Dwayne Lalor has to laugh when discussing how long he’s been president of the Red Deer Minor Baseball Association.
“It’s been five or six years … I think this is six,” he said.
But one thing he’s certain about is that he’s seen a big increase in the number of players involved in the sport since he took over.
“This year we have 652 which is close to an increase of 100 over last year and that was the first time we had over 500 players in a long time,” said Lalor, who will also coach the Red Deer Carstar Braves midget AAA squad this season.
“It’s an amazing increase, about 20 per cent.”
Call it the Blue Jay Effect. Back in the early 1990s when the Jays were the talk of baseball, winning back-to-back World Series, minor baseball in Red Deer, in fact in Canada, thrived. Since then the numbers decreased, but as of late they’ve once again increased, led by this season, which again follows a successful season by the Blue Jays.
“They draw a lot of interest and there was a lot of excitement surrounding their team,” said Lalor. “The younger players like their style they play and all the home runs.”
Even the controversy surrounding Jose Bautista’s bat flip in the playoff win over the Texas Rangers was exciting for Jays’ fans and for most of the country.
“That all generates interest,” added Lalor.
The interest in the game is seen at all levels with both the midget and bantam programs able to field a AAA team as well as two AA squads.
“Last year we were able to survive with 11 players on the midget AA team while this year we have two teams, with at least 12 players on both,” Lalor said.
One of the reasons for the growth at the midget level was the number of players graduating from the bantam programs last season.
“The majority of the kids on the AAA bantam team were second year and moved up while almost half the AA bantam team also moved up,” he said.
And the majority of the kids are from Red Deer as the Association allows only three imports on the bantam AAA team and five on the midget AAA squad.
The majority of the 16 players on the Carstar Braves are from the Red Deer system — even the imports — with only two players moving in this season.
“It’s a good situation,” said Lalor. “We’re certainly excited with the interest in the city. We’re excited to see the best players staying and playing at home. That hasn’t always happened.”
There is also a lot of interest in the lowest level, the pre-rookie and rookie divisions, for kids as young as five.
“The majority of the kids at that level are six, seven, or eight, and just learning the game,” said Lalor.
“We have only six to eight kids per team as really we don’t need outfielders. This way the kids are all involved and it’s fun for them.”
“There’s been a steady growth at that level, which is great for the other levels,” added Lalor.
The mosquito program has teams at the A and AA level with pee wee the first level with a AAA team.
With the increase in players and teams one area that’s stretched thin is coaching.
“We have to keep recruiting coaches and hope they stay,” said Lalor. “We look for guys who have played the game, have experience and their child is playing. I know several of the ex-Riggers are involved with their kids. Some sports try to get coaches who don’t have their children involved, but we feel it’s a good way for them to be involved.”
Outside of the RDMBA and running the Braves, Lalor will also act as chairman for the Canadian senior women’s baseball championships to be held Aug. 25-28 at Great Chief Park.
The championships will have teams from B.C., Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and a prospects team which will include mainly players from the other provinces.
Red Deer’s Kelsey Lalor, who plays for the Carstar Braves, is expected to be on the Alberta team with possibly her sister Hayley, who plays midget AA.
The coaching staff for the Canadian senior team will be on hand and will select a team to represent Canada at the World championships in Korea. Kelsey Lalor has been on this team the last two years.