Rode

Chatwood optimistic Riggers will be back on the field this season

Usually, the Red Deer Riggers would be just getting their Sunburst Baseball League regular season underway about now, but as we all know the pandemic has affected that the past two years.

Last year was completely wiped out and this season is up in the air.

However, Riggers president Jaret Chatwood is optimistic they will be able to run some sort of season.

“We’re presently on hold, like every other sports program,” he said. “It’s wait and see what the new guidelines are when they come out, but we’re certainly planning on playing.

“We’re usually beginning our season in the middle of May but obviously that’s not the case. But without the nationals (in late August) we could stretch the season into late August or even early September.

“But even if we have to run a shorter season that’s OK. It would be great to get out there and not miss two years.”

Being an outdoor sport and the fact the majority of their players eligible to get vaccinated, should benefit the league.

“Being outside should help, but things change week to week,” said Chatwood.. “As for getting the vaccine, it’s up to the individual player and how they feel about it.

“It would be good if everyone did get it as it would expedite the process.”

The league is still holding “one or two meetings a month” to be ready when they get the go-ahead.

“We want to make sure teams are good to go and it seems all teams are on board,” added Chatwood.

Last season the Riggers were the only team in the league that couldn’t play some games.

“Being the only team in central Alberta limited us in that we didn’t have anyone in our cohort to play,” Jaret explained. “The teams in Edmonton and area could play each other on a limited basis. But we were locked down and not allowed to travel or have them travel to us.”

The Riggers still have a strong core whenever they get the go-ahead to play.

“We do plus a couple of younger guys have moved into the area so we feel confident we’ll have a very competitive team.”

When it comes to adding other college-age players that’s still up in the air. The Sylvan Lake Gulls and the Western Canadian Baseball League will be strictly an all-Canadian league this season, which may affect some players.

“It does make it a bit tougher as there’s not a lot of central Alberta kids eligible to play on both teams, but we’re still working with them and we’ll likely be able to add some of those players.”

Zach Olson and Jared Arnold — two of the top college players from Red Deer — have signed with the Gulls, but would have been eligible to play with the Riggers at the nationals, which the Red Deer squad was going to host.

“Playing in that league doesn’t affect their eligibility to sign with us and play in the nationals,” said Chatwood. “But as a league we set guidelines and rules so that kids can play in both leagues, but have to show a certain commitment to our league so that come our playoffs teams suddenly don’t have a completely different team.”

The biggest disappointment the past two seasons has been the cancellation of the Canadian senior baseball championships.

Sidney, NS, will host the 2022 Canadians with the Riggers now hosting in 2023.

“In one aspect it gives us an extra year to fundraise, but on the other side some guys were going to call it the end of the road after the nationals, so it’s tough on them with it being pushed back.”

Jaret didn’t say who may be looking at retiring but knows the team will still represent themselves and the city in style in ‘23.

“We will have a good group plus it’s easier to recruit when you’re hosting the nationals,” he said. “As well there will be some players who are finished at college and aged out when it comes to the WCBL.

One reason the Riggers can have a positive outlook toward the future is the growth of the St. Joe’s Baseball and Softball Academy, run by former Riggers Jason Chatwood and Scott Murray. Jason is also head coach of the Gulls.

“The academy is a huge building block for the community and the amount of local kids getting the chance to play and getting a look at colleges and universities on both sides of the border is growing. My relationship with my brother also helps as we talk about players and how they fit in both of our programs.”

Jaret, like those who built and run the Riggers over the years, believes in a strong central Alberta flavour.

“We’re proud to have a strong core of central Alberta players,” said Jaret. “We’re based in Red Deer and if we can put together a competitive team with central Alberta players that’s what we want to do.”

That again is where the academy helps, especially on the pitching side.

“Looking at the academy they have some good arms and that can only benefit all the leagues in our area,” Jaret concluded.

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