By IAN WILSON
The Okotoks Dawgs are a perennial favourite to rack up wins and position themselves atop the West Division standings of the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL).
After fielding two teams in a pandemic-shortened campaign last summer, the Dawgs will consolidate their talent and look to return to the form that allowed them to capture the 2019 WCBL championship.
The coaching staff from that 2019 title-winning team will be back, as head coach Mitch “Big Bear” Schmidt and assistants David Robb, Joe Sergent, and Andy Peterson look to guide their young charges through a successful 2022 season. Athletic therapist Savannah Blakley will also be back in the dugout at Seaman Stadium to ensure the Dawgs are in peak physical form.
“I don’t know if you can measure the level of anticipation to get this season rolling, not only for myself but everyone around the Dawgs organization and the WCBL,” said Schmidt.
“Soon we will all have made it back to a summer of making memories around the game of baseball again in 2022. I have a feeling that this is going to be a special summer for the Dawgs and the entire WCBL.”
Key returning pitchers for Okotoks include Graham Brunner and Matt Wilkinson, a pair of lefties capable of piling up the Ks. Brunner made five starts for the Dawgs in 2021 and went 3-1 with 35 strikeouts in 26.1 innings, while Wilkinson sat down 56 batters via strikeout in 27 frames of work. Wilkinson also posted a 2.66 earned run average (ERA) and a 1-1 record. With Central Arizona College this year, Wilkinson registered 77 Ks in 45 innings, a 2.00 ERA, two saves and a 5-1 record.
In 33 games for the Dawgs last summer, Cazorla batted .359 with 30 runs, 25 runs batted in (RBI) and a league-best 32 stolen bases. Zdunich, meanwhile, played the same number of games and clubbed five homers while batting .306 against WCBL pitchers. Geekie was effective as a starting pitcher and a bullpen arm in 2021, registering 32 Ks in 21.2 innings with a 3.32 ERA, a save and a 1-1 record. With the bat, Geekie hit .286 with 19 runs and four stolen bases in 18 contests. Sanchez played 26 regular season and playoff games for the Dawgs in 2019.
Connor Crowson, who has played at every level for Dawgs Academy and suited up in 39 games for Okotoks in the WCBL last summer, is also back. With the Dawgs in 2021, Crowson batted .309 with 30 RBI and 25 runs scored. The infielder is coming off a strong freshman campaign with Bossier Parish Community College, where he put together a .323 batting average, 45 RBI and 45 runs in 53 contests.
Bolstering the familiar Dawgs veterans is a group of new players hoping to make an impact.
Mason Guerra, of Oregon State University, will make the trek north this summer to experience Seaman Stadium. Guerra is a freshman infielder for the Beavers who batted .349 through 13 games this year.
Catcher Jacob Morrow will join the Dawgs out of Linn-Benton Community College, where he posted 17 runs, 15 RBI and four stolen bases in 35 games for the Roadrunners.
A lethal hitter out of Bellevue University, where Schmidt is an assistant coach, is outfielder Conner Barnett. The Nebraska product had a .406 batting average, 14 stolen bases, 13 homers, 65 runs, and 57 RBI in 54 games with the Bruins this year.
New to the Dawgs, but not the WCBL, is first baseman McCoy Pearce. Pearce was an All-Star with the Brooks Bombers in 2019, when he belted 10 long balls, recorded 47 RBI and batted .312 in 54 games. Shifting to the Edmonton Prospects last summer he continued to swing a hot bat, as evidenced by his .388 batting average and 25 RBI in 26 contests. Pearce didn’t skipped a beat in the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC). Through 27 regular season games for the 2022 champion Okanagan Coyotes, the righty slugger had 36 RBI, four round trippers, eight stolen bases and a .366 average – he also hit for the cycle this year.
The Dawgs have a versatile roster, with a number of players comfortable suiting up at different positions around the diamond. They expect to field a team that is capable of excelling at the plate and in the field. With that in mind, they’ll take a “plug and play” approach when drawing up the lineup card each night.
The starting rotation will expand over the summer, with Brunner, Geekie and Hunter expected to be joined by Branden Woods (University of British Columbia); Charlie Patterson (Bellevue University); and Brady Baltus (Linn-Benton Community College).
A deep bullpen will include the strikeout prowess of Wilkinson and a bevvy of relief options, including Bode Brooks (Eastern Oklahoma State College); former Edmonton Prospect pitcher Julian Tymochko; Ryan McFarland (Campbellsville University); Adam Sarafinchin (Okanagan College); and Brody Forno (Williston State College). Each of these arm barners will garner consideration for the closer role with the Dawgs in 2022.
HAVING A BLAST AT THE BALLPARK
Of course, those who attend games at Seaman Stadium will be treated to great action on the field, and fun all around it. With the addition of the iconic Core 4 (+14) Corner outfield seating, patio and concession area that hugs the left field foul pole, capacity is up to 4,794 at the stadium.
There is also no shortage of options when it comes to beverages and ballpark eats.
Signature items on the menu include the Duda double burger – named after Dawgs Academy coach Jeff Duda – and steak sandwiches, served prior to opening pitch at the Dawgs Steak Pit, located behind section 111 on the concourse. A popular feature cocktail is the Bulldawg, which combines cold beer with margarita slush – it’s the perfect drink on a hot summer day!
New culinary delights for hungry fans are meatballs (from R.F.G. Meat & Seafood), and footlong all-beef hot dogs and bratwurst supplied by Harvest Meats. Thirsty baseball watchers can also try out Prickly Pear Pink Lemonade from Eau Claire Distillery and Big Rock Brewery’s Tragically Hip Lake Fever Lager, available one weekend only: Canada Day long weekend.
Baseball fans should plan now to attend the 2022 WCBL All-Star Game, a showcase event hosted by the Okotoks Dawgs at Seaman Stadium on Saturday, July 23rd. The event will feature a battle of the best players from the East and West Divisions, a Home Run Derby, a music concert, fireworks and a special guest appearance by former MLB slugger Matt Stairs.