Brooks Bombers 2018 Season Preview

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BROADCAST INFO: The Bombers have set up a Twitch broadcast at some games so far this season. They have also been streaming home games on their Facebook page.

HOME BALLPARK: Elks Field; built in 2014 (with help from the Brooks Regional Ballpark Association that raised over $800,000); 800 capacity

2017 ATTENDANCE

Last summer was the second year in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) for the Brooks Bombers and their attendance took a hit. The Bombers drew 10,092 fans over 24 home dates in 2016, which worked out to an average of 421 baseball watchers per game.

The Bombers lost a third of that fan base in 2017, when 6,497 people showed up to 24 games at Elks Field. An average crowd of 271 people attended those contests.

MASCOT

Bomber flew into Brooks when the WMBL arrived in town. Seen at games and around the community, the Bombers’ pooch obviously loves the team’s fans.

Memories were made #bombers

A post shared by BrooksBombers (@brooksbomberswmbl) on

SAVE THE DATES

  • Saturday, June 23 – Lethbridge Bulls vs. Brooks Bombers
  • Thursday, June 28 – Weyburn Beavers vs. Brooks Bombers
  • Friday, July 13 – 2017 WMBL Champion Swift Current 57s vs. Brooks Bombers
  • Saturday, July 21 – Medicine Hat Mavericks vs. Brooks Bombers
  • Saturday, July 28 – Okotoks Dawgs vs. Brooks Bombers
  • Sunday, July 29 – Medicine Hat Mavericks vs. Brooks Bombers (last home game)

View full schedule here.

PEANUTS & CRACKER JACK

The Bombers recently signed a deal with Brooks Hotel to run concessions at Elks Field. The hotel has served the city of Brooks for over a century and the team is confident the arrangement will bring “top notch food and service” to baseball fans at the ballpark.

The team is also bringing some beer in from Medicine Hat to go along with the Brooks Hotel lager. Seasonal suds from the Medicine Hat Brewing Company, such as Burnside Blood Orange and their new Tart Cherry, are now available at the ballpark.

COACHING STAFF

After serving as an assistant coach with the Medicine Hat Mavericks in 2016 and the Fort McMurray Giants in 2017, head coach Kyle MacKinnon is taking the reigns of a relatively-new baseball team which has yet to make the WMBL playoffs.

MacKinnon’s resume shows he knows what it takes to turn a team around. He also works as an assistant coach with the the McPherson College Bulldogs, a team that went from 1-27 team in 2015 to a 12-14 record in 2016. Prior to that stop, MacKinnon was a Manager of the Year with the Burlington Bandits of the Intercounty Baseball League. Even as a player, MacKinnon knew how to win, helping Durham College to two conference titles and a pair of National Championship Final Four berths.

Joining him on the bench will be WMBL rookie Matt Conley. He comes to Brooks from the Missouri Valley Vikings, where he was also an assistant coach.

LAST SEASON

In their second year of existence, the Bombers had a tough go of things. They were in the thick of the playoff race early on, but an 11-game losing streak to end the season dragged them down to a 14-34 record. They had particular success against Saskatchewan teams, with wins against Weyburn, Moose Jaw and Melville throughout the season.

“Our starting pitching was very solid with Cam Kremers and Mason Swegarden,” Bombers VP/Director of Baseball Operations Jason Wandler told Alberta Dugout Stories. “But we lacked the presence of consistent middle relief.”

2017 was the Bombers’ second-straight season in last place in the tough Western Division, having posted a 15-33 record in their debut campaign.

FRANCHISE ACHIEVEMENTS

The team is still in its relative infancy. The Bombers are vying for their first post-season berth as they enter their third season in the Western Major Baseball League.

One of the things the club is focusing on is building its brand in the community, which started with a new alternate logo for this season. But it goes far beyond that.

“We are looking at long-term improvements to the facility (Elks Field) which will provide an enhanced experience for our fans as well as help with the recruitment of players,” Wandler said.

EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS SEASON

The Bombers aren’t satisfied with how they have done in their first two seasons. They brought in MacKinnon as someone who has had some success, both at the WMBL level but also in college.

“I think a culture change was the biggest thing that the ownership group was looking for when I was brought in,” MacKinnon told Alberta Dugout Stories. “I feel as though culture is created by the players and I’m confident in the guys we’ve brought in that they are very high-character guys.”

When it comes to the actual roster, the team is happy with its recruiting efforts and thinks it is in a position to contend.

“We have recruited an offensive lineup that will suit the confines of Elks Field,” Wandler stated. “We have brought in some guys that are known for the long ball and put up double-digit home run efforts in college.”

FAMILIAR FACES

Brooks baseball fans will need a game-day guide to get some intel on their newest recruits. With a new coaching staff and a new focus, the club decided to go with a lot of fresh faces.

The only returning player from last year is Rowley’s Quentin Kopjar. The left-hander spent the spring with Pratt Community College, posting a 7.74 ERA in 22 games (including three starts).

The Bombers did set out to bring in some other Alberta talent, including a couple from their own backyard. Nick Bolt, Dax Wandler and Brett Gray all hail from Brooks. They will be joined by one other Alberta product, Edmonton’s Keegan Kwong.

FRESH FACES

The short answer: everyone else.

As mentioned, the Bombers have a new coaching staff, led by MacKinnon who is set on showing off his skills at recruiting and developing talent. For many on the team, it will be their first visit to Alberta.

“The lineup is going to be very balanced with a mix of power in the middle and speed at the top and bottom,” MacKinnon said. “I’m excited to see these guys hit on a daily basis.”

When it comes to his pitching staff, MacKinnon likes his mix of freshmen and seniors. But the ballpark creates some challenges.

“I know pitching in Brooks isn’t always easy,” he admitted. “So the mental game of our guys is going to be something we focus on with our arms.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

If his college numbers are any indication, Zach Lehman will be hitting near the top of the order. For Kansas Wesleyan University, the utility-man hit .322 with three home runs, 29 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases.

Another player figuring to hit the middle of the order will be Laredo, TX product Damian Rodriguez. With the Central Methodist University Eagles, the 6-foot, 200-pounder hit .284 with seven home runs and 28 runs batted in. He also has previous experience at the current college home of former Okotoks Dawgs infielder Peter Hutzal, Marshall University, as well as Trinidad State.

On the mound, the team was able to bring in former Junior National Team starter J.P. Stevenson. The Vauxhall Academy alum was a stud for Canisius College this past season, going 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA on his way to being named MAAC Pitcher of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-American.

Orangeville, Ontario’s Brandon Hillier figures to be a primary starter. With Indiana Tech during the school year, Hillier went 3-3 in 11 starts, registering a 4.58 ERA, striking out 36 in 55 innings of work.

The team’s full roster can be viewed here.

KEY REASONS TO GO TO THE BALLPARK THIS SEASON

Smaller communities like Brooks always find a way to rally around their hometown teams. The AJHL’s Brooks Bandits have been a force in Junior A hockey for a few years, thanks in part to the support from the community. And the hope with the Bombers is they feel the same love this summer as they try to turn a corner in their young existence.

The team is hoping some upgrades to the field itself will bring in a few more fans on a sunny Southern Alberta game-day. But the team knows it starts with the on-field product.

“We feel we have assembled a highly-competitive roster that will be exciting to watch,” Wandler said.

His coach went a step further.

“We are looking to contend for a playoff spot,” MacKinnon said. “Then once you are in, anything can happen in this league.”

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