After a lost season in 2020, the Lethbridge Bulls are more than halfway through the 2021 Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) campaign, and the club says the novelty of being back at the ball field still hasn’t worn off.
“I think we’re just riding out the excitement of being back on the field again,” said Bulls catcher Noah Or.
“Especially as Canadian players — not being able to play this last year — it’s been pretty good to get back out there, regardless of who we’re facing.”
And who they are facing is a very short list.
This year, WCBL competition consists of just the Bulls, Edmonton Prospects, a brand new Sylvan Lake Gulls squad and a pair of rosters fielded by the Okotoks Dawgs.
“If you ask fans in Lethbridge, they might say we play Okotoks a lot, but they need to know that there is two teams,” said assistant general manager Brett Semeniuk. “And Sylvan Lake has been a really, really good addition to the league — from a league standpoint — and from a Bulls standpoint it’s nice to have another team in Alberta that’s going to be a good team in the future.”
Each of the five teams are fielding completely Canadian rosters this season, with none of the usual American imports coming up to play for the summer.
Wheatley says the smaller field of competition has led to seeing a lot of familiar faces over and over.
“I’m definitely not complaining,” Bulls head coach Chance Wheatley laughed. “We’re playing, so we’re happy. But you know, we are seeing a lot of the same teams.”
As of Wednesday night, the Bulls had won 13 of their first 25 games; good for second place in the WCBL.
But with the last place Okotoks Dawgs Red squad just three wins back of Lethbridge, Wheatley says deciding the top four teams that will make the playoffs in August could come down to the final regular season games.
“Every game is competitive,” he said. “I wish we had a little more cushion to give some guys some more rest, but to have to win every game, it’s good.”
And for the players, the pressure is more than welcome.
“The level is obviously there, and we’ve got a lot of guys who really want to play, want to be between those white lines on the field,” said Or. “Just playing other teams who want to compete, that’s the best part.”
The regular season will wrap up on Aug. 15, before a pair of three-game playoff series will decide a WCBL champion for 2021 by Aug. 22.