WEBSITE & SOCIAL MEDIA
BROADCAST INFO: Lethbridge Bulls YouTube channel
HOME BALL PARK: Spitz Stadium (formerly Henderson Stadium); opened in 1975, major $2.3-million renovations in 2018; 3,000 capacity
2017 was another solid year at the ticket office for the Bulls. The club saw 23,797 fans come through the turnstiles, for an average of 992 per game. That total was good enough for third in the league and 70th on the list of top summer collegiate programs in North America. The total was down slightly from 2016, when 24,281 fans took in a Bulls home game.
Adding some extra sizzle to the game-day experience at Spitz Stadium is a mascot that has been with the Bulls for nearly 20 years. T-Bone joined the Bulls in 1999 and, not surprisingly, is a bull. And while he may not want to hang out by the barbecue, T-Bone is more than happy to give out high-fives at the park and other community events.
SAVE THE DATES
- Friday, June 8 vs. Okotoks – VisitLethbridge.com home opener – also the unveiling of brand new upgrades
- Tuesday, June 19 vs. Okotoks – Plaid for Dad Night – players to wear plaid hats
- Monday, June 25 vs. Medicine Hat – Youth Baseball Night – all Little League teams invited to show off their uniforms
- Sunday, July 1 vs. Weyburn – Canada Day Spectacular – including post-game fireworks
- Friday, July 28 vs. Medicine Hat – final home game of the regular season
View the Bulls’ full schedule here.
PEANUTS & CRACKER JACK
When chatting with Alberta Dugout Stories about the Spitz Stadium upgrades, team president Kevin Kvame said one of the big hopes was to make everything more accessible to fans so they could get in and get back to their seats.
Among the highlights of the revamp will be upgraded upper and lower concourse as well as concessions, snack shack and a patio on the third base line.
The big ticket item for the home-opener will be the sampling of two beverages provided by Molson. The team says fans will be able to vote for their favourite and the winner will be the “Official Drink of Spitz Stadium.”
Jesse Sawyer is back for his second season as bench boss with the Bulls. The Calgary native is no stranger to Lethbridge, having come through the Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) before he played with the Bulls from 2008-2012. He was the WMBL’s MVP in 2011 and set the single-season WMBL home run record with 18. After a successful career at South Dakota State University, Sawyer came back to Lethbridge for his coaching career. He just wrapped up his fifth campaign with PBA and had previously been an assistant with the Bulls before taking over the head coaching duties.
Sawyer’s assistant will be Joel Blake, who also returns for his second season. Another PBA alum (2006-2008) and Bulls alum (2008-2009, 2011-2012), the Langley, B.C. product also went on to play at South Dakota State, where he was a .373 hitter through his career, leading the school in doubles during his career and finishing second in hits. He also remains a coach at the baseball academy in Vauxhall.
Another familiar face to Southern Alberta baseball fans is Luc Hebert, who will be back as pitching coach. He came to Alberta in 2011 and pitched for two years at Vauxhall Academy before joining PBA, where he was part of their Canadian College Baseball Championship seasons in 2015 and 2016. He was also a member of the Bulls for three seasons, starting for the club during their championship run in 2015.
In a tight race for second behind the Okotoks Dawgs, the Bulls managed to pull into the lead to get home field advantage in the first round. But the team admits it underachieved in losing to Medicine Hat in that opening series. And not to make excuses, but they had one major obstacle late in the season.
“We had three starting pitchers depart due to illness and school reasons, which set us back,” Sawyer said in an email to Alberta Dugout Stories.
Success is nothing new to the Lethbridge Bulls, but they wouldn’t mind having a few more championships under their belt. They were able to win their division in 2006, 2007, 2014 and 2015 (including regular season pennants the last two years), and have a WMBL ring in 2015 to show for it.
— Lethbridge Bulls (@lethbridgebulls) June 4, 2016
EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS SEASON
It probably comes as no surprise that the Bulls feel they will be right in the thick of things again in the Western Division. With several returning players and some exciting new faces who have exposure on the national stage, they might be primed for another deep playoff run.
“As always, we plan on being right near the top of the division,” Sawyer said. “I expect the boys to go out and compete their butts off every night.”
And they will have some added inspiration with the renovations at Spitz Stadium, as they hope to see a few more fans checking out the amenities.
“Brand new stadium so we want to represent Lethbridge the right way in 2018!” Sawyer added.
The Bulls will be looking to build off a strong regular season last year into 2018 and it starts with several returning players.
Tops on the list is closer Chris Stodolka, who had ten saves in 19 outings with the Bulls last season, posting a 4.35 ERA in the process. He’s also coming off a D3 World Series victory with UT Tyler along with Bulls alum Alex Bishop. The Bulls expect Stodolka to be a major late-inning asset.
CHRIS STODOLKA: "I saw the most driven teammates I've ever seen in my life, wanting nothing less other than to win this whole dang thing. Knowing that we were already dead and knocked out, there was nothing to lose for us so why not, right? #zombies” pic.twitter.com/BsR8D1cfvV
— UT Tyler Patriots (@uttylerpatriots) May 31, 2018
Another big face returning will be Jesse Hilyard, who hit .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs for the Bulls last season. The Bulls hope the second team 2017 all-star will continue to crank out the power numbers, as he ramped things up in the second half of 2017.
A trio of infielders will give the team some certainty on the diamond. Darius Carter, Dylan Borman and Blake MacDonald will all figure to be major pieces to a puzzle needing to be solved to get the team past last year’s early playoff exit.
While they will be new faces to the Bulls lineup, they will be familiar to Southern Alberta baseball fans.
Topping the list is local pitcher Bryce Oriold-Fraser. The Lethbridge-born right-hander is coming off his second season with Colby Community College, where he went 3-6 with a 6.81 ERA and two complete games in 17 appearances. The Bulls expect him to be a “top of rotation” pitcher.
Another starter they have high hopes for is Jaden Griffin. The youngster pitched for Canada’s Junior National Team and has been on a lot of radars through his teen years, particularly in Alberta since joining Vauxhall Academy of Baseball.
— FieldLevel (@FieldLevel) December 11, 2017
PLAYERS TO WATCH
You don’t see a ton of movement from team-to-team in the Western Major Baseball League. But one player who is making the transition is Ashton Roy. One of Brooks’ top hitters in 2017, the Garson, Ontario native will call Lethbridge home this summer after a school year with Pratt Community College.
Another Canadian Junior National Team member who will be on the Bulls’ roster will be Damiano Palmegiani. Like Griffin, the Surrey, B.C. native went to Vauxhall Academy so knows the area well and will be looking to make his presence felt. Palmegiani had a great spring with the national program, taking on some MLB teams’ prospects. He is also ranked one of Alberta’s best products at the moment.
READ MORE: Jet Setters
HOME RUN @damiano_p24!!!
For the second time in as many days, Palmegiani goes yard and the #JNT leads, 5-2!
— Baseball Canada National Teams (@Team_C_Updates) May 24, 2018
An interesting battle will be seen behind the plate. Returning catcher Carter Witbeck will be looking to build off a solid 2017 (.281/2 HR/22 RBIs) season. He will be joined by fellow Prairie Baseball Academy product Jaret Semeniuk and Indian River State College’s Brett Mercier, who also went to Vauxhall. All figure to get in some playing time.
And while there is a lot of focus on the Alberta connections to the Bulls’ roster, one name with international flavour does stick out. Sydney, Australia’s Lachlan Mayo last played for the Bulls in 2016 and spent this past spring at McNeese State. The Bulls are hoping he’s able to replicate his numbers from two years ago, where he hit .296 with seven home runs and 23 runs batted in.
KEY REASONS TO GO TO THE BALLPARK THIS SEASON
The big one is obvious: the newly-renovated ballpark. The $2.3-million upgrade is expected to provide a better atmosphere for the fan experience.
Visiting #Lethbridge for the @lethbridgebulls Home Opener June 8th VS. Okotoks Dawgs? We're excited to be a part of it and all summer long, fans, friends & family get great deals on #Lethbridge accommodations! For details, check out: https://t.co/vB8FgootjO #okotoks #yql pic.twitter.com/mNAYwC2ACT
— VisitLethbridge.com (@VisitLethbridge) June 4, 2018
The club is also banking on some new events and promotions around the park to help keep people coming back night after night.
“And what’s better than being at the ballpark?” Sawyer laughed.