By IAN WILSON
The Western Canadian Baseball League is back in Fort Mac.
After a two-year absence the Northern Alberta community is welcoming the return of WCBL action in 2022.
“After 2019 and missing the playoffs by just one game we are hungry to return to the field and take care of some unfinished business. We have gotten closer to the playoffs every year, and I think this is our best group of players we have ever sent to the field,” said Andrew Bradbury, the head of scouting and recruiting for the Giants.
“We are very happy with the way this roster is set up. We have depth at all positions, including the pitching staff, and players that are really excited to be in Fort McMurray looking to help us take that next step.”
The Giants will lean heavily on Canadian talent, with 17 Canucks cracking the Opening Day roster.
“We think they will all be huge factors in our season,” said Bradbury.
“We have a great mix of guys with proven track records and of guys that want to show they can be the star of the show … we just can’t wait to get started on May 27th.”
Wilson – who pitched most recently with Victoria Collegiate in the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) – is entering his second campaign with the Giants. He pitched in 13 games out of the bullpen for Fort McMurray during their last season, logging 18.1 innings of work while striking out seven batters and picking up a victory.
Knoll played with Wilson on the Giants in 2019 and against him this year when he suited up for Edmonton Collegiate of the CCBC. After serving as a reliever with Fort McMurray previously (0-2, 5.54 ERA, 22 Ks in 24.1 innings in 2019), Knoll will also garner consideration as a starting pitcher this year.
Dunn is another CCBC hurler the Giants inked for this summer. He pitched for Okanagan College, where he went 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA and 23 Ks in 27 frames for the Coyotes in 2022. Dunn got a taste of WCBL play in 2019 when he took the mound in two games in 2019.
THE NEW GUYS
Outfielder Brandon Shiota, out of the University of La Verne, won Athlete of the Year honours in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) after batting .412 with nine homers, 23 doubles and 64 runs batted in (RBI) in 43 games.
Jordan Bach – who can suit up behind the plate or in the outfield – put up impressive numbers with the Saint Xavier University Cougars. In 35 games this season, the British Columbia native batted .392 with a .460 on-base percentage and 13 RBI.
Among the infield talent on the roster, keep an eye out for Minnesotan Reiss Calvin, who stole 13 bases, scored 51 runs, produced 39 RBI and hit .377 in 40 games for Ventura College this year.
Alfonso Villalobos is also an intriguing power-speed option in the Giants infield. With the Galveston College Whitecaps, the sophomore belted eight long balls, swiped 13 bags, and batted .314 in 52 games.
Mason Glowacki, out of Kelowna, B.C., hit .335 in 47 games for East Central University this year. He also stole 13 bases and scored 38 runs for the Tigers.
ON THE MOUND
Some of the pitching recruits are also likely to wow the home crowds at Legacy Dodge Stadium.
Luis Martinez-Gomez was electric for San Bernardino Valley College this season. The righty made 10 appearances, nine of them starts, and posted a 5-4 record while racking up 69 Ks in 45.2 innings.
“He’s a freshman starting pitcher who has a fastball that touches 95 (miles per hour) and comes with a wipeout slider,” noted Bradbury.
Clay Burton, another right-handed pitcher, joins the Giants out of Spalding University, where he went 3-3 with a 1.76 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 56.1 innings.
Sergio Gutierrez, of Butte College, is expected to work out of the bullpen for Fort McMurray and the University of Waterloo’s Evan Morrison promises to be a versatile pitcher capable of filling any role the coaches ask of him.
Drawing up the lineup cards for the Fort McMurray Giants is veteran skipper Ray Brown, a former pro baseball player and coach with the Edmonton Prospects. Brown will be joined by assistant coaches Todd Huckabone and Aaron Sklenars.
Fans, players and team staff can also look forward to some upgrades at Legacy Dodge Stadium. Improvements at concession stands are on deck, and new batting cages are expected to be added down the third base side at some point during 2022.
The Giants have also started up a “Pack the Park” program that gives community organizations the chance to advertise or sell game tickets to the Giants and raise money for their groups at the same time.
Meanwhile, hungry baseball watchers can look forward to food and beverage options provided by STACS Fine Food and Chef 2 You this season.
“We are really excited for the tasty treats that they will be cooking up at the park this summer, including their Giants jumbo dog with pulled pork, cheddar and corn chips,” said Bradbury, adding other food highlights to look for are the lobster roll and the beef brisket, onion and Swiss hoagie.
The Fort McMurray Giants open their season at home on May 27th when the Edmonton Prospects pay a visit. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.