The AM Ford Trail Orioles may have a tough road to the final this week as they get set to play host to some of the best baseball teams in Canada.
The O’s of summer will throw out the first pitch at Butler Park tonight against the Vernon Diamondbacks to kick off the Western Canada Baseball Championships. While all teams are good, the organizers are saving arguably the best for last, as Trail faces Manitoba at 8 p.m. Saturday, the last game of the round robin.
“Langley won it last year, and they said the Manitoba team was really good,” said the Orioles’ Jim Maniago. “They were the best team last year so I’m expecting them to be really good, and everyone else, we’ll see.”
Manitoba’s Elmwood Giants play in the Winnipeg Senior Baseball League and have represented the province four times in the past 10 years at the Westerns. The Giants won the title in 2002 and 2004 and lost in the final last year to Team B.C. (Langley) in Muenster, Sask.
“We rely primarily on strong pitching and excellent defence, in particular from outstanding infielders Kevin Krasowski (third base), and Curtis Furber (Short and second),” said Giants player/manager Mark Bullion.
The Giants went 19 and 2 in the Winnipeg league this summer, allowing 1.76 runs per game with a team ERA under 2. The pitching staff is led by ace Bryan McIntyre, with power coming from left-fielder Tyler Tilbury who led the league in home runs, and Krasowski who hit an incredible .463 for the season.
While the team has never played in Trail they have faced the Orioles before.
“We played the Trail Orioles at the 2001 Western Championships in Saskatoon, I believe. Trail won it that year,” said Bullion.
It was the last time Trail won the event, and this year’s version of the Orioles should be competitive with Jim Maniago and Darrin Kissock the two players still active from the championship team.
However, the O’s also enlisted two other stalwarts from the 2001 team to help coach. Former O’s, Davey Colquhoun and D. J. Ashman will be in the dugout and on the corners calling the shots this weekend.
The decision to bring in the experienced tandem was to free up Maniago so he could concentrate more on playing rather than having to manage too, said Colquhoun.
The Giants may be the team to beat but the O’s also expect stiff competition from Saskatchewan, the Marysburg Royals, and the Provost Pilots from Alberta, a very young team that has won their share of championships.
“This was the first year we went to provincials as a senior age group, but we have all competed and won provincial titles in baseball before,” said Pilots’ manager Chad Nelson.
While most of the players grew up and played together in Provost they now live throughout Alberta and get together only to play in tournaments. At the provincial championship, the Pilots went 4 and 0 and are 15 and 3 on the year.
“The teams from Alberta that we’ve seen before are scrappy and always dangerous, the last time we won, we were in Saskatchewan, and both Saskatchewan teams were pretty good,” said Maniago. “We’re not expecting any easy games.”
The team is also counting on home field advantage and good crowds to give them an extra boost.
At last year’s provincials at Butler, the crowds were excellent, said Maniago, and he’s hoping for the same this year.
“It just makes it more fun for everybody. All the teams from the provincials are still talking about playing here, you know when you play in front of 500 or 600 people it’s a lot different than when you’re in Kelowna and there is 20.”
While the Giants haven’t played at Butler, they are impressed with the facility.
“We have never played in Trail but we viewed your ballpark on the team website and GoogleEarth – what a beautiful site,” said Bullion.
“Our guys are really looking forward to playing there.”
A beer garden, concession, 50/50 draw and raffles are also added attractions.
The Orioles opening game is at 7 p.m. tonight at Butler Park against Team B.C.
See scoreboard for full schedule.