With the 2015 American Legion Baseball season on the horizon

With the 2015 American Legion Baseball season on the horizon

Put me in, coach

Cranbrook Bandits ready to play and defend 2014 Montana State 'B' Championship as 2015 American Legion Baseball season approaches

The boys of summer are back…almost.

In anticipation of summer, the Cranbrook Bandits held tryouts for the 2015 edition of their American Legion Baseball squad Wednesday night at Confederation Park in Cranbrook.

“It’s exciting. The last couple weeks, I’ve been getting excited to get out here again,” said Bandits head coach Paul Mrazek prior to tryouts Wednesday evening. “I think [our players] are ready to go and roll into this.”

Though tryouts are in the books, the 2015 ball season for Cranbrook’s local club won’t get underway until the weekend of May 9, when the Bandits travel to Libby, Mont., for their season-opening tournament.

Despite the 16-day wait until opening day, expectations are already high for the Bandits, with 13 players returning from the 2014 Montana State ‘B’ Championship squad.

“A lot of these teams are gunning for us,” Mrazek said. “We have to make sure we are confident, but we can’t get too cocky.

“We’ve got to continue to get better and go in there with the expectation we’re going to play everyone the same way. We’re going to play our game. It doesn’t matter how we’re playing offensive or defensively. Make our routine plays.

“We can’t go in there too confident and on our heels thinking it’s going to be an easy win just because we’ve got 13 returning players. I’ll be setting that tone of, yeah, we did well [last season], but we’re going to continue to improve.”

Mrazek’s returning crew is a strong one, fuelled by MVP and Offensive Player of the Year Devon Marra, as well as Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Ouillette and Pitcher of the Year Tyler Thorn.

Even with a heavy compliment of returners, Mrazek faces some tough decision-making as he looks to fill out his roster with fresh faces from the East Kootenay region.

A total of nine hopefuls hit the diamond Wednesday evening, headed by players from Cranbrook, Creston and Kimberley.

“I’m looking for kids that I see with athleticism that are coachable that I can develop,” Mrazek said. “Whether a kid goes and plays college baseball or not, that’s another story. But I’m working to develop all my players.”

Wednesday’s session provided Mrazek an opportunity to evaluate all hopefuls on their throwing and hitting mechanics, arm and bat strength and direction, and last, but certainly not least, defensive abilities in regards to fielding ground- and fly-balls.

If the Bandits program is a testament for Mrazek’s work in development, the 2014 season is proof of how far he’s taken the program.

In 2014, the Bandits put forth their best season on record since Mrazek took over the head coaching duties in 2007, going 20-23 en route to claiming the Montana State ‘B’ Championship with a decisive 11-5 victory over the Medicine Hat Majestics.

Following Wednesday’s tryouts, Mrazek intended on assessing the results before making decisions on final roster spots.

With 13 returners and the option to carry 16 players, there is room for up to three new bodies on the active roster with an additional two slots on the practice roster.

The Cranbrook Bandits baseball team features players aged 15 to 19.

Between practice time and games, the team hits the diamond upwards of six times a week, with game play typically coming in the form of weekend tournaments, often featuring double-headers.

The Bandits provide the highest form of competitive baseball in the East Kootenay. During the 2014 season, they played 43 games over an 11-week period and the aim is to hit a similar mark again in 2015.

The Bandits’ first home games of the 2015 season are slated for Saturday, May 23, with a double-header against Eureka.