By IAN WILSON and JOE McFARLAND
Edmonton baseball fans have long hoped for a return of the Trappers to RE/MAX Field and now they finally have it.
No, not those Trappers – not the Triple-A team of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) that served as a stepping stone for aspiring major leaguers from 1981 through 2004.
The Edmonton Collegiate Trappers, an expansion franchise in the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC), are making their league debut this season and head coach Ethan Elias couldn’t be more excited about bringing a new form of spring baseball to the provincial capital.
“I think of it as growing the game. I love the game, I love playing, I love coaching … I’m really excited for it,” said Elias, a 22nd-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2011.
“There’s also the aspect of making sure the kids in the area have the best coaching available so we can make them the best ball players possible.”
The Prospects Academy alumnus said the talent pool in the Edmonton area makes the new club a good fit for the region.
“We’ve got a lot of good ball players here and to allow them to stay home and hone their skills is really special. I grew up in this area and it was an opportunity that was never available to me,” said Elias, who also pitched in the Arizona Diamondbacks system and in the independent Can-Am League.
With his professional experience, and the help of former Trois-Rivieres Aigles teammate Michael Suchy as an assistant coach, Elias said the coaching staff has a great deal of knowledge to share with the players.
“I was very fortunate to experience a lot of things – getting released, getting picked up, getting hurt, starting, relieving, playing, not playing, and I think just trying to find a mental way to balance all the ups and downs of the season and my career really paid off as a coach, because not every day is awesome,” said Elias, who was born in the hamlet of Evansburg, about 90 kilometres west of Edmonton.
“You just have to try to find a way to gut through it and make the best of it, so I guess that’s probably the biggest thing I learned through my years of professional baseball.”
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
And while Elias is a confident clubhouse and dugout presence, he said his role with the Edmonton Collegiate Baseball Club has opened his eyes to all the work that goes into starting up a new franchise.
“It’s a lot more work than you think,” said Elias.
The Trappers are coming off a probationary year in which they had to prove to the CCBC that they could put together a competitive roster, take care of their home field, navigate the schedule and operate the program.
“I’m very comfortable with the baseball side, but behind the scenes, that was a challenge for me,” said Elias.
“I loved learning that and getting to know the scheduling, the buses, the field work, the fundraising, which has been a huge obstacle for us. Just trying to make a program that’s going to be able to support itself for years to come. It’s been a unique opportunity.”
As he was learning the ropes of the CCBC, Elias enlisted the help of some trusted advisors, including Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) head coach Todd Hubka, his former Prospects Academy coach Cam Houston, and Taylor Burns, who served as his trainer throughout his playing career.
Following consultations with them and others, Elias honed his message for the players on his roster, which consists of athletes from the University of Alberta, MacEwan University, NAIT and Concordia University of Edmonton.
ATTITUDE & EFFORT
“I’m a big believer in attitude and effort. Those are two things every day that we can control and everything else is just a byproduct,” said Elias.
“If we can dedicate ourselves to developing each other and holding ourselves accountable, we’re going to be a successful team. We’re going to win games that way and winning is always fun. Winning grows a good program.”
While fans may struggle to recognize some of the names on the roster, there are some familiar faces.
Brett Higgins, Brandon Hill and Mat Brisson have spent time with the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL), while Zach Yuzda and Nathaniel Selinger have served as instructors at Vimy Ridge Baseball Academy. Several other players came up through baseball programs in the Edmonton area.
“We’re going to go out there every day, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to compete and we’re going to do our best,” said Elias.
“‘Roll with the punches and punch back when we can,’ is kind of the mantra for us.”
The Trappers can expect a few punches right away. They begin their 2019 season on the road on March 23rd against the defending CCBC league champion Okanagan College Coyotes, a roster that also includes several Alberta players and coaches.
FREE ADMISSION & FREE PARKING
Edmonton will play a 28-game regular season schedule – consisting primarily of doubleheader matchups – that wraps up on May 5th, with playoffs getting underway on May 9th.
Their first home dates will take place on April 13th and 14th against the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Wolfpack, which will serve as a homecoming of sorts for head coach Ray Chadwick, who played for the PCL Trappers in the 1980s.
Admission and parking for the games at RE/MAX Field is free of charge. There are no concessions stands available to fans, but outside food and beverages (excluding alcohol, shelled peanuts and sunflower seeds) are allowed at the ballpark.
Elias, meanwhile, isn’t the only one who’s excited to see what Edmonton Collegiate can accomplish.
Interim CCBC president Kevin Kvame, who is also the president of the WCBL, said team organizers have worked hard over the last few years to put the baseball club in place.
The Trappers are the seventh franchise in the CCBC and the third team in Alberta, with PBA and the University of Calgary Dinos being the other two.
“They’ve been growing that market for a number of years with the Prospects of the Western Canadian Baseball League,” said Kvame.
“The Edmonton market is bursting with quality baseball players. There’s no doubt that there’s the player personnel in the area to participate.”
Kvame said it will take time to build up the reputation of Edmonton Collegiate, but the biggest challenge facing the squad and all the teams in the league is the weather.
“I don’t want to dwell on the weather, but it is the biggest challenge I believe,” he said.
“To get all of those teams to play all of their games is definitely challenging with the weather and it has been over the last few years as well, so getting all those games in is a big priority because you want the players playing and the games are important for seeding and also just to have a quality schedule.”
If Mother Nature does provide sunshine and warmth at RE/MAX Field this spring, baseball fans in Edmonton may not care what incarnation of the Trappers they’re watching.