The ‘old guys’ have still got it.
That’s what the Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team learned on Saturday night after playing in the first annual Bandits Alumni game.
The event pinned the current U19 team against 19 former players and the elder statesmen — who ranged from 19-year-olds who played last season to those 15 years removed from their glory days — in a 9-inning wood bat game.
The Alumni won 7-5 and provided a good learning lesson for the young team.
“A lot of those guys were the better players in their day,” head coach Paul Mrazek said of the Alumni team. “They came back [and] some of them were a little older, but they can still play and, you can tell, they know the game. So, it was good for our guys to see that.”
The Alumni kicked off the scoring in the third inning and had a 6-0 lead for the majority of the game. Both teams rotated pitchers frequently with the Alumni having an abundance of players at that position and the ‘A’ team trying to keep their players fresh for their league doubleheader on Sunday.
“We pitched them like they were throwing their bullpens today,” Mrazek said. “Nobody threw a lot. A couple of guys, if their pitch count was low they went two innings, other guys went one inning.”
The ‘A’ team had a tough time offensively until the seventh inning when they scored a single run to make it 7-1, but almost came through with a huge comeback in the final inning.
“The boys were playing well … we just happened to get a couple of good hits early,” said alumnus Sheldon Juricic. “They came back and rallied hard and got us very nervous … it was a ton of fun.”
In the end, the comeback fell short but put the game in the record books at a respectable 7-5 loss for the current Bandits.
For both Mrazek and alumni players like Juricic, the best part of the event was getting to see the old faces.
“[It was a] family reunion, that’s all I can say,” Juricic laughed. “I played with a bunch of guys and [also] got to see [guys that I watched] when I was 6 years old. It was definitely a ton of fun and very humbling.”
Mrazek hopes the game will become a yearly event and based on what he saw, he believes it will be.
“The alumni were really excited [and] you could see it and hear it in their dugout,” the coach said. “They had a great time [and] guys came from as far as Edmonton for [the game].”
The Bandits Alumni team spanned several eras, including players who played on the inaugural roster in 1999.
Their roster included: Kei Chlopan (who played his last year in 2016), Tyler Thorn (2016), Brandon Ouillette (2015), Sheldon Juricic (2012), Ryan Phillips (2012), Jordan Armstrong (2010), Lealand McCallum (2010), Derek Hunter (2008), Josh Lowden (2008), Eric Nutzhorn (2006), Jordan Torgerson (2006), Jared Reid (2005) Ryan Saunders (2004), Ryley Hunter (2003), Devon Howarth (2003), Brandon Flint (2003), Jan Zakowski (2002), Dave Heathfield (2001), and John Sutherland Jr., one of the team’s original coaches.
Many of the players continued playing baseball after their Bandits days. Howarth played for Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, Missouri; Ryley Hunter played at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington and Valley City State University in North Dakota; Saunders played for Dickinson State in North Dakota; Nutzhorn played for North Dakota State; Lowden played for the Lethbridge Bulls; and Tyler Thorn is currently a member of the University of Calgary Dinos.
Numerous players also went on to the Prarie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge, including Armstrong, McCallum, Derek Hunter, Lowden, Nutzhorn, Torgerson, Howarth and Zakowski.
In addition, Kei Chlopan is part of the current Bandits ‘A’ coaching staff and Ryan Phillips is the head coach of the new Bandits U17 ‘B’ team.
There was no rest for the ‘A’ team after the game as the next day they had a pair of regular-season road games against the Mission Valley Mariners.
While Mrazek said that they had done all their preparations for the Mariners at practice in advance of the Alumni game, there is certainly one player who should have extra-confidence based on Saturday’s contest.
Brandon Thorn had the opportunity to play against his brother Tyler, an acclaimed pitcher in his first year of U SPORTS baseball, and picked up a single.
“I think it’s pretty cool for him to get a hit off of his brother who plays college baseball,” Mrazek said.
“I’m sure they’re going to be talking about it for the next week or so, chirping each other.”