River Runner

By JOE McFARLAND

Clayton Loranger grew up dreaming of playing in front of the hometown fans.

The Sherwood Park speedster remembers heading into Edmonton’s Telus Field (now REMAX Field) to check out the professional teams: the Trappers, Cracker-Cats and Capitals.

He recalls getting player autographs and photographs, hoping one day he would get to return the favour.

The 22-year-old outfielder has not only achieved his mission, but did it with an exclamation point with the new Edmonton Riverhawks of the West Coast League this summer.

After finishing fourth in the league in batting average (.365), third in hits (66), tied for second in doubles (13), tied for 13th in runs batted in (RBI), and tied for third in stolen bases (27), Loranger was named a WCL First Team All-Star.

“I’m really happy with how I did this summer,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.

“I think it was kind of a breakout summer for me and hopefully I’ll be able to roll that into the college season.”

Loranger said his success can be attributed to a simple change of mindset.

A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

Instead of focusing too much on performance this summer, Loranger said he wanted to truly appreciate where he was and have more fun playing the game he loves.

“The thing I’ve always struggled with is the mental side of the game,” the Riverhawks leadoff man admitted.

“In the past, one bad series would turn into a bad week which would turn into a bad month.”

Despite having a solid season with Stephen F. Austin State University, where he hit .297 with two home runs, 15 RBI and seven stolen bases, Loranger thought he had “one particularly bad month.”

Loranger – who played in a handful of games for the Edmonton Prospects in 2019 – decided to sit down and pick apart every aspect of his game. He broke it down by at-bat and defensive play, yet he quickly discovered that it had nothing to do with his baseball mechanics.

“I think it was just not going out there and just enjoying the game for what it is,” the Cloud County Community College product said.

“Especially in a game where failure is so prominent, being able to go out there and enjoy every aspect of it is just going to help you across the board in every way.”

With his on-field approach refined, Loranger was then able to have fun with his off-field interactions as well.

As the hometown hero, he felt that it was important to be an ambassador for the Riverhawks and for the game of baseball, believing his love of the game would be infectious for the younger fans.

After all, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound outfielder remembers being in their shoes.

“Each kid is so excited to be there,” Loranger said. “I don’t see myself as some big figure or anything, but, to them, it’s a really good experience.”

IN FULL FLIGHT

Adding to that experience were some upgrades at REMAX Field, including a new scoreboard and video screen in left field and new turf. The fans lapped it up during the team’s inaugural campaign.

According to Ballpark Digest, the Riverhawks ranked 19th in North American summer collegiate attendance with 63,221 fans coming through the turnstiles.

The highlight was seeing 7,890 fans show up for a Canada Day matchup against the Nanaimo NightOwls.

“Our goal is to be part of the community,” Riverhawks managing director Dr. Randy Gregg told the Edmonton Sun. “We’re all Edmontonians and if we can do something that can energize the community, then we’ll do that.”

The fans were treated to a close playoff race, and while the Riverhawks were ultimately eliminated during the final weekend of the season, they finished with a 25-28 record.

Loranger said the roster wasn’t really finalized until a couple of weeks into the season, so it took a little time to get the right chemistry going.

“Once everyone got there, everybody settled in and got their swings or pitches right,” he said. “It was a really good second half for us.”

The hope is that success will turn enough heads to get fans back in the stands in 2023, while also attracting even more top players to the roster.

AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE

Loranger’s Instagram bio features a quote that means a lot to him: “Don’t expect nobody to believe in your dream, it wasn’t theirs in the first place.”

The Absolute Human Performance-trained athlete said it’s a reminder that the only person who knows what he has been through or the work that he has put in, is him.

He has one more year at Stephen F. Austin, where he hopes the momentum he gained in Edmonton will propel him into a professional career, either through the MLB Draft, a free agent contract or playing independent baseball.

It’s something he believes he can do, and he will be looking at all options to refine his game, adding he knows he’s a contact hitter that gets on base and has good base-running skills.

“I have to stay true to my game,” Loranger said. “When I get in trouble is when I start thinking I need to hit balls over the fence or into the gap every single swing – that’s not who I’ve ever been as a player and it’s not who I need to be as a player.”

If he does turn pro and doesn’t return to the Riverhawks in 2023, he will still be grateful for the lessons learned and memories made playing for his hometown team.

“It was really something to be a part of, especially when you’re on the field with all eyes on you for an at-bat or whatever it might be,” Loranger said.

“It was definitely an experience I won’t forget.”

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