In early March, Red Deer Carstar Braves head coach Cam Moon was worried he may not have enough players to field a midget AAA baseball team this season.
His worries proved unfounded and Moon will take a 16-man roster into the NorWest Midget Baseball League season.
“It worked out and in the end we should have a competitive team,” said Moon. “We did lose a few guys who decided to play elsewhere, mainly returning to their home clubs, but we do have a solid group of players returning and some good kids moving up from bantam AAA and midget AA.
“I like what I see so far. We have a balanced group with a lot of room to grow, plus they’re good kids who fit well together.”
Moon has nine players returning, including three — Nik Fischer, Levi Moon and Triston Hill — who are with the Badlands Baseball Academy in Oyen.
“They won’t be joining us full time until June,” explained Moon. “That’s fine — until they get back it gives the other kids more playing time and a lot of reps at the plate and in the field.”
Moon realizes the Braves will be a step behind during the early portion of the season.
“Several of the teams have a lot of players who played with the academies and have been playing all winter,” he said. “They’ll definitely be ahead of us. When our three guys get back, it will help but we’ll still have to play catch-up early on.
“It’s important for the kids to have a good outlook and not worry about the early results. I’m sure they will. The guys coming back know what to expect.”
The Braves split a pair of exhibition games in Strathmore two weeks ago and last weekend, they lost a twin bill to the Cardinals in St. Albert.
“The first weekend we used a lot of guys, especially on the mound, and everyone had an opportunity to see live pitching. It gave us an idea of what to expect.
“This past weekend in St. Albert, it was tough as they’re expected to be one of the top teams in the league. But overall it was fine.”
The Braves hope to open at home Sunday, when they host the Edmonton Cardinals II in a doubleheader at noon and 3 p.m. at Great Chief Park.
Teams in the league are allowed two 19-year-olds with Ty Elliott and Dylan Borman the elder two members of the Braves.
Borman and Elliott will be two of the team’s top pitchers, along with veteran Ty Wagar of Lacombe and newcomers Parker Booth, Benett Kary and Michael Ozga.
Booth played bantam last season while Kary is from Trochu and played in Olds. Ozga is up from the midget AA program.
“We still need to work on our pitching, because it is so early,” said Moon. “The big thing is to throw strikes and go from there. That’s the foundation for success.
“As for our hitting, it will be fine. And we still need to tighten up defensively.”
Other veterans on the roster are Jesse Kowalchuk, Jesse Muirhead and Blake Thomson. Griffin Moline, Jordan Muirhead and Brad Pope played bantam AAA last season while Kane LeBlanc played midget AA.
“We have a higher number of bantam players this year, but that’s good,” added Moon. “It helps grow the game — down the road, these kids will be the leaders of the team.”
The league will have a new look this season with the Okotoks fielding only one team, rather than three. Calgary will have three teams — the Redbirds I and II and the Rockies. Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove will have only one team each.
“Okotoks will have only their youngest team this year, but Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove will likely be stronger because they have only one team, but that’s fine,” said Moon. “I expect the league to be competitive and balanced by the end.”
The Braves will play in three major tournaments this season — Edmonton, Kamloops and the new Red Deer AAA tournament, which is set for July 4-6 and will also see games at the mosquito AA and peewee, bantam and midget AAA levels.
“I’m not sure who will be in the (Red Deer) tournament, but I hear there may be some teams from out of province, which will be nice to get a chance to play someone different,” said Moon.
Dave Borman returns as an assistant coach, joining newcomer Drew Boyer, who was an assistant coach with the Edmonton Cardinals and a former coach of the Zone 4 15-year-old team.