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Western Canadian Baseball League looking to play ball in 2021

Edmonton Prospects head coach Jordan Blundell.
Edmonton Prospects head coach Jordan Blundell.

It may end up being nothing more than pie in the sky, but for now at least, the Western Canadian Baseball League has given itself a light at the end of the tunnel.

Coming out with a full 56-game schedule for each of its 13 teams — up from a dozen squads heading into the 2020 season that wasn’t – the top Canadian summer collegiate circuit is looking to get ahead in the proverbial pitch count against COVID-19.

Or at least a nice lead off on some preparations to finally play ball again.

“We’re hopeful. Working toward something anyway,” said Edmonton Prospects head coach Jordan Blundell. “With some trepidation, obviously, but I’m really optimistic.

“We went through this at this time last year, you know? You’re optimistic, you’re excited, you’re looking forward to things and it’s tough to go through that same process now knowing that there’s a chance nothing happens; there’s a chance something modified happens; and there’s a chance the whole schedule comes off without a hitch and we’re able to get it done.

“So, hopefully there’s a turn of the new year here that we can really dig in and see this thing through this time.”

Opening day is set for May 27, beginning with his Prospects visiting the Fort McMurray Giants at Shell Place.

As for Edmonton’s home opener, well, that’s become the matter of a rather large pachyderm in proximity.

“The elephant in the room, you’re right,” said Blundell, who watched Re/Max Field, which the Prospects have called home for the past nine years, get turned over to the incoming West Coast League’s expansion Edmonton Riverhawks. “We don’t have a ballpark in the middle of the city that we were used to and kind of made our home. That will be different. But what that does is create a challenge for us and the people that have been here the longest — the front office and myself. Now we have some new challenges and we need to overcome those. I mean, it’s just a little bit of adversity.

“For the players, we’re just trying to win a ball game tonight, you know? We have 56 of those nights and we’re trying to win as many of those as we can, whether we’re playing at Re/Max or Okotoks or Sylvan, or in Spruce Grove or Sherwood Park.”

Those last two don’t have teams in the league. At least, not anymore in one case and not yet in the other. Spruce Grove is set to become the new home of Prospects baseball in 2022.

Until then, they will be a touring team, bringing the WCBL to diamonds in surrounding communities that wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see it up close.

“Those facilities, it’s still 90 feet on the base paths and 60 feet, six inches to the plate from the bump,” Blundell said. “I’m sure there will be some challenges with how our schedule is going to unfold, but we’re fortunate to have the guys that we have with us.

“I think the student-athletes, the young men that we have, they’re just looking forward to it. They’re excited. I think most of that adversity will come as far as trying to win a game and trying to win the moment on the field versus what field we’re playing or where the bus is taking us today.”

While they can’t do anything about a team that isn’t in their league, the Prospects will have their hands full getting a budding rivalry underway against the new kid on the WCBL block, as the expansion Sylvan Lake Gulls are setting up shop just 160 km to the south.

“Oh, we have to. Make sure you put that in print and put a little smiley face beside that for me,” Blundell said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for those guys down there: Graham Schetzsle and his wife (Jen) and (general manager) Aqil Samuel, who we stay in contact with quite a bit.

“On the field, definitely I expect and hope for a really healthy rivalry. The Battle of Hwy. 2, or whatever we end up calling it: Sylvan Lake, Edmonton and Okotoks kind of in that mix, as well. We’ll be in a dog fight with those guys.”

And the Gulls will be smack dab in the thick of it.

“We’re kind of in the middle of two pretty established organizations right now, either way you go,” Sylvan Lake head coach Jason Chatwood said of the Prospects to the north and the reigning champion Okotoks Dawgs – who rank top three in attendance across all of collegiate summer baseball on the continent – just south of Calgary. “I know in hockey it’s always Calgary vs. Edmonton and I don’t know if we’re kind of in the middle, if we get both sides of it?

“But, no. It’s going to be fun and I think that’s one thing that’s kind of exciting about our league and the travel, I’m assuming there’s going to be a lot of fans from multiple communities coming to support their own local teams. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we had some of our fans come and experience our away games as well.”

As many as are allowed in ballparks, at least.

Sylvan Lake is hoping to hold its home opener on June 11 against the Lethbridge Bulls. And while tickets in the initial release at fractional capacity have all been scooped up, flex plans are now available.

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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