Ty Russell was looking for a place to play baseball this summer and the Red Deer Riggers were the benefactors.
The 24-year-old native of Victoria is taking his master’s degree in biology at the University of Alberta and wanted to play in a competitive league, yet one where it wasn’t a full time commitment.
“Last summer I played on a men’s team at home and it wasn’t as competitive,” he explained. “This is definitely more competitive, but you don’t have to put your full attention to it like in college of the Western Major Baseball League.”
Russell knows a little bit about both those programs as he played four years of college in the States and spent one summer with the Moose Jaw Miller Express in the WMBL.
He came up through a solid baseball program in Victoria and played with the Victoria Merchants of the B.C. Premier Baseball League. The Merchants won the provincial title in 2010, but that wasn’t the highlight of his minor league days.
“I was with the B.C. bantam team that won the Canadian championship,” he said.
But overall Ty didn’t see a lot of time with the provincial teams.
“I was a late bloomer,” he said. “As a result I was left off a lot of those teams when I was younger and in high school. But that was a sort of motivation for me, to be able to pass some of those other guys, who had better talent when I was younger.”
Russell received a scholarship to Marshalltown Community College in 2012. He spent two years there before joining the NCAA Division I program at Alabama A&M.
He was twice named to the All-Conference regional team with Marshalltown — the first as a catcher and the second at first base.
He batted a team high .368 his first season.
“It ended up that year I caught almost every game and I had a great year at the plate,” he said. “The second year I played first base as my knees were bothering me, probably from playing so much behind the plate the previous year, and I had another good season.”
He joined Alabama for the 2014-15 season. His second year he batted .288 with an impressive .943 OPS (on-base plus slugging) and was named to the second All-Conference team.
He spend the summer of 2015 with the Miller Express, which included the Riggers Levi Moon.
“I planned on going back the following year but received an internship at Auburn and I couldn’t turn that down.”
But it wasn’t his acquaintance with Moon that brought him to the Riggers.
“I knew Levi from Moose Jaw, but didn’t know he was here until I arrived for my first practice,” said Russell, who learned about the Riggers from a friend, who played with a number of the Red Deer players at Minot State University.
Russell has filled in at catcher, some first base and the outfield for the Riggers, but will be catching more in the Sunburst Baseball and provincial playoffs and the Nationals in Victoria.
“Our regular catcher (Curtis Mazurkewich) has received a job in Yellowknife, so it looks like I’ll be catching more,” said Russell, who is excited to return home for the Canadian finals.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ll go home a week ahead of time to see my family before the championships. Once they’re over it will be time for school.”
Russell expects to take just over two years to finish his degree at the U of A, so will be with the Riggers next season for sure.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org