By IAN WILSON
With three seasons in the books, no postseason baseball to speak of, and a potential audience that appears to be finding better ways to spend their evenings than at Elks Field, the Brooks Bombers need a boost this summer.
Last season, the team had Riley MacDonald to entertain the locals. The catcher put the “bomb” in Bombers by smashing 20 home runs and establishing a new Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) record for long balls in a single season.
Despite the hitting display from MacDonald, the Bombers finished with a 13-35 record. That put them in last place in the Western Division for a third straight year. Brooks has never won more than 15 games in a season.
So, what can be expected of the team this season? Can the Bombers be more competitive on the field, collect a few more wins, and take a run at a playoff spot? Can they find a way to attract more fans to the ballpark?
There are lots of questions facing the club, but the answers won’t reveal themselves until the players take the field.
COMING BACK TO BROOKS
Unfortunately, MacDonald won’t be back. The North Vancouver, B.C. product turned pro late in the 2018 WCBL season, inking a deal with the Quebec Capitales. He’s now playing baseball in Dornbirn, Austria. MacDonald would have been a good player to generate hype around with baseball fans in Brooks heading into the 2019 season.
That said, there are plenty of returning players that are worth checking out.
Outfielder Damian Rodriguez finished second on the Bombers in home runs in 2018 with nine dingers. He also produced 28 runs batted in (RBI), 30 runs and a .277 batting average in 42 games. During 41 games with the Central Methodist University Eagles, the senior batted .308 with four home runs and 20 RBI this school year.
Lefty Felix Pena, a teammate of Rodriguez’s at Central Methodist, is coming off a season that saw him pitch 11.1 innings for the Eagles, striking out seven batters and posting an earned run average (ERA) of 1.59. Last summer with the Bombers, the Bronx native had a 1-5 record, one save, a 4.81 ERA and struck out 25 batsmen over 33.2 innings.
Another southpaw, Juan Carreon, was an effective starter for Brooks in 2018. The Texan went 3-2 for the club, pitching at least seven innings in all three of his victories. He also recorded a 3.93 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 34.1 innings of work. At the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), Carreon put up a 2-1 record, a pair of saves and a 3.97 ERA over 70.1 innings and two seasons.
Dallas Forno, who pitched in Brooks in 2017, is back for another campaign. The Okotoks Dawgs Academy pupil spent the last two years with the Tabor College Blue Jays, where he went 2-0 with three saves this year.
After a two-year hiatus from the Bombers, speedy infielder Alan Campero is also returning to the team. He stole 20 bases and scored 20 runs in 33 games with Brooks in 2016.
Local player Dax Wandler only appeared in two games for Brooks last summer but the infielder is on the 2019 roster once again and will look for more playing time in front of the home crowd.
SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE
You could call them “Carreon luggage” because Juan is bringing two pitching pals with him from UTRGV to Brooks.
Ben Butler, another lefty, pitched 25 innings for the Vaqueros in 2018 and 2019, striking out 31 would-be hitters and recording a 4.68 ERA. Chase Adams, a senior from Las Vegas, has also spent his last two seasons with UTRGV, putting in 119.2 innings and striking out 119 batters. He had a 6-8 record and a 5.26 ERA in that time.
Right-handed pitcher Jarrett Joyner joins the Bombers fresh off a strong season with the Warner Royals, where he went 3-2 with 39 Ks and a 3.40 ERA over 39.2 frames.
The closer role, meanwhile, would appear to belong to Jarrod Manick. The Aldergrove, B.C. native had an outstanding 32 innings for McPherson College this year. The 6-foot-3 junior picked up nine saves while posting a 3.38 ERA and 52 strikeouts.
Third baseman Carter Troncin brings a hard-hitting bat to the lineup. With Des Moines Area Community College, the freshman batted .310 with 39 RBI and 33 runs during 45 games for the Bears.
Danny Donnelly will trade in his red-and-white Dawgs colours for Bomber blue this summer. The outfielder appeared in 32 games for Okotoks in 2018, producing 11 runs and 11 RBI in 61 at bats. He followed that up with 11 stolen bases and 30 runs in 46 games for Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
Joining Donnelly in the outfield is another McPherson College student in Kris Perez. The junior had a .321 batting average, 31 runs, 18 RBI and 15 base thefts in 42 contests for the Bulldogs this season.
MAC IS BACK
Head coach Kyle MacKinnon and assistant coach Matt Conley are back with the Bombers for a second straight season.
MacKinnon, a product of Caledon, Ontario, was an assistant coach with the Fort McMurray Giants and Medicine Hat Mavericks before he accepted the gig in Brooks. He also spent the last three seasons working as the hitting coach for McPherson College in Kansas.
Meanwhile, Jason Thomasen is the president of the club and Jason Wandler remains vice-president and director of baseball operations.
PLENTY OF SEATS AVAILABLE
Attendance in Brooks has dwindled since the Bombers arrived, leaving the team desperate for more butts in the seats.
The Bombers drew a respectable fan base of 10,092 people in their first season in 2016, working out to an average of 421 spectators per home game.
Those figures dropped to a collective crowd of 6,497 people – 271 each game – in 2017, followed by attendance of just 4,344 during 24 home dates last summer. On average, only 181 fans were showing up for games at Elks Field in 2018. The poor showing at the gate came despite the exploits of MacDonald, who set a new home run record while playing for Brooks last year.
The Bombers experienced the lowest attendance of any Alberta team and only the Melville Millionaires attracted fewer people to WCBL contests. Will the summer collegiate league remain in Brooks if attendance doesn’t improve?
BROOKS BOMBERS SCHEDULE
The Bombers open their 2019 regular season at Elks Field, when the visiting Okotoks Dawgs pay a visit on May 28th. They follow that up with a May 29th matchup vs. the Fort McMurray Giants, once again in Brooks, before engaging in a home-and-home series with the defending league champion Medicine Hat Mavericks.
The rest of their schedule can be viewed here.
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