By RYAN McCRACKEN
Medicine Hat News
The stands were packed and the berm was buzzing as the Western Canadian Baseball League’s championship series descended upon Athletic Park – and Greg Morrison was ready for it.
The Medicine Hat Mavericks owner watched his team battle through a patchy start to the summer, a mid-season coaching change and countless other variables before catching fire to open the postseason and rallying all the way to the final.
“This is what it’s all about,” Morrison said ahead of Wednesday’s Game 2 battle between his Mavericks and the reigning champion Okotoks Dawgs.
The Mavs defeated the Dawgs 12-9 in front of a capacity crowd of 2,196 fans to force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Thursday night in Okotoks.
“Once you get here – I told those guys, ‘You guys did all the work, now just breathe. When you feel your legs numb and your heart is pounding through your chest, just know that’s life. That’s living.’”
Reflecting on the run that brought them to the big dance, Morrison says he knew the commitment to success was there from the start of the season, but it’s been special to watch his players put all the pieces together with expert timing.
“The last two weeks of the season the guys really got hot. Traditionally, when you time that right, usually you can play for a good playoff run,” said Morrison.
“They just seemed to be flirting with mediocrity (early in the season), but also you could see them growing. The early work these guys put in – we were on the field with the guys at 2 p.m. – they just couldn’t get enough of wanting to get better. When you have that, it’s exciting for me as a coach. I know from my experience when guys are putting in time like that, you’re not going to be the same team May 27 and Aug. 17.
“We just got better. It was awesome to be part of it.”
In late June, Mavericks head coach Mark Goodman parted ways with the team to take on a role at the professional level with the Pioneer League’s Colorado Rocky Mountain Vibes. The proverbial curveball could have derailed any team’s season, but Morrison leaned on assistant coach Kevin Mitchell to take the reins. Before long, the Mavericks were championship calibre with Mitchell at the helm.
“I tried to hire a couple guys real quick, but it just turned out to be, I think, destiny, for me and Mitchell to be full-time coaches. We’ve got Chad Martin back a little more than his usual part-time capacity. It’s just the way it is – baseball,” said Morrison.
“I told those guys at the beginning of the year, ‘It’s a game of attrition and it’s just staying in it. Keep doing your thing no matter what happens around you.’ We’ve had a lot of guys with some family stuff, guys who have had to leave because of it, some who left and came back. A lot of passings.”
Wednesday marked the first time the Mavs have hosted a championship game at Athletic Park since the venue’s renovations ahead of the 2022 season. Morrison says the park’s enhanced amenities, and the fan support that comes with it, help sell the notion of Medicine Hat to prospective summer ball players.
“Fan experience, it’s big for them now. They like being part of that,” said Morrison, whose Mavericks last won the title in 2018.
“I’m just very appreciative of how that (renovation) came about. I think it was well worth us taking that second year off to make sure this all happened. A year off set us back last year, but man have we caught up from that in regard to everything from fan support to player talent level. We seem to be back to where we were in 2018.”
(This story was originally published in the Medicine Hat News and has been used here with permission).