A surprise invite to the 2017 Baseball Canada Senior Men’s National Championship has put an extra spring into the step of the Red Deer Riggers as they gear up for the start of the Sunburst Baseball League season.
Even though the Riggers fell to the Sherwood Park Athletics in last season’s provincial championship series, the boys in red and white are still going to get a chance to play on the country’s biggest stage for Senior AAA baseball this coming summer, after Baseball Alberta received an invite from Baseball Canada to enter a second team to replace Quebec’s representative at this year’s tournament.
Because of the way that Senior Men’s provincials are structured in Canada, the team that wins the provincial championship in a given year earns the right to represent their province at nationals the following season, meaning the athletics would be Alberta’s representative this year.
However, because Alberta gets to send two teams to nationals this season, Red Deer got the call as last year’s provincial runner-ups.
“I think guys obviously were disappointed last year, which is pretty understandable. But I think guys also, once we got the call from Baseball Canada, were pretty excited about the opportunity to go on to Victoria for nationals this summer,” said Riggers’ Player/Coach Jason Chatwood of how his team reacted when they heard the news.
And with the Sunburst League’s Opening Day less than a month away, the City’s resident Senior AAA baseball team has started dusting off the cobwebs as they get ready for the long season ahead.
“It’s been good. We’ve had a few indoor workouts already at the Collicutt and stuff like that. The guys are getting ready,” said Chatwood, noting that even though nationals are in the back of their minds, the Riggers are trying to stay focused on the season ahead.
“You don’t want to look too, too far ahead. Just kind of take things one game at a time. I think that’s kind of the thing that we’ve been pretty good at and pretty consistent at is just kind of focusing on the game that we’re playing.”
Although the team doesn’t play their first regular season game until May 2nd, they won’t have to wait that long to see their first game action of the spring as they prepare to take on the University of Alberta’s new baseball team for an exhibition series at Telus Field in Edmonton on April 22nd and 23rd.
“For us it’ll be nice to play a different team. We get three games to play before the season even starts, so just kind of work out some of the rust and get your timing down and get pitchers some innings and guys some swings before the season actually starts,” Chatwood said.
While the Riggers’ lineup this season is shaping up to be largely the same as last year, there are a couple of major gaps to fill after veterans Curtis Bailey and Jordan Weinkauf decided to retire at the end of last season.
“They’ve been two huge, huge pieces to the Riggers for a lot of years. Those guys are kind of irreplaceable for all of the things they did on and off the field, so they’ll be missed big time,” Chatwood said, adding the team has brought in a couple of new players to sure up their roster ahead of their May 2nd home opener against the Confederation Park Cubs.
“We’re kind of trying to build a strong team for the season and obviously going into nationals.”
He also said the team is hoping to see the same level of support from Red Deer baseball fans as they did during last year’s playoffs.
“Last year was awesome with the City supporting us and getting behind us for the season and playoffs, so hopefully just continue that and hopefully guys stay healthy for the year.”
The Sunburst Baseball League season kicks off on May 2nd when the Red Deer Riggers host the Confederation Park Cubs at Great Chief Park in Red Deer. First pitch on that game is at 7:30 p.m.