Rode

Chatwood already preparing for next year’s nationals

The Red Deer Riggers season is barely over but the management group is already looking toward next season.

After all next season climaxes with the Riggers hosting the Canadian championships at Great Chief Park.

“We’re already planning but there’s still a lot of work ahead,” said Riggers manager Jaret Chatwood. “The biggest thing right now is to work on fund raising and find sponsorship.”

Then comes putting together a solid volunteer group to run the tournament so the Riggers can concentrate on playing.

“We have a good core already and in the next several months we’ll be cracking down and really getting into things,” said Chatwood.

They will be talking with the City of Red Deer to make sure there’s enough seating at both Great Chief Park diamonds so all of the games can be played there. In the past, seating was increased considerably when Red Deer hosted the senior nationals and the Canadians Midget Championships.

“We need to increase the seating and if not we may look at running the medal rounds in Sylvan Lake, but we’d love to play all the games here. It’s one of the things we have to talk with the city about and make sure it’s what’s best for both parties.”

While running the tournament is first on Chatwood’s mind putting together a roster is not far behind.

“From what we hear most of the guys are looking to be back but we also will need to pick up a few guys,” added Chatwood, who has been talking with players already.

The next step is to meet with the Sunburst Baseball League and provincial senior AAA champion Sherwood Park A’s about who they may look to add to their roster for the Canadians. The A’s, because they won the provincial title, get first pick to add players.

“That’s something we’ll talk to them about and see who they’re looking at and who is available,” Jaret said. “We have a good group but you always need depth, especially pitching at this tournament.”

The fact the tournament is at home will make things a bit easier.

“It’s tough when you have to get a guy to commit to travel to maybe pitch one game,” Jaret said. “Being here certainly helps in that aspect.”

The Riggers have also talked with several players on the WCBL Sylvan Lake Gulls. The fact Jaret’s brother Jason runs the Gulls and their players are familiar with the Riggers helps in that matter.

“We have a rule in our league (stating) players can’t play in both leagues at the same time, but once their season is over we can add them for the Nationals. We’ve talked with Cleary Simpson, in fact with several of their players who are interested.”

But Chatwood won’t have to add a lot of players as this year’s team had a solid core.

“A year ago we struggled at times to have enough bodies, but this year we had more depth and have players who could step into different roles. The young pitchers took another step up and adding Jay (Kirkham) and Corbyn (Shields) helped considerably along with Zach Olson.”

Rees DeRuyter had a solid season and joined Josh Edwards and Dustin Northcott as the team’s main starters. Veteran Davin Gulbranson proved he’s still solid on the mound while younger players like Kai Poffenroth, Kyle Baumgardt and Brett Porter didn’t look out of place.

“A good group now we just need to add depth,” Chatwood continued.

The Riggers’ 2022 season ended in disappointment when they lost the SBL semifinal 2-1 to the St. Albert Tigers, who lost 3-0 to the A’s in the final.

“Overall it was a good season … disappointing finish, but I was proud of the way we battled,” said Chatwood. “We ran into a few injuries and lost a couple guys who went away to school early so that hurt, but it happens to all the teams.”

Olson was gone for the playoffs after returning to college in the States while Jason Louis had a work commitment for the team’s final game.

“They’re two of our top hitters, but that’s senior baseball,” Chatwood said.

Chatwood indicated he hopes next year’s roster won’t be losing players to college prior to the Nationals.

“You never know what the different schools want, but we’d like to have an idea who will be around for sure,” he said. “If you know we can make adjustments.

“It seems guys are heading south earlier, but we hope to talk with them and possibly their coaches to make sure they can play the week of the Nationals. It’s great baseball and good for their development.

“It would be nice to only have guys who will be here, but we also have to look at what’s best for the future of the team.”

Jaret did indicate he hopes to open camp earlier next season.

“Unfortunately several of the biggest plays in the playoffs came down to fundamentals, stuff which should be secondary to us. But overall we have a younger team and really don’t have as much time to practice and play as we’d like. I know next year we plan an earlier start to our indoor season and be better prepared.

“We have St. Joe’s (Academy) here to work out for guys around here and most of the younger guys are in college.

“All I know is we’re excited about next year already.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca