There were as many positives as negatives as the Red Deer Carstar Braves opened their Norwest Midget AAA Baseball League regular season at Great Chief Park Saturday afternoon.
The biggest negative was a pair of losses — 14-6 and 1-0 — to the Edmonton Cardinals I.
On the positive side was a solid performance against the defending league champions by a team that includes six newcomers on the 15-man roster, including four 16 year-olds.
“We are in a rebuilding year, but there were some good signs today, especially considering we’re playing our first real games of the season,” said Braves head coach Rick Czainski.
“We’re certainly behind some of the other teams, including the Cardinals, who have been together all winter. As well they have some 19-year-olds on their roster while we didn’t take any. I believe that’s a credit to our 16-year-olds and just how talented they are.”
Two of the bantam AAA grads — Wyle Cunningham and Jonah Penner — gave an indication of their talent in the second game. Cunningham pitched five innings of no-hit ball while walking two and fanning one before giving way to Penner, who tossed a hitless sixth inning.
The Cardinals got to Penner for a run in the bottom of the seventh on a pair of hits and a walk.
“I can’t say enough about those kids,” said Czainski. “It’s the first time they’ve pitching in this competition from that distance and they didn’t look out of place.”
The Braves also got a strong performance in the opening game by starting pitcher Scott Trapp, one of nine veterans on the roster. Trapp tossed four innings of shutout ball before developing a blister on his right hand and was forced to leave in the fifth. Eventually he was tagged for three runs — one earned.
Dom Tait, who played midget AA last season, came on and took the loss with Stephon Fontaine, who is up from bantam AA, finishing on the mound.
Reid Stoyberg, who also played bantam AA last season, had a double and returnee Brady Porter added a hit and walk in the opening game.
Corbyn Shields, who moved in from Innisfail, had a pair of hits in the nightcap.
All but catcher Curtis Mazurkewich, who is still with his school team in Vauxhall, were on hand Saturday, although four of the players are battling injuries and one other — veteran pitcher-outfielder Mark Mulder — was making his first appearance of the season. Mulder was with the Red Deer Optimist Rebels midget hockey team, that just finished their season.
Three returnees — pitcher-first baseman Taze Steeves (broken wrist), utility player Cal Ireland (shoulder) and pitcher-infielder Drew Hamilton (toe) — are all injured along with Stoyberg (shoulder).
Other returnees include pitcher-outfielder Mark Fay and pitcher-infielder Brett Littlefair.
The biggest loss this season is shortstop Chase Marion, who is also at Vauxhall, but will be with the Canadian national junior team and unavailable this summer.
“He’s a big loss for sure,” agreed Czainski. “He led us offensively and in the field. But good for him if he stays with the Canadian team.”
Czainski isn’t sure this year’s edition of the Braves will be as strong as last year, but isn’t making any predictions.
“We lost some key 18-year-olds and don’t have the guys who will drive the ball in the gap, but we have talent and by the end of the year I’m not countung this group out of anything.
“Offensively we’ll be more of a singles and doubles team and will need to manufacture runs, but I believe we’ll do fine. Plus once we get everyone healthy it will make a difference. Right now a lot of guys are playing out of position.”
The pitching staff looks to be solid.
“We were counting on Trapp and Mulder to anchor the staff, but the young guys have shown they can handle it,” said Czainski. “As well we have about 10 guys who can throw, so that gives us some depth.”
Offensively Czainski is looking for Littlefair, Mazurkewich and Shields to lead the way, but expects Mulder, Fay and Ireland to do their share.
The Braves return to action Wednesday when they host Foothills Red at 6:30 p.m. at Great Chief Park.