When Jason Chatwood and the rest of the Sylvan Lake Gulls executive looked to put together their roster as they prepared for their debut season in the Western Canada Baseball League they didn’t have to look that far to find a starting point.
One of the first players they signed was Red Deer product Zach Olson.
“He was one of the first players we targeted when we started looking at our roster,” said Gulls head coach and recruitment coordinator Jason Chatwood.
“We know what kind of player and person he is and the fact he’s a local product is a bonus.
“I worked with him and he helped us out (with the St, Joe’s Academy), so that’s a bonus as well,” added Chatwood.
Olson just arrived home from his second season at Colby College in Kansas where he put together a solid offensive year with six doubles, two triples and 14 home runs in 38 games played. He also had an impressive 1.192 OPS.
“I struggled a bit near the end, which is part of baseball … you have your ups and downs, but overall it was good,” said the 22-year-old who is in quarantine after arriving back home Tuesday.
“We had a good season as a team as well. We won the sub-regional tournament before losing in the semifinal of the super regional.”
The six-foot-three, 205-pound outfielder, who played the 2019 season with the Red Deer Riggers, has a solid baseball background.
He came up through the Red Deer minor system before joining the Prospects Academy in St. Albert in Grade 11. He returned home and finished his high school then joined the Edmonton Cardinals travelling team before joining the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge for a season. He then moved to the States in January of 2020.
His first season with Colby was cut short because of the pandemic.
“We played our exhibition season and were two games into the conference when it was called off,” he explained. “Overall I played six or seven games. At the start, I didn’t play much as I was just getting accustomed to the team.”
Olson believes his time in Alberta, including a season with Baseball Alberta, was perfect for him in his development.
“I got a lot of experience and while with Edmonton and PBA we played some in the States which was huge. They have so many teams and players and you got a chance to face some excellent pitching and play high-end teams.”
Still, he feels the season with the Riggers helped as much as any as he prepared to join Colby.
“Absolutely that season helped me a lot. A lot of the guys have played there and they knew what it takes. They can still throw hard and know how to pitch which was good for me to see. Playing in that league was a perfect step for me.”
Although he will be with the Gulls, if and when they open their season, he’s still eligible to play with the Riggers.
“If the Gulls don’t go I’ll play with the Riggers if they have a season,” he said.
Even playing with the Gulls, Zach would have been eligible to play for the Riggers if they would have hosted the Nationals. But that was once again postponed until 2023.
The latest news from the Premier gives a lot of hope for the Gulls and Riggers playing this summer. The Gulls season will look a bit different than normal as it will be an All-Canadian league with the Gulls joining two teams from the Okotoks Dawgs, the Edmonton Prospects and Lethbridge Bulls.
“It’s different for sure but will still be a good league, just not quite as good as it would be if all the teams were playing and the American kids and guys from other countries would be here. Still something I’m looking forward to.”
Although he knows where he’ll likely be playing this summer, what he’ll be doing in the fall is still up in the air.
“I’ve finished at Colby, which is a two-year school, now I need to find a four-year school,” he said. “I’ve talked with a few but no offers so far.”
Colby head coach Ryan Carter does have a number of contacts and Zach believes he’ll help in that area.
“I trust him and he says we may even have to wait until the middle of June to know for sure.”
Zach, who is taking physical education, will have two years of eligibility remaining and hopes to return home and teach and coach
“That’s my goal,” he said. “I’ll have to take a few more classes once I return to Canada as not all the courses transfer over, but that’s fine.”
Zach played last season with two other Red Deer products — Jared Arnold and Cleary Simpson — both of whom were in their freshman season at Colby and both of whom have signed with the Gulls.
Cooper Jones of Red Deer, who played at Illinois State University, is also with the Gulls.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org