It’s been more than a year since many Red Deer Minor Baseball players played in a competitive game at Great Chief Park.
That’s set to change this weekend, as the Red Deer U18AAA Tier 1 Carstar Braves will hit the field for four games against the Sherwood Park Dukes, starting with a doubleheader Saturday at noon.
“We are so excited,” said Geoff Hall, who is in his first season as the Braves manager.
Hall, who coached previously with the East Central Bulls and Team Alberta said it was only within the last 10 days or so that they got the go-ahead to officially hit the field for games and there hasn’t been much time for a full practice.
“Everyone’s mood flipped like a switch as soon as I said there’s a possibility of starting,” he said.
“It’s been a long time for some of them since they’ve actually played a meaningful game. They’re pretty excited and to go ahead with minimum restrictions is exciting news.”
Still, Hall has been extremely impressed with the talent his group has and that means high expectations for the year.
“We’re a pretty well-rounded team. We’ve got some guys that can really swing it and hit the ball well. We’ve got some guys that are going to hit for average and we’ve got some pretty good depth with our pitching. Our defence should be pretty good too,” he said.
“From top to bottom, we’re pretty solid.”
He noted they have a few players returning from the Braves program in 2019, which hosted the Western Canadian Baseball Championships. His team will be made up of mostly Grade 11 players, making them younger than most teams in the 18 and under Norwest league.
“I have pretty high expectations. I laid it all out at the start of the year. I want the guys to put their best effort forward and improve from practice to practice and game to game,” he said.
“We might not win ‘em all, but we’re going to try and if we don’t win we’re going to learn from our loss and get better the next time.”
While they may be young, Hall said they have a ton of strong hitters and depth at pitching which should carry them a long way this season.
“We’re pretty deep with pitching which is nice to see. We have some guys who can throw with good velocity and guys who don’t have the velocity but can really locate the fastball. I’m excited to see it,” he said.
The roster includes Adam Turgeon, Abe Blackmore, Grayson Borchers, Dominic Skjonsberg, Kohle Huber, Anthony Chatwood, Joel Portz, Kyle Belich, Levi Hammond, Jaxon Zanolli, Gavin Galenza, Grayson Leuck, Luis Gallardo, Matthew Murray, Austin London and Heath Hachkowski.
Red Deer also has a second U18AAA team this season, with shows the depth of talent in the region. Hall credits the St. Joe’s Baseball Academy for that deep pool of talent, where players are in game shape for the better part of nine months.
“There’s so many kids in the academy program and when the kids are able to play nine months of the year – they come into the academy at the start of September and they go all year, the skill that’s out there has really increased from where it was five or six years ago,” he said.
The Tier II U18AAA roster has Austin Moore, Benjamin Franz, Brayden Harrington, Chase Stewart, Isaiah Schulte-Bates, Isiah Hawkes, Jordan Bauer, Justice Portsmouth, Noah Feser, Sam Honke, Seth Gill, Tysen Wandler, and Isaiah Schulte-Bates.
They begin play on Saturday in Camrose, before playing their first home game on June 19 at Great Chief Park.
The U18AAA Carstar Braves will play at home Saturday at 12 p.m. and and Sunday at 3 p.m.