Josh Zinger will be back on the mound for the Red Deer Carstar Midget AAA Braves this season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Midget AAA Braves to host Western Canadian Championships

Team will also host Day with the Braves on June 8

This summer will be one to remember for the Midget AAA Carstar Braves.

The young group, featuring less than a handful of returning players, will host one of the toughest tournaments in minor baseball later this season.

Red Deer compete in and be the host club for the 18U Western Canadian Championships from August 15-18.

That’s a tall task for a younger team, but one head coach Randy Gehring thinks they can be ready for if they prepare every day this season with that goal in mind.

“It helps in some respects, but it also adds some pressure, too. You know you’re going to be playing at that level in the end, you want to make sure you’re playing at the highest level over the course of the season,” said Gehring.

“There’s some pressure there to do well in tiering. We’ve taken the approach that our focus needs to be not so much about which tier we end up, but in developing over the long term and making sure we’re competitive mid-August.”

Tiering is the first crucial task for the Braves this year. In the opening month of the season, based on how you play in the league, determines who you line up against for the rest of the year. In 2019, they have a 1-2 record, with an extra-inning loss in the season opener.

That creates a balancing act for the coaching staff. Trying to bring a young roster up to speed at the midget AAA level, while also remaining competitive so they can play against the best teams in Alberta.

“The hardest thing is the first month is tiering. So in order to be in Tier I, you need to win games. You have to balance that off with developing the first-years so that they can contribute,” he said.

“For us, the focus now with hosting Westerns, is to develop over the next two or three months and be the best team we can at provincials. If we need to sacrifice a little bit of team success at the beginning for some long term gain, that’s what our focus will be.”

The young group features five first years, a couple of second-year players and two 19-year-olds. Four returning players include Josh Zinger, Zach Baker, Aidan Gehring and Jared Arnold.

For the entire group, regardless of how the season goes, the experience of playing in the Western Canadian Championships is a once and a lifetime chance.

“For a lot of these guys, it’ll be the pinnacle of their minor baseball career,” Gehring added.

“It doesn’t happen very often, I think one of the things with us keeping the five first years is hopefully over the next few years when it comes to the Midget AAA team, they’ll have some chances to experience some more of these situations.”

The other big day on the calendar for the Braves is just a few weeks away. On June 8, they will host the 16th annual Day with the Braves. The day camp provides players between the ages of 7-15 a chance to practice with the Braves and learn some skills from them. Gehring said all around, it’s a great experience.

“Basically, they come through and run through a bunch of different stations with the 18U players, they spend time with them. Interact with the players,” he said.

“It’s a really enjoyable day, not only for the kids that come but our players and coaches and parents as well. Ultimately, what we want is those younger kids to look at these kids and say ‘hey, that’s what I want to be when I get older.’”

The Braves play a pair of home games this weekend. Their home opener is Saturday at Great Chief Park, with first pitch set to fly at 12 p.m. Game two of the day goes at 6 p.m. against the Calgary Bandits.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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