After weeks of tryouts, practice and pep talks, Cranbrook’s boys of summer are finally ready to take to the diamond.
The Cranbrook Bandits are set to head south of the border this weekend, opening the American Legion Baseball season at the Loggertown Wood Bat Classic in Libby, Mont., beginning Saturday.
“I’m excited and the kids are pumped, they’re ready to go,” said Paul Mrazek, head coach of the Bandits, Thursday afternoon. “They’re pretty enthusiastic.”
The Bandits held their first practice Tuesday at Confederation Park in Cranbrook, having serious discussion on expectations heading into the campaign before getting into some simple drills.
With only a few days of practice leading into the weekend, there’s only so much the Bandits’ shot-caller has been able to work on with his troops, so the message heading into the weekend is quite simple.
“We have set expectations, roles and responsibilities better than ever this year,” Mrazek said. “I’ve been clear on what type of players I want and what they can expect of the program, what they can expect of me and what I expect of them. I’m here to develop them and help them get to the college level, but I need players that are coachable to do that.
“I’m just going to tell them to go out and relax [this weekend] and make the routine plays, don’t rush. Catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball, use your eyes when you’re out there defensively, offensively and on the bases. We’re going to be aggressive, but it’s the first weekend to see people out there in action and I want them to go out and relax.”
Mrazek’s goal for the season is to take his team to the next level — meaning to win more close games. The plan is for more practice in game situations at game speed, in order to become “comfortable being uncomfortable.”
During the 2015 American Legion Baseball season, the Bandits went 20-23-1 including 4-5 in one-run games.
“Being able to win more of those games we lost by one run over the last two years, playing over .500, everyone doing their job, understanding it and being able to execute it is the next level for us,” Mrazek said.
The annual Loggertown Wood Bat Classic features eight team round robin tournament play.
After this weekend’s season-opening tournament in Libby, the Bandits return home and will host Trail for a doubleheader in the team’s home opener Saturday, May 21, at Confederation Park in Cranbrook.
Loggertown Wood Bat Classic schedule:
Friday, May 135 p.m. — Clark Fork vs. Kootenai Valley7:30 p.m. — Missoula vs. Libby
Saturday, May 1410 a.m. — Missoula vs. Calgary12:30 p.m. — Clark Fork vs. Cranbrook Bandits3 p.m. — Cranbrook Bandits vs. Missoula5:30 p.m. — Mission Valley vs. Calgary8 p.m. Mission Valley vs. Libby
Sunday, May 159 a.m. — Cranbrook Bandits vs. Calgary11:15 a.m. — Kootenai Valley vs. Missoula1:45 p.m. — Mission Valley vs. Clark Fork4 p.m. — Calgary vs. Libby