The boys of summer are back in town.
After a harsh Kootenay winter, the weather has started to clear up just in time for the Cranbrook Bandits to take the field for the 2017 season.
Practices for the American Legion baseball club kicked off on Tuesday afternoon at Centennial Park and the ‘A’ team head coach, Paul Mrazek, is eager to begin what he believes is a very important year.
“I’m excited about [this season],” Mrazek said before the inaugural combined ‘A’ and ‘B’ training session. “It’s a really big year, breaking out [into] two teams. We’ve got a lot of solid returning players [and] we’ve got some younger senior players coming into their rookie years [who] are a little greener.”
In March, the Bandits announced their move up from the Montana ‘B’ league to the ‘A’ conference and their addition of a secondary junior ‘B’ Bandits squad.
The move will allow the Bandits to potentially compete for a State Championship, as well as give the city more home games, with two teams instead of one.
“[The are a few rookies that] need some work [but] the ‘B’ squad, long term, are going to be strong,” Mrazek added. “There is a lot of athletic ability and a lot of potential [for] where we could take these kids. If the kids are willing to work at it, and are open and coachable, we could take them a long way.”
For the first week, both ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams are practicing as a single unit, in order to ensure a “consistent message” is received by every Bandit player. The teams will separate, however, after the weekend.
“[They are] two separate teams [in] two separate conferences,” Mrazek explained. “So, we will be competing and going to the ‘A’ Playoffs, if we make it, and they’ll be going to the ‘B’ State Invitational. So, it is completely different, [with] different coaches [and] different schedules.”
Mrazek will be at the helm of the ‘A’ group, while former standout player and pitching coach Ryan Phillips-Clement will take the reigns of the ‘B’ team. Phillips-Clement played for the Bandits for four seasons and was twice awarded ‘Pitcher of the Year’.
For Mrazek, in order for the teams to be successful this season, they can’t neglect any part of their game.
“[We’ve] got to play all parts of the game right,” he said. “You’ve got to play solid defense. We’re going to have to make the routine plays. We have to put the ball in play offensively and we’ve got to throw strikes.
“That’s it. It’s simple. Throw strikes, keep the ball down low, put the ball in play, make the defense make plays and you make the routine plays.”
With only four new players joining the ‘A’ team, the Bandits will need to rely on the strength of their returning seniors. Mrazek said that players like Jake Bromley, Rylan D’Etcheverrey, Brendan Bird, Dan Mercandelli, Caden McCormack, Cedar Kemp, Linden Meggison, and Noah Rennette would be turned to for leadership.
“These seniors need to show the younger kids how to play the game and how to get your job done,” Mrazek said. “For us, a big thing to move forward is the mental part of the game. We’ve got a lot of players that have been with us for a while and fundamentally and physically, they’re sound. Now it’s about getting them more comfortable in the game.”
While playing against ‘A’ competition won’t be a completely new experience for the Bandits, there is no doubt that 2017 will be a challenging year,
“We’ve played in a lot of ‘A’ teams over the years and [while] we’ve won and lost with them, we’ve been competitive,” Mrazek said on the team’s bump up. “Going into the ‘A’ Conference, however, we will be playing stronger ‘A’ teams. We’re going to have some tough games [and] also probably take a few lumps.”
In their first practice of the season, Mrazek laid out his expectations for the young Bandits players before running them through some conditioning exercises and teaching them their throwing routine. They also did a lot of administrative work.
“We’ve got a lot to do this week, getting paperwork, getting uniforms, dealing with equipment,” Mrazek said. “I’ve got twenty new players to get contact information from… we’ll get as much done physically as we can, but there is a lot of administration stuff too this week.”
Both teams will be in action during the first weekend of the season on May 13 and 14. The ‘A’ team will be in Libby, Montana for a tournament, and the ‘B’ team will have a pair of home games against Calgary.
The times for the ‘B’ club’s home tournament and the list of opponents for the ‘A’ team at the Libby tournament will be announced shortly.