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Tuesday August 01, 2017
Photo cred: Amanda Fewer
Story by: Dustin Saracini
In many ways, the “dream summer” has only just begun, but in order to find out exactly where the Okotoks Dawgs stand heading into the postseason, we must look back at the year that was.
There was a different atmosphere surrounding Seaman Stadium in 2017. Fans from around Canada found their way to the ballpark, en route to record breaking attendance numbers. On average, more than 4000 fans piled through the gates on game day, growing from 3300 in years past. Overall, we totalled 94,397 supporters throughout the campaign, the most in franchise history. To put those numbers in perspective, the Edmonton Prospects placed second in the league with 38,000 over the course of the season.
On the field, you could feel the energy, and the players thrived off it.
“You see the fans here, no one else has these types of fans around in the WMBL,” senior Anthony Balderas said.
“I love this team,” first-year Dawg Jack Rupe echoed his sentiments.
“Nothing will do it justice, the fans, they know you by name, they’re excited to see you after the game … there’s so much support around this town. It’s really fun to be in this atmosphere.”
“It’s crazy, I’ve never seen an atmosphere like this before, it’s phenomenal, there’s a lot of great people around here,” All-Star shortstop Greg Cullen said.
Record breaking numbers in the stands turned into a historic campaign in between the white lines.
Not only did the Dawgs do two better than last year’s President’s Trophy winners, but they also broke a franchise record for most wins in a season with 35 -- three of them coming in walk-off fashion -- good for second all-time in the WMBL. The incredible campaign worked off the back of an historically powerful offence, scoring the most runs in the WMBL, and was the strongest the fans had ever seen. The 2017 club cracked 50 home runs, the most in Dawgs history. Twelve players registered at least one blast, while WMBL MVP Kody Funderburk smoked a league-leading 15 -- the most for a Dawg since their inception in 2007.
“You see when you walk in, first in the clubhouse, you see all the big league names on the wall … to take the record, it’s pretty special, it’s pretty cool,” he said.
Despite missing out on a quarter of the season, Matt Lloyd was just as effective, earning top Canadian honours and leading the league in batting average. Lloyd dominated WMBL pitching this year -- carrying over his tremendous collegiate campaign with the Indiana Hoosiers -- collecting 22 multi-hit games, earning himself a 24-game hit streak and recording a base-knock in all but three contests. With little to no holes in his swing, Lloyd displayed once-in-a-lifetime type talent in Okotoks, continuously showing power to all sides of the field while becoming a true leader.
Behind him, the Dawgs were targeted with eight All-Star selections. Among the talent was Tyler Burdett, the 6’2” closer out of Dixie State. The senior was automatic this season in high leverage situations. It was almost as if one could chalk up the win as he trotted to the mound from the bullpen. Burdett finished the campaign with a sparkling 0.75 ERA, allowing two earned runs over 24 innings of work, and led the WMBL in saves with 13. Predominantly a fastball pitcher, Burdett wasn’t afraid to challenge the opposition, something starting pitcher and California native Balderas carried over into his own outings.
From one of the best to do it in the bullpen last year, Balderas quickly turned into one of the aces for Okotoks down the stretch. With a team-leading five wins, the Lewis-Clark product showed himself and his teammates that he could get the job done as a starter. Registering a 2.48 ERA, Balderas is a competitor, an All-Star, and a pitcher that gave his team a chance to win with every appearance.
“I keep on proving to myself that I could do something that I never thought I could,” he said after his final start, reflecting on his season.
This year is more than about numbers, though. It’s a chance for the seniors to leave a legacy in Okotoks.
“This season means everything to me, this is home for me, I watched the Dawgs growing up, and it means so much to me,” CJ Lewington said.
“This is the best team we’ve had I think,” Brendan Rose reminisced.
“It’s just an awesome feeling to play with them every day.”
“[This year] is huge, I’m hoping to end the season on a good note and my baseball career on a good note,” said veteran Dawg, Liam Stroud.
As the regular season comes to a close and the playoffs begin, the coaching staff knows how important this year is, and believe the team they have built is a memorable one.
“These kids have been an awesome bunch of kids, they all want to win, they’re all competitors and it’s been a blast to coach them,” head coach Tyler Graham said.
“I know Andy [Peterson], Joe [Sergent] and DR [Dave Robb] share the same thoughts I have about this team, it’s a special team.”
“This is as solid team we’ve had in a long, long time,” veteran coach Dave Robb said.
“It’s a special team, there’s no question. They’re really a good group, they really like each other, there’s no competition, they all want each other to do well, and that’s just the sign of a championship team.”
Former bench boss AJ Fystro, MLB closer Jim Henderson and Academy coach Frank Ingram all played a vital part in where the Dawgs are today.
From top to bottom, rookie to veteran, this club has become a family while donning the red and white colours. They have grown into true ambassadors for the town of Okotoks and have all but one more thing to accomplish -- winning the WMBL championship.
BANNER YEAR FOR THE ACADEMY
Midgets won Buckeye Showcase at Ohio State with over 100 competitors.
Midgets won Spokane, WA championship.
Most T12 invites of any your program (includes players on teams AB, Sask, MB, maritimes).
Most roster spots on Canada games team.
Bantams, Peewees enter AB Provincials as #1 teams in province.
100% of Academy grads committed to play at the collegiate level.