Red Deer Riggers manager Jaret Chatwood feels everything is close to being set as the Canadian Senior Men’s Baseball Championships near opening day.
“We’re as ready as can be, just a couple of minor details to iron out,” he said as he put the finishing touches on the roster.
“We lost all our college guys, except for catcher Kyle Belich, but we’ve added five guys and still have room for one more, which we have to add in the next couple of days,” he said. “So we feel comfortable with our roster, just have to see how things go.”
Belich is also off to school in the States, but not until after the Nationals, which run Aug, 24-27 at Great Chief Park.
Having the rookie catcher helps immensely as Chatwood is the only other catcher on the roster and he plays infield more than behind the plate.
“We can’t have Kyle play all the innings so we added Jamie Mitchell, who plays with the Calgary Diamondbacks,” added Chatwood, who is also nursing a hamstring injury.
“It wasn’t torn, just a slight pull and I’ve been working on rehabbing it and won’t do much until the few days before the tournament,” he explained. “Hopefully it’s good by then. I’m the only one who has an injury, so we’re good that way.”
The Riggers needed to find starting pitching depth and did so by adding Tyler McWillie from the Sylvan Lake Gulls, Halen Knoll of the Edmonton Riverhawks and Tony Olson of the Edmonton Cubs.
McWillie, who is still involved in the Western Canadian Baseball League playoffs, posted a 4.05 ERA in 11 games this season with the Gulls. He had a 3-0 record and one save and fanned 27 batters in 26.2 innings. McWillie, a native of Watrous, Sask., can also play the infield.
Knoll was the fourth-ranked pitcher in the West Coast League, the top summer league in the Northwest United States and Canada.
He saw action in 15 games, starting 10 and struck out 52 in 73.2 innings, which was second in the WCBL. He had five wins in nine decisions, which placed him one win behind the league leaders.
Knoll, a native of Edmonton, was also a former member of the Gulls.
Olson is also a two-way player with the Cubs, pitching and playing infield.
The final addition is no stranger to the Riggers — JP Willner, who played several seasons for the Red Deer squad, including prior to Covid when Red Deer attended the Nationals in 2017 and ‘18. He was the team’s centre fielder and closer in 2017 when they won bronze. They posted a 1-3 record in 2018.
The Riggers have a handful of players who played in 2018 in Chatwood, Josh Edwards, Derrick Chapman, Jason Louis, Davin Gulbransen and Dustin Northcott.
“For all the others it’s a first-time experience,” said Chatwood. “Something new for them, but an exciting experience.”
Zach Olsen is making his first trip to the senior Nationals, but has extensive experience coming up threw the minor levels, so it will be nothing new for him.
Chatwood indicated he’ll likely start Edwards or Knoll in their first game Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. against the Ontario champion Windsor Stars, who are considered one of the pre-tournament favourites.
“From what we see they’re going to be tough competition right off the bat,” Jaret said. “But then all the teams will be. Won’t be any pushovers and we’ll have to be at our best.”
The other starters on the Riggers include Rees DeRuyter and Dustin Northcott.
“We’ll need everyone to be at their best,” added Chatwood, who did talk with several other pitchers.
”We talked with Jared Arnold, but he had other commitments and several of the other pitchers we could have asked are under 21 and they have a pitch count at the championships which limits the number of pitches they can throw, so that makes a difference.”
The Riggers play twice on Aug. 25 – 1 p.m. against Newfoundland/Labrador and 7 p.m. against Nova Scotia. They finish round-robin play Aug. 26 at 11 a.m. against Quebec.
“A tough pool, but I think we’re ready. We faced a lot of good competition during the season. In fact, other teams seemed to pitch their top guys against us every night. I’d say the games we did lose we lost to national calibre pitching … guys who will be at the Nationals.”
The other pool sees Sherwood Park, which is the top team out of Alberta, up against B.C., Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Manitoba.
Action gets underway at 9 a.m. Aug. 24. but pre-tournament festivities begin with opening ceremonies Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. followed by the home run derby.
“That will be exciting, I can see a lot of bombs being hit here,” said Chatwood.
Chatwood indicated the organizing committee had a meeting this week to finalize things.
“We got the small stuff done, like passes, player information, coaches and umpire meetings, that kind of stuff.”
They’ve also set up the beer gardens, concessions and feel there will be plenty of parking.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com