Back in May, Cranbrook Bandits head coach Paul Mrazek said that the 2017 season was going to be “a really big year”.
The American Legion baseball program, which started in 1999, split into two teams for the first time this year, with a senior U19 ‘A’ team and a junior U17 ‘B’ team.
The two teams competed in separate Montana League classes this season and the expansion was made to both accommodate the growth of youth baseball in Cranbrook and generate even further involvement.
Although both Bandits teams struggled throughout the season, according to Mrazek, it was a good step towards a bright future.
“It was a big jump. It’s a much faster game,” Mrazek said of the ‘A’ team that he lead to a 3-19 conference record and an 11-29-1 overall record. “We’d played ‘A’ teams before, but we haven’t played this many high quality ‘A’ teams.
“The game’s a lot cleaner the way these other teams play and it’s tougher to advance runners and it’s tougher to score.”
Despite the often frustrating results on the field, the ‘A’ team showed considerable resiliency and also improved by the end of the season, earning a sixth out of eighth place finish at the West A District tournament.
“It was an eye opener for some of the players that had to step it up and compete,” Mrazek said. “But also, we were right in there for a lot of innings against a lot of innings. We took a game from Kalispell that went 3-0 and played in the final [of the district tournament].”
With three players — Jake Bromley, Rylan D’Etcheverrey and Linden Meggison — all expected to play for post-secondary institutions in the fall, the season had a lot of silver linings.
“There were a lot of positives moving forward,” Mrazek said. “We know where we have to work and go forward in the next year, and I think it was a good season.”
As for the ‘B’ squad, who went 8-23 and did not win a single conference game, eventually coming in last at the ‘B” State Invitational, Mrazek was also satisfied with their progress.
“It was great to get that team going. It’s been in my mind for the past few years,” he said. “It was an eye opener for some of the kids too [to] play better baseball every weekend. [They] faced solid teams every weekend from Alberta and the States.”
The ‘B’ team was led by Ryan Philips, a former Bandits pitcher, who made the jump from helping Mrazek in previous seasons to being at the helm of the junior squad.
“[Philips] did a great job being a one man show and it was a great experience for him to develop in that role,” he said. “Both teams were thin on coaching, but hopefully some more alumni will step up [in the future].”
The Bandits ‘A’ team have four players aging out of the program next season and Philips told the Townsman last week that he has informed select players on his team that they have a good chance of playing for the ‘A’ team next season.
The ‘B’ team ended their first year on a 23 game losing streak, but nearly beat the 406 Flyers during the second game of the State tournament.
In addition to the expansion, the Bandits also held their first ‘Alumni Game’ in June which pitted former players from the program against the current ‘A’ team. The event was well-received by all involved, with the Alumni winning 7-5 in an entertaining game.
That game, along with the team’s invitational Wood Bat tournament, are both events that Mrazek hopes to continue next season.
A banquet and awards night is expected to take place before the summer comes to a close, to signify the end of another year of Bandits baseball.