Insight On What Is To Come
By John Short

Two down and dozens to go.

No words can explain more clearly the situation faced by the Edmonton Prospects as they head into four games in five days – the bare beginnings of a Western Canadian Baseball League season that opened with such promise last weekend: a pair of difficult and encouraging victories over the Lethbridge Bulls.

It’s entirely possible that a home-and-home setup with the Okotoks Dawgs will be equally challenging. Okotoks hammered the Brooks Bombers 14-5 in their opening game of the 2019 WCBL season, with six runs in the fifth inning and seven in the seventh erasing all doubt as to the ultimate result.

No surprise to hear Prospects field manager Jordan Blundell express concern over facing the Dawgs at RE/MAX Field tonight and in the Dawgs’ kennel Friday on Calgary’s southern edge. On second thought, no surprise to hear Blundell express similar thoughts about hurrying back from Okotoks to face Brooks at RE/MAX Field Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

One team has every right to feel loaded with confidence; the opening-game losers, by contrast, will be understandably hungry to atone for their one-sided whipping on their opening day.

Prospects pitchers must prepare for some serious stuff. Dealing strictly by the numbers, the largest early-season threat is carried by Okotoks-raised outfielder Tristan Peters. All he did was collect five hits in six at-bats, including three doubles and a triple. Liam Rihela, Gavin Logan and Noah Geekie all showed in the summary with at least two hits apiece.

The Prospects’ opening wins were impressive, but not overwhelming on offence. Outfielder Pierce Blohowiak drove home the winning run in the 5-4 Saturday victory by slapping an opposite-field single in extra innings. He also struck for the team’s first home run in the 7-5 victory on the following afternoon, part of a .375 batting average for two games. Tyler Maskill and Tanner Rowney ended the weekend with impressive .333 levels.

Serious tests for the Prospects pitching staff will continue immediately, of course, but early signs were promising. Taran Oulton and Hunter Boyd turned in encouraging starts, both at least five innings, and solid relief pitching preserved the victories.

“We know it’s early,” Blundell said after the Sunday victory. “We feel good about our start, but there is a lot of work to do. It’s a long season.”

Impact Players
By John Short

By any logical standard, it’s a long way from Winnebago County and tiny Neenah, Wisconsin, to RE/MAX Field in Edmonton.

But, after only two days, speedy outfielder Pierce Blohowiak has made it look like a trip around the block.

Not only did he slap a wrong-field single in the ninth inning to create a 5-4 victory for the Edmonton Prospects over the Lethbridge Bulls in their Western Canada Baseball League season opener Saturday night, but he followed Sunday afternoon with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, providing the winning margin in a 7-5 triumph.

Before drilling the home run, he stroked a lead-off single that led to nothing and then was hit by a pitch as the Prospects struck for three runs in the third inning. Head coach Jordan Blundell welcomed the power, while confirming that speed – not offence – was the first goal in recruiting Blohowiak from Yale University.

While speaking with Yale coach John Stuper, Blundell mentioned the need from “someone who had speed, could start some fires for us on the bases."

“The coach told me he had an idea. As soon as he described Pierce’s abilities, we started the recruiting process. It’s a good thing we got him.”

Other welcome gifts came in the form of pitching ability. Taran Oulton of nearby Legal, AB, turned in a solid starting performance on Saturday and three hurlers – starter Hunter Boyd and relievers Austin Herrington and Trever Berg – harnessed Lethbridge hitters quite effectively in Sunday’s game, which was played in glorious weather conditions.

By John Short

Quite possibly, the two biggest smiles at RE/MAX Field Sunday afternoon belonged to Edmonton Prospects managing partner Pat Cassidy and Western Canadian Baseball League president Kevin Kvame.

Both were impressed with the quality of play as the Prospects opened their season with a pair of victories over the Lethbridge Bulls. Perhaps more important was their response to the attendance as Edmonton won 5-4 on Saturday night and followed with a 7-5 victory on the Sunday.

“There were maybe 3,000 people here for the opener,” said Kvame, who has steered the WCBL through some hardships and many progresses during his 10 years as head of the league. Sunday’s figure dropped closer to an estimated 1,500. “That’s a good crowd for the first two games, very good,” he said. “Certainly it will give politicians something to think about – or it should, anyway.”

He confirmed immediately that his reference was aimed at city council, which has openly sought offers to supplant the Prospects, who have about a half-dozen Alberta players on their university-level roster – many more than any other franchise ever recorded.

Lengthy and confusing council reactions have left Cassidy’s organization, fans and franchises throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan wondering when city officials’ deliberations on the Prospects’ offer to occupy RE/MAX Field for many years will finally leave the political arena and become a firm decision.

“Right now, I’m happy,” said Cassidy. “We look like there’s a chance that we’ll be a good team. We have some good players and they look like they’re capable of improving.

“Crowds were good, weather was good, the quality of the baseball was good. The next step for (head coach) Jordan Blundell will be to have us ready when we play our next game here Thursday (against the Okotoks Dawgs).

“Obviously, he’s done a good job so far.”

Home Opener Preview
By John Short

Baseball fans looking for Canadian content at the university level this summer need only a quick look at the Edmonton Prospects to make themselves feel better.

In this case, the encouraging note applies specifically to players produced in Alberta’s developmental system: Four players from this province – Joe Karall and Davis Pratt of St. Albert, Clay Loranger of Sherwood Park and Kyler Charchun  of Camrose were among the first recruits to arrive in time for the Western Canada Baseball League season openers coming up this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon against the Lethbridge Bulls at RE/MAX Field.

All four played this season for Cloud Community College, which has campuses in Concordia and Junction City, Kansas.

Obviously, Prospects manager Jordan Blundell was not prepared to list his starting lineup for either game – “We have a few days to get ready,” he said – but it’s worth noting that Pratt, a switch-hitting third-baseman, was prominent for the Thunderbirds in league playoffs that ended only a few days ago. He and Karall attended Bellerose and Loranger is an Archbishop Jordan grad.

As part of the challenge of bringing a team together when so many of the youngsters come from different areas, Blundell had some of them moving equipment and furniture, at least lightly, in preparation for the season’s opening weekend.

Karall, a hefty right-handed pitcher, may be forced to miss the season, Blundell said. “He has had some arm trouble.” Outfielder Loranger and the others have no physical problems as they prepare for a season that includes travel for clashes with Alberta and Saskatchewan opposition.

Blundell describes himself as “a baseball lifer.” He has coached, managed and played in the WCBL and its predecssor leagues while also honing his managerial and teaching skills at almost every age level in a couple of provinces.

“This is a good league,” he commented. “A very good league.

“The Alberta players just finished their freshmen seasons. Some of the lessons they learned will help a lot as they play for the Prospects.”

Also among the manager’s recruiting finds was Greyson Barrett, a young and versatile athlete from California’s Taft Community College, who brings a firm connection to Canada. “His dad, a Canadian, played junior hockey for the Swift Current Broncos a long time ago,” Blundell grinned.

“Greyson is not a dual citizen but he seems to know a lot about Canada. It also helped quite a bit that Taft College is in Bakersfield. He knew about the connection with the (American Hockey League) Condors and the Edmonton Oilers.

“It probably helped when we talked about him coming here to play.”

Barrett’s on-field baseball history suggests he’ll see a lot of action with the Prospects. He’s listed as a pitcher and an outfielder, “and he can probably play first base,” Blundell smiled.




Roster Lookout

By John Short

Manager Jordan Blundell looked up at the sky, down at the grass of RE/MAX Field and declared himself just about ready for

Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, when his Edmonton Prospects will open their Western Canadian Baseball League season against the Lethbridge Bulls.

“The rain (on Friday) might help the field a little,” he admitted, but pointed out few outdoor conditions are fully ready for a lot of use at this time on the Alberta sports calendar. “We’ll be fine. We’re anxious to get started.”

Perhaps the most anxious is left-handed pitcher Taran Oulton, a product of nearby Legal, AB, and a holdover from last year’s team.

“He’s a returning player so he knows what to expect,” said Blundell. “He had a solid season for us last year,” and just finished a season at William Woods University in Missouri.

Based on the experienced players returning to the Lethbridge roster, Oulton and his allies are in line for a couple of tough tests on opening weekend, where a crowd of 3,000 or so is a reasonable expectation if the weather holds up.

Among the Lethbridge leaders are hometown shortstop Nick Ankerman, who spent this season with the Division-II Eastern New Mexico University Greyhounds and hit a robust .360 in 44 games.

Also back with the Bulls are Camrose product Dylan Borman, a third baseman, and Nova Scotia left-hander Jaden Griffin, a member of the Virginia Commonwealth varsity. First baseman Kaleb Warden and catcher Jaret Semenuk produced at a high level last season.

Much of the Lethbridge recruiting has focused on Division-I NCAA products. Three pitchers have been hauled to Alberta from the University of Niagara and one player each from Purdue and Washington State, which also have high-profile programs.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” said Blundell. The good news is that Lethbridge has things to learn about the Prospects, as well.”