Expectations and Prognostications for Season Fifty-Two

What is certain about the upcoming season is that the Blackhawks will be representing the NCABL in the Western Canada Senior Championship to be held in Stonewall, Manitoba in August. The veteran club is expected to be very competitive in that Championship as were other League representatives in season’s past. The Blackhawks will have access to other players from across the League who will not be involved in the LCSFS which happens to be scheduled for the same week-end in August. In addition to planning for this event, the Blackhawks will also have their sights set on returning to defend their Championship title, their fourth over the past decade to go along with three pennant victories during the same time period. Under the tutelage of Manager Randy Gregg and coach Duncan Knoll, look for the defending champions to retain a top four finish and to be strong contenders for a fifth title providing that the road to Western’s has not unduly tired the club.

If any club rises to the challenge of taking the championship title away from the Blackhawks, the Sherwood Park Athletics under youthful Manager Brett McElroy would likely be that club. A well balanced club with an experienced roster, the Athletics snatched their first ever pennant last season and had lofty expectations of going farther. The returning players will have something to prove and are expected to be even hungrier than ever before.

As everyone knows, every club will have the same opportunity come opening day to forge their own destiny. Will there be any surprises by season’s end? Will the final four include a new challenger or will the group remain largely unchanged but for positional designations? The Mets have probably undergone the most significant changes in personnel when compared to last season’s roster. The addition of a few former St. Albert Tigers and an improved pitching core should be enough to power the Mets back into the final four come August.

If the near miss performances of the youthful St. Albert Cardinals over the past two season’s are any indication that they are a club poised and ready to break into the post season, then they should not be ruled out from making their first Series’ appearance since entering the League. The crafty and never say die Red Lions will continue to have something to say about it, however. Despite missing all-star centre fielder Chris Brand for the entire season due to injury, the latter will be taking over management of the club and is counting on the return of former pitching great Carmen Brown to make an impact statement. The Red Lions play a solid defensive game and that will not change significantly this season, although team batting may be challenged.

What about the Primeau’s? Might they emerge from their funk and finally return to the competitive level of old when the club, then called the Indians, called Citadel Park in Legal home? To accomplish a return to the post season, the Primeaus will need a solid commitment from their entire core of starters, one that begins in May and ends in August and not any sooner. The challenge here will be in recruiting good young talent and keeping them around long enough to be developed into solid senior prospects. If the Primeaus can deal effectively with building a cohesive unit in both the infield and outfield, the possibility of making the final four is real. If not, the 2019 season could be another disappointing campaign.

The Edmonton Athletics currently hold the record for being the club with the longest tenure among urban clubs in the NCABL. For the Athletics, recruitment has never been their greatest challenge. They have always managed to fill roster spots and to remain relatively competitive over the years. Will the climb into the post-season be achievable this season? With the emergence of another star pitcher like Mark Trela, that goal would most certainly be more easily reached. Without it, the Athletics should turn to a closer working relationship with the N-E Zone who are currently promoting player development with vigour within their representative program. The current junior team would be a good place to start making inroads which could lead the Athletics back up the competitive ladder and possibly into the post-season at some point.

Predicting the success or lack thereof of a brand new franchise is always more difficult. The Parkland Twins have begun their quest for a future final four challenge in the right way, by forging alliances with Spruce Grove Minor Baseball. The success of their program will largely depend on their recruitment of graduating AAA Midget players from the locality as well as on regional recruitment. They will benefit from a beautiful facility in Henry Singer Park and from the past experience of a few grizzled veterans who once played for the successful Camrose Axemen. But beyond those intangibles, history has taught us that success in the NCABL is not instantaneous nor without the necessary commitment to practice and to skill development. We need only observe the dedication and progression of clubs like the Blackhawks and Sherwood Park Athletics to know that instant success is not a likely outcome. Hard work usually is.

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