After a long winter, the Cranbrook Bandits baseball clubs are finally back. Kicking off 2018 in Montana, both the ‘A’ team and the junior ‘B’ squad will get in their first game action this weekend.
The ‘A’ group will be in Libby at the annual Loggertown Wood Bat Classic on May 12 and 13, while the junior boys will play in Mission Valley against the hometown Rockies and the Clark Fork Cougars.
According to ‘A’ team head coach Paul Mrazek, the American Legion clubs will both have tighter rosters than last season which he hopes will make them a more competitive program. In 2017, the Bandits expanded to two teams with the top players 19 years old and under moving up to the ‘A’ division and the ‘B’ team being reformatted as a development squad for players 17 years old and under.
“We’ve intentionally taken fewer players on the junior team, so [that] they’re playing more and tightening it up a little bit,” Mrazek said. “On the senior team, we have fewer numbers as well [and they are] all returning players [or] moving up [from the ‘B’ team].
“We’ve [also] got some dual roster players, so they can move up or down depending on how they’re doing. I think we’re putting two competitive teams together. The kids are getting a lot of playing time this year.”
Last year, the ‘A’ team put up a 3-19 record and made the Montana-Alberta West District tournament as the eighth and final seed, but ended up moving up to a sixth-place result. The ‘B’ team, meanwhile, started their season with eight exhibition wins before losing the 20 remaining matches.
While their official conference season games don’t begin until June, the Loggertown Classic is the first annual tune-up for the Bandits. Playing one game on Saturday and two on Sunday, while also experiencing crucial bonding time, Mrazek said the tournament is always a positive start to the year.
“The kids like swinging wood bats, so that’s fun [and] we will play some teams of the ‘A’ teams that are in our conference [as well],” the coach said. “The players [we’ll be facing] are bigger, faster and stronger [than what out players might be used to]. The ball moves faster [and this is a great opportunity to] just adjust to that.”
The Loggertown Classic will start on Friday night with a game between the host Libby Loggers and the Missoula Mavericks. The Bandits first game is at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday against Mavericks, before they face the Calgary Redbirds at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday and the Mission Valley Mariners ‘A’ team at 1:30 p.m.
Following this weekend’s exhibition action, the Bandits ‘A’ team will take part in a tournament in Kalispell and then both teams will co-host their annual home wood bat tournament from May 25 to 27.