By IAN WILSON
The Brooks Bombers are ready for takeoff.
Set to return to Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) play for the first time since 2019, the team is preparing for the launch of the new campaign with some ballpark additions that the fans can enjoy.
Included in the Elks Field upgrades are the “Flight Deck” – located above the home team’s dugout on the third base side – which will offer a variety of seating options and allow for another 100 fans to take in each WCBL game in Brooks.
Changes along the left-field fence are also taking place as part of phase one of a patio project that will be completed in 2023. While work continues on that, the Bomb Squad faithful are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and camping seats to take in the game from a different vantage point.
The $50,000 in renovations and the end of the hiatus for the Bombers have General Manager Jason Wandler pumped up for the start of the 2022 season.
“I’m just excited to have the team back on the field this summer,” said Wandler.
“Looking forward to this team providing an exciting and entertaining product for our fans in Brooks. It’s been a long wait and we are excited for the roster that has been assembled to get us into the postseason. May 27th can’t come soon enough.”
That roster will include just one returning player from the 2019 team, the GM’s son Dax Wandler, who will take the field after undergoing shoulder surgery last year. Wandler suited up for Brooks for a pair of games in 2018 and followed that up by playing 24 games for the Bombers in 2019. He collected 11 runs, a handful of runs batted in (RBI), and a homer during his 64 at bats with Brooks.
JOIN THE CLUB
A trio of sluggers from Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) are expected to pace the Bomber offence this summer. In his senior year with the Wildcats, infielder Denver Blinn batted .414 with 15 long balls and 63 RBI, while teammate Evan Salmon launched 24 homers, produced 71 RBI and had a batting average of .355. Salmon also earned Gold Glove honours in the outfield and was named to the All-Crossroads League First Team squad. Zach Rabe is another Wildcat outfielder with some bite in his bat. The senior hit .357 with 49 RBI and eight round trippers this year.
Drew Mackie, a .295 hitter with Northwest Missouri State University, will also roam the outfield at Elks Field.
Infielder Jonah Weisner, originally from British Columbia, put together an excellent 2022 season at Ottawa University. He swiped 31 bases, bashed 16 homers, scored 72 runs and batted .428 through 51 games. The Bombers will look to Weisner to make opposing catchers sweat when he’s on the base paths.
Other infielders expected to step between the chalk lines include Kole Turner (.283 batting average, 36 runs in 51 games for the Three Rivers Raiders); Navy Academy’s Kiel Brenczewski; third baseman Jagger Pico of Texas Post Grad; and Ryan Nagelbach, who registered 30 runs and 24 RBI through 43 games with the University of Illinois Chicago.
Behind the plate watch for Chris Akers – a catcher with Southwestern Illinois who stole 11 bases, belted seven homers, recorded 22 RBI and scored 28 runs in 49 games this year – to frame pitches for the Bombers when Rockland Community College backstop Jimmy Costin (.293 average, 12 home runs, 54 RBI in 44 contests) isn’t crouching in front of the umpire.
BOMBERS ON THE BUMP
Among those pitching to Akers and Costin will be Canadians Jack Neill and Dustin Davidson, who both played for the Allen Community College Red Devils this year. Neil logged 22.1 innings, going 2-3 with a pair of saves and 34 Ks, while Davidson – a lefty – sat down 10 batters via strikeout in 8.1 frames.
Brooks recruited a number of arms from San Bernardino Valley College, including Justin Guzman (3-1, 41 Ks, 4.68 ERA in 50 innings pitched), Andres Zarate (3-2, 28 Ks, 4.70 ERA in 38.1 innings), and Jacob Castaneda (1-2, 4.91 ERA, 38 strikeouts in 40.1 innings).
A pair of pitchers from Dominican College will also suit up for the Bombers. Oscarli Cruz went 3-2 with 19 Ks in 27.2 innings for the Chargers this season, and Robert Liriano posted a 4.13 ERA, a 4-3 record while collecting two saves and 39 strikeouts through 32.2 frames of work.
BROOKS BENCH BOSSES
Guiding the players through the 2022 WCBL campaign will be new head coach Brice Davis, who has served as the hitting coach for the Schaumburg Boomers of the Frontier League and as a skipper at IWU.
“I couldn’t be happier for our organization and community of Brooks with the signing of coach Davis to lead our organization on the field in 2022,” said Wandler, who also serves as director of baseball operations for the club.
“Brice’s passion and knowledge of the game will be a huge asset to the players this summer. His energy, enthusiasm, and experience is why I feel he is the right fit for us.”
Joining Davis is Jake “Cheese” Lindmeier, who is an assistant coach with Brookhaven College in Texas. Lindmeier won a 2020 championship with the West Boca Snappers of the South Florida Collegiate League. He will work with pitchers and catchers in Brooks this summer.
For those fans who are more interested in what they can find at the concessions stand than who is in the dugout, expect to find traditional ballpark food options. Daily specials and feature foods will be supplied by local restaurants and Piston Broke Brewing of Brooks will supply a wide array of craft beer options.
The Bombers season opener takes place on May 27th on the road at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, when they square off against the Dawgs. Their home opener happens on May 29th when the Lethbridge Bulls visit Elks Field.