It’s been a long, long time since the Lethbridge Bulls last hit the field at Spitz Stadium, but Friday they did so knowing that game action is just seven days away.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Bulls’ president and general manager Kevin Kvame. “I think our total was 680 days between Bulls games.”
Lethbridge will open the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) season on Friday, June 18 at home in front of what Kvame says will be about 400 to 500 fans.
Alberta Health is currently allowing one-third capacity for grandstands under current restrictions, but it could be a packed ballpark by July; whenever Stage 3 of the province’s summer reopening plan is given the green light.
No matter how many fans are in the stands, the players say they can’t wait to perform for the crowd.
“We’re absolutely pumped, that’s the only way to put it,” said Ty Penner.
“It’s going to be amazing to have fans back in the crowd, let alone playing games… We haven’t played games in front of no fans, even, in a long time. Everybody has just been playing inter-squad games for a long time.”
Penner is one of just a couple Bulls players who were with the team in 2019.
The WCBL will look vastly different in 2021 thanks to COVID-19 travel restrictions, with teams fielding all-Canadian rosters in a league that usually features a major portion of American players.
Head coach Chance Wheatley says the opportunity to showcase Canadian talent is one that he thinks will benefit the fans, with an elite level of baseball and many local kids to cheer for.
“Sometimes the Canadians just simply get overlooked because they’re Canadian,” Wheatley said.
“Lots of people think the Americans are better, but we’re really lucky here in Lethbridge to have a very deep talent pool.”
With about half the roster hailing from southern Alberta, the team features many players who feel honoured to be pulling on the Bulls’ colours.
“I’ve been dreaming of playing on the Bulls ever since I was 13 years old,” said Ty Wevers, who plays baseball during the year in Kansas.
“Growing up in the Junior Bulls program, the Prairie Baseball Academy program, I’m really looking forward to it this season.”
The Bulls will play 40 regular season games between next Friday and Aug. 15, before a WCBL champion is decided by a pair of three-game playoff series.
Only five teams will participate in this WCBL season, including the Bulls, the Edmonton Prospects, the Sylvan Lake Gulls, and two Dawgs teams called Okotoks Red and Okotoks Black.
The Bulls will open against Okotoks Black next Friday, with the first pitch at 7:05 p.m.