Small Ball, Big Opportunity

By IAN WILSON

No detail is too small for Ray Brown.

The head coach of the Edmonton Prospects has carved out a lengthy career in baseball by simply working hard and paying attention.

And now he’s hoping that attention to detail will get his ball club their first ever Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) title.

“We play small ball,” said Brown, in an admission of the obvious, after the Prospects upset the top-seeded Okotoks Dawgs in the first round of the playoffs.

“We run, we bunt, we do whatever we have to do to try to get runs. Our pitching is pretty good and our defence is pretty good, too.”

All-star pitcher and designated hitter Erik Sabrowski said even the way the players wear their uniforms is a matter of strategy for their head coach.

“Ray has us all wear our pants short so the umpire can see the bottom of the zone, but I don’t know about that one,” laughed Sabrowski, who was named WMBL pitcher of the week heading into the championship series.

READ MORE: The Big Sabrowski

Sabrowski was tagged with the Game 1 loss after Swift Current scored four earned runs in the first three innings on their way to a 13-7 victory.

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Coach Brown (right) talks to his players in Game 5 of the Dawgs-Prospects playoff series in Okotoks.

Critics joke about the inability of the Prospects to hit the ball out of the infield, but Edmonton revels in their ability to frustrate opposing teams.

“We don’t score lots of runs. Our offensive machine isn’t as strong, so we’ve got to pitch better. We have to do all those little things better,” said Brown, who was hired as the head coach and player development manager in Edmonton in August of 2013.

He took over a 6-40 squad at that point and has steadily watched the wins rise from 17 in 2014 to 21 in 2015 to 22 last season.

This summer, the Prospects reached the .500 mark for the first time in recent memory, but their record of 24 wins and 24 losses still made them underdogs to every team in the Western Division.

When they faced Okotoks, the Prospects were up against league MVP Kody Funderburk, a two-way pitching and hitting threat who established a Dawgs club record for home runs in a regular season with 15.

Funderburk, who played for Edmonton last summer, did go yard in the series and collect six RBI, but he was otherwise kept in check – as were most of the other lethal bats in the Okotoks lineup – and the Prospects found a way to win the tight games en route to a 5-game series victory.

“Little things become big,” noted Dawgs bench coach Dave Robb after the disappointing series loss.

“Edmonton plays with a lot of drive and just gritty performances. They’ve got a chance, they really do.”

After dispatching the Medicine Hat Mavericks in four games, the table was set for a championship rematch between the Prospects and the Swift Current 57’s.

Swift swept that 2016 series, but Brown vows this time will be different.

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“As long as they don’t score more than us, we have a good chance,” said Brown, pulling another quote from his Captain Obvious file.

As a minor league pitcher for the San Jose Bees, Brown threw the first perfect game in the California League in the 1970s.

He knows the Prospects won’t have to be perfect to win their first WMBL crown.

But they will have to pull up their socks, hustle and pay attention if they want to have a shot.

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