After last year's midget AA Beavers won the provincial championship and went to the Western Canadian Championships, many graduating players weren't quite done with baseball.
And so, for the first time in a while, there will now be two North Battleford teams competing in the North Saskatchewan River Baseball League (NSRBL), after seven graduating midget players joined forces with other local senior players to form the North Battleford Trappers. The Trappers join the Beavers, who have been in the NSRBL since its inception in 2010, as the two North Battleford teams.
Both senior teams begin league play early next week.
"Those [midget players] wanted to play ball when they came back this summer and there wouldn't have been enough room on the Beavers," Trapper Dillon Friesen said. "So them and a few guys that have been done for 10-plus years kind of thing came together and made another team."
Friesen is one of those players who has been out of the game for quite some time.
But he's confident the Trappers can be competitive.
"I think we'll fare pretty good," Friesen said. "You've got seven guys that went to Western's last year and then you have additions of some great ball players back when they did play midget ball. And then we also have the addition of an American guy who played NCAA ball in the States. I'm hoping we fare alright."
The seven players from last year's AA midget team now on the Trappers are: Brett Benoit, Braydon Buziak, Andrew Hudec, Gavin Nolin, Joel Revet, Jared Schmidt, and Tyrus Thomson, while the American with NCAA experience is Mike Ross.
It's difficult to project how competitive the Trappers might be in their first season, but Friesen said he expects defence to be a strength
"Just [based on] watching [this league], there are lots of errors in the infield...and that midget team really focused on their defensive play so I think that will be a strength [for us]," he said.
Meanwhile, the Beavers return after a subpar year where they snuck into the playoffs but were overpowered by the first place Lloydminster Twins in the opening round.
Last season, getting consistent pitching was a major difficulty, and player/coach Rory Gregoire said fixing that will be the most important thing this year.
"Our number one key this year is to get guys in there that can throw strikes and limit our walks," Gregoire said. "We lost too many games last year where we ended up walking guys.
"We've found over the past few years that it's not whether you're [pitching is] dominating in this league; it's whether you can come in and throw strikes. If you can avoid walking too many batters and give your defence a chance to help you, our team I think will be successful."
The Beaver have added two new pitchers for this year and it remains to be seen how effective they can be because practice, which has also been limited, can only tell you so much.
"You can't base how a guy is going to [perform] just based on one practice," Gregoire said. "We definitely have more pitching coming into this season than we had last year so it just depends how those guys can come in."
Last year's Beavers were able to qualify for the post-season despite an ugly 8.57 E.R.A. because their bats often came alive. The team batted .303 and had a slugging percentage of .443, second best in the league.
The Beavers had 115 runs in just 16 games, which was fourth-best in the NSRBL.
"Maybe it was just a case of more guys getting consistent at the right time and getting hot and that's what lead to our better runs per game," Gregoire said. "As long as they can continue that, I think we'll do OK this year."
One thing that has made things difficult to get in the swing of things with the season around the corner has been the weather.
Gregoire admitted the Beavers aren't quite in tip-top form.
"Normally before the season starts we [practice] twice a week...[but] it's been hit and miss and tough to get guys out," he said. "[The weather] wasn't very nice for us and cooperating so it's been a slower start to get ourselves ready and get ourselves in shape. I know the biggest hurdle we had last season to start the season was we weren't ready. Our pitching and arms weren't in shape and it cost us a few games to start the year...we're trying to avoid that mistake this year."
The Beavers season kicks off with a home game against the Standard Hill Lakers on Tuesday. The Lakers lost in last year's finals to Wilkie.
The Trappers will begin their inaugural season with a road game against Wilkie, also on Tuesday.
The two North Battleford teams won't go head-to-head until June 15.
"It won't take us long I'm sure to get a rivalry going with them," Gregoire added.
With the addition of the Trappers, the league divisions have also changed.
The Albers division now consists of the Beavers, Trappers, and Meadow Lake Sox, while Macklin, Unity, and Wilkie now make up the Colliar division. The Smith division has St. Walburg, Edam, Mervin and Standard Hill, while the Smithson division has the Lloydminster Twins, Border City Blue Jays, and Midwest Expos.
*Editor's note: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that this is the first time ever that the NSRBL has had two North Battleford teams. That is not true.
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