The crack of bat on a ball is one of the signature sounds of summer and hearing it ring out on baseball diamonds across the province once again is a sign that life is returning to normal in the Saskatchewan Premier Baseball League.
The 2021 SPBL season opened this week to the delight of players and coaches alike.
“We’re excited to get going. We’re obviously way ahead of last year’s schedule, which, you know there’s a lot of enthusiasm to be able to go at the start of June,” Saskatoon Giants head coach Mark Campbell said.
“Everybody’s just chomping at the bit and waiting to play some ball.”
The league played a season in 2020 but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it lasted just six weeks and featured no inter-divisional play.
While it was better than not playing at all, Saskatoon Diamondbacks head coach Matt Kosteniuk said it lacked some key elements.
“It didn’t feel like the baseball season should have felt. It’s a long grind, a baseball season, and for last year to be a quick month and a half and we were off it just didn’t seem right.
“This year we get our full 32-game schedule in and we’re travelling to the south and because of that our boys are definitely … you can see more smiles on their faces,” Kosteniuk said.
“It’s just way better playing other teams than just the teams around here and being able to go down to Estevan, Regina, Moose Jaw, all those places,” Giants third baseman Preston Thoen added.
Diamondbacks outfielder Noah Wonnick is heading to Kamloops, B.C., to play at Thompson Rivers University in the fall and getting a full season in this summer is key to his preparation.
It’s also a lot of fun.
“It’s the competitiveness. You get to play your buddies across the field. You get to play the game instead of practicing,” he said.
With more players from the SPBL moving on to college teams both in Canada and the United States each year, playing as many games before they go is critical.
“Game reps are what really elevates the play and what makes teams take notice. South of the border, or colleges north of the border, they want to see a little bit more refinement, and you can practice and work on skills for a long time but it’s that pressure-packed situation to get them through that really takes them to the next level,” Campbell said.
The SPBL has grown to 14 teams this year with the addition of the White Butte Broncos, and given that it’s been two years since many teams have seen each other, the race for the provincial championship is wide open.
“I definitely feel like we’re in good shape but at the end of the day, baseball is a funny game and you’ve gotta play every inning,” Kosteniuk said.
“It’s going to be an interesting season because I don’t think it’s just us that has improved. I think all of Saskatchewan, based on the academies you see around Saskatchewan now, we’re seeing improvement all around.”
And now at long last, a chance to see that improvement is in full swing.
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