It was a moment Sean Dunn won’t soon forget.
After being introduced over the public address system to a raucous crowd at Legacy Dodge Field, he went through his pre-game motions as his Fort McMurray Giants were about to face the Sylvan Lake Gulls.
However, this wasn’t just another game on the schedule – this was Canada Day 2022.
And the hometown hurler knew he had to take a moment to soak it all in.
“I wouldn’t say butterflies, but I definitely got the chills,” Dunn told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “There were a lot of people there and they were all singing and it was right after I got a pretty big introduction.”
As the final notes of “O Canada” played and the crowd erupted into elation again, it was a surreal moment for the young right-hander, who remained thankful for the opportunity to pitch on this particular day.
“When (Giants head coach) Ray (Brown) told me I was going to get the ball there, I was excited for a good week,” Dunn laughed. “As soon as all the pre-game festivities were over with, I was pretty locked in for my time on the mound.”
He rewarded his manager with a strong five-inning performance, allowing no runs on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts as the Giants came away with a 4-1 victory.
Giants fans had been waiting a long time to get back to the field after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Being from Fort McMurray, Dunn has seen how challenging it has been for the club since joining in 2016.
The Giants’ first home games had to be held in Edmonton because of the unprecedented wildfire disaster. Upon their return, they have made strides towards becoming a contender, including a 28-28 season in 2019 where they just missed their first playoff appearance.
Heading into 2022, the expectations of the team, and the community, remain high as the Giants are once again in a dogfight for a playoff spot in the West Division.
While Okotoks and Sylvan Lake have jumped to the top of standings, the other four teams – Lethbridge, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Brooks – have just four wins separating themselves.
“We’re definitely trying to win a championship,” Dunn said. “I think we noticed right away that we have the talent to do that, it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together in the second half.”
He says the stadium is buzzing with excitement about the team, but also with the return of some decent weather as the first half saw some less-than-ideal conditions.
The warm weather, steady crowds and competitive baseball have given Dunn more than enough reasons to come to the park with a smile on his face.
Not that it’s ever been an issue for the 6-foot-3, 185-pound righthander, who is quick to point out that, at the heart of it, he’s playing a kid’s game.
In the dugout and even sometimes on the mound, he is wearing his trademark smile, never afraid to crack a joke to lighten the mood.
However, he’s the first to say he’s no stand-up comedian with a routine already on his mind.
“I’m definitely not a cannon, I guess you could say,” Dunn said. “I definitely try to feel it out and see if it’s the right time.”
Usually it’s an inside joke or a situational word or phrase that gets him going, while he’s also learning some things about chirping opponents through his teammates.
It’s clear Dunn is having fun.
“I feel like I always preach just trying to have as much fun as you can,” he said. “I think, in turn, it makes the game a little bit easier for you.”
That’s the mindset Dunn and his teammates are hoping to inspire in the next generation of Giants fans and, potentially, players.
Dunn remembers watching his older brother Ryan suit up for their hometown team.
“I was definitely inspired to want to play for them when I was younger,” he said.
“I’m just trying to do the same thing for the young kids that are coming to our games now.”
Dunn is impressed with how the community’s baseball scene has grown since the Giants’ arrival, and he hopes to see it blossom in the years ahead.
Not only are the teams more competitive, but it’s led to higher-quality coaching and facilities for the young athletes, which isn’t something he had early in his young career.
It’s also opened the doors for regional and national championships to be held in Fort McMurray, with more scheduled in the next couple of years including the Baseball Canada 18U Championship later this summer.
“People always talk about our great facility we have up here,” Dunn said. “People are loving it, it’s an unbelievable set-up here, so it’s good that we can finally take advantage (after the pandemic).”
Not only is the community a benefactor of all that’s happened in recent years, but so is Dunn.
He is hitting the local gym more with the goal of increasing his pitch velocity, so that he can continue to make a difference.
The freshman engineering student plans to return to Okanagan College in the fall, where he hopes to help the Coyotes repeat as CCBC champions.
But first, he wants to guide his hometown team to a lengthy summer playoff run, and is soaking up all of the opportunities that come his way, including his Canada Day start.
“It was probably one of the most fun nights I’ve had on a baseball field,” Dunn said.