, and that helps us,” said Warawa. “In the past we’ve dealt with four arms, sometimes five.”
This is Armitage’s first year with the club after spending part of 2012-13 season with the University of Calgary Dinos in the Canadian College Baseball Conference.
The19-year-old right-hander also plays third base and is solid at the plate. He is fitting in well in his rookie season.
“It’s great playing for a guy like Darcy, he knows a lot about the game,” he said. “I took a year off of ball so its nice to get back out.”
The biggest concern right now for the club is getting their bats going.
They have shown flashes of offence but little consistency. They have been able to get guys on base, but an inability to cash them in or execute set plays properly has killed them. In an 18-game season, getting the offence on track is one of the more difficult things to do.
“We have guys that played at the college level and we have guys who played midget AAA level, you just don’t have enough reps,” said Warawa.
“No one has been doing this all winter, you come out here a month-and-a-half ago and you start swinging at a practice and, it’s baseball, it takes a little time to find a groove and find a rhythm.”
Still the Razorbacks are confident about their chances this season.
The seven-team PBL changed its playoff format from a full-league tournament to a standard top four format — No. 1 plays 4, No. 2 plays 3 in best-of-three series, followed by a best-of-five league final.
Standing in their way will be the defending league champion Acme Pirates — who they play on Saturday in Acme at 7 p.m.
“Expectations are pretty high for this team,” said Armitage. “We’ve got a lot of good returning players and good new guys who’ve filled some holes. Everybody is hoping for good things come playoffs and I think we’ve got a chance.”