By JOE McFARLAND
Frank Bowerman and Christy Mathewson. Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner.
It’s easy to tell when a catcher and a pitcher on the same page. The strikeouts and quick innings rack up as they are seemingly inside of each other’s heads, knowing exactly what the other is thinking for not just the next pitch, but the next few pitches.
Tyler Hodder and Josh Iannetti are hoping their past together can produce the same kinds of results as the aforementioned combinations. The Fort McMurray battery is getting ready for another season together with the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack, which officially begins this weekend.
The Wolfpack will be looking to improve on last season’s 11-17 season, which included a run to the Canadian College Baseball Conference final, only to lose 4-3 to the Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs in an 11-inning thriller. It will also be an opportunity for several Alberta products to make a name for themselves, including Hodder and Iannetti.
Just Like Home
While it can be difficult to adjust to being away from home, Hodder and Iannetti take it all in stride, knowing they have each other.
“It’s always nice to have friends from back home, in case I need something or he needs something,” the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hodder told Alberta Dugout Stories. “We always know we can rely on each other.”
Not only have they known each other for a long time, but Iannetti has been catching Hodder for about ten years now.
“All that time, that builds some chemistry,” the southpaw said. “The games that he has caught me, the trust is there, we know each other. I know what he’s going to drop down so there’s no confusion between us.”
Hodder in particular is garnering some attention after putting up some great numbers with the Wolfpack last season, finishing 4-1 in five starts with an ERA of 2.19, including 41 strikeouts in 41 games. He also had a complete game victory in the CCBC semi-final. And while all of his games were caught by Connor McKenzie, Iannetti still feels he has a great seat to watch a star in the making.
“Tyler’s developed so much since I’ve been playing with him, since I was probably ten years old,” Iannetti told Alberta Dugout Stories. “He’s turned out to be a great baseball player.”
Hodder is taking it a little more seriously this year, hitting the gym and getting a trainer and he believes he’s even stronger now.
“Anyone can play baseball but if you don’t put the work in, you’re not going to get much out of it,” the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Iannetti continued. “Tyler has been working like crazy and he’s been getting noticed. I’m proud of him.”
Home Away From Home
Interestingly, it was another Fort McMurray battery that opened the eyes of Iannetti to TRU: catcher John Young and pitcher Regan Gillis. While they are a couple of years older than Iannetti and Hodder, that connection opened a door for the pair. And waiting on the other side of it was Ray Chadwick.
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“These kids want to play baseball,” the Wolfpack coach smiled. “They love the game, I love the game and I love being around people who have the same feeling.”
“It’s kept me here for 15 years,” the former pro chuckled.
Chadwick is no stranger to Alberta. As a young pitcher trying to make it in the professional ranks, he ended up spending parts of three seasons with the Pacific Coast League’s Edmonton Trappers (1985-1987) as he made his way up through the California Angels’ system. He ended up pitching in 49 games for the Trappers, putting together a 17-20 record.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander said he loved the provincial capital, although he had to laugh recalling a walk down the hill towards John Ducey Park.
“I see all the outlets for cars and I asked the question about why they were all down the street,” the Durham, N.C. native giggled. “The guy goes ‘during the winter, it gets so cold you have to plug in your car.'”
Chadwick thought for a second.
“Then I asked ‘why would you want to live somewhere that it gets so cold that your car actually freezes and won’t start?'” he continued.
Little did he know, Chadwick would be asked to come back the following winter to do some promotional work for the Trappers, as they all knew he would be back the following season. And that’s when he experienced his first -40 temperatures.
“Not good, not good at all,” Chadwick admitted he later had to buy a brand new wardrobe.
He has obviously acclimatized to the Canadian winter, albeit now out in Kamloops. But he has been impressed with the imports coming in from the neighbouring province he once called home.
“When I first came here, it wasn’t as big as it is now,” Chadwick credited the emergence of academies in Okotoks, Edmonton, Vauxhall and others. “It’s just grown tremendously over the last 15 years.”
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He considers Hodder his ace for the coming season, and the 20-year-old seems ready for his skipper’s challenge.
“It’s always fun to pick his brain,” Hodder said. “He sits there and watches every pitch I throw. So if I feel like I’m off, he will tell me exactly what I’m doing wrong or what I need to fix and I will be even better in the next bullpen session.”
Both he and Iannetti have also come to appreciate Chadwick’s life as a pro baseball player.
“Sometimes I have no idea what’s going on in Ray’s head,” Iannetti laughed before getting serious. “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever seen in the game of baseball. It’s almost like he knows three steps ahead of everybody.”
“To be able to talk to Ray about baseball, it’s a whole new level of understanding,” Iannetti continued. “He’s a big part of where I’ve been getting my knowledge of the game from.”
Heading For Home
While their focus will remain on performing for the Wolfpack over the next couple of months, the attention will also eventually turn back towards home. Both Hodder and Iannetti have suited up for their hometown Fort McMurray Giants of the Western Major Baseball League over the last couple of seasons. Both consider it to be an honour.
“Honestly, it’s a dream,” Iannetti, whose father Dutche is the Vice President and General Manager of the Giants, admitted. “Going out there, knowing you have a crowd full of supports and loyal fans.”
“That experience was great,” Hodder added. “It was just great having my hometown behind me.”
The memories of the wildfires and the evacuation of the city are still strong in both of their minds. They are aware of the emotional connection they have with their community from that experience.
“To this day, I thank the Edmonton Prospects for letting us play that first year or we might not even be a team,” Iannetti said. “They were able to host us for that first month and coming back home to the community was amazing.”