Prospective Cranbrook Banditas fastball pitchers participate in a 'winter camp' training session on February 2

Prospective Cranbrook Banditas fastball pitchers participate in a 'winter camp' training session on February 2

Banditas fastball kick off winter camp

New Cranbrook women’s fastpitch softball team gets early start on training prior to inaugural season.

If this week’s enormous snowfall didn’t make it obvious enough, it isn’t softball season.

But don’t tell the Banditas.

Cranbrook’s new women’s fastpitch softball team has already started training for the spring. Last Thursday, a dozen prospective pitchers and catchers met at Parkland Middle School for the first training session of what is expected to be a very competitive travel team.

“There hasn’t been fastball in Cranbrook for about 20 years,” said Sarah Coles, a former NCAA-level catcher who organized the Banditas. “We’re testing the waters trying to get it back together [and] we’ve got a lot of interest.”

Coles first got the idea to form the team last summer after noticing the number of skilled fastball players in the area.

“The Cranbrook Bantam team was going to compete at provincials and wanted us to get an alumni team together to scrimmage and we ended up getting a lot of interest,” Coles said. “So we thought we’d run with it and see if we could get a competitive team together for this year.”

Although getting outside on an actual field, is still far-off and their season won’t start until May with exhibition games, the team’s coaching staff believes that the early start shows a serious commitment.

“We have to hit the ground running by May 1, so the pitchers and the catchers have to start early and get in shape for that time, and we’ll start the rest of the team towards the end of February,” said Alan Coles, one of the Banditas coaches. “So, as soon as the snow is gone we can start playing right away.”

The team expects to start their summer travelling all over, playing teams from Fernie to Grandforks to Calgary, into the Okanagan as well as Vancouver. These games will be preparation for the provincial championships at the end of July.

“We’ve got a good group of women and they’re all excited to play their best,” the senior Coles said. “Most of them have a really good background in softball [and] they just haven’t played competitive fastpitch in a number of years because there hasn’t been a league. They’ve had to play slowpitch.”

Although the team wasn’t able to guarantee home games for this season, they are hopeful that another local team from the Elk Valley may come through at some point. However, the Banditas already boast an impressive list of Cranbrook-area sponsors.

“We’ve had great support from the community [already],” Alan said. “Our major sponsors are Cranbrook Dodge, Western Financial Group and Tim Horton’s. [They’ve] all come to the table to support us.”

According to Coles, the last highly competitive fastpitch team to come out of Cranbrook was the Kootenay Villains, a team made up of members from Cranbrook, Castlegar and Trail who competed at the 2004 Canada Cup.

Two players from that team — Heather Gemmell and Karly Ferner — are expected to be prominent members of the Banditas, bringing hope that this team could very well be medalists right away.

“Judging by how it was last year for softball, it was an amazing group of females that came out,” said Christy Lode, a former Okanagan and Calgary women’s league pitcher who is 12 years removed from her last competitive play. “They all had a similar passion and it was a lot of fun, which is probably the most important part.”

In order to aid their first season travel costs, the Banditas are hosting a Celebrity Bartender night at Deweys Pub and Grill on Friday, February 17 from 5 to 9 p.m. The fundraiser will also include a silent auction and the team says that attendance to the event is a great way to support them.

They may be the new kids on the block, but if a couple feet of snow haven’t dampened their spirits, they may just have what it takes to return Cranbrook to fastpitch glory.