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Fort McMurray Giants Season Preview; Home Opener June 1st

Giants catcher Richard Ortiz is mobbed by his teammates after hitting a walk-off homerun to beat the Edmonton Prospects 5-4. July 24, 2017/Dan Lines

The Fort McMurray Giants are set to open up their third season in the Western Major Baseball League Friday night when they host the Lethbridge Bulls.

The Giants are coming off a 20-28 season and will be looking to reach the post-season for the first time in the team’s history after a somewhat disappointing second year in the WMBL. A slow start to the 2017 summer put the Giants way behind the pack in the opening two weeks of the season where they struggled out of the gate going 1-9 in their first ten games. The team then played .500 baseball for the rest of the summer, including going on a 7-3 run in their final ten games which would’ve been good enough to get in the dance.

Returning for a second summer at the helm is Manager Pat Riley who knows expectations will be much higher this season.

“Expectations, it’s a game by game but ultimately you’re trying to make the post-season and trying to win the whole thing,” said Riley who was an assistant coach at Westminster College this past year. “It’s a long season so you need to have a temporary mindset but we’re excited to be here and it should be a fun year.”

The 2018 Giants will have many new faces but the team will also have six returning players which bodes well for a team that needs to gel quickly. Teams in the WMBL play a 48 game regular season in a two month period.

“Overall we should be pretty deep talent wise and we’re going to need everyone to step up ultimately but we have some really talented guys and we’re excited to have them,” said Riley.

Returning are local products Josh Iannetti, Ryan Dunn and 1st Team All-Star Tyler Hodder. All three players will be suiting up for their hometown team for a third straight summer.

Iannetti, a catcher batted .254 in 30 games last season and will be called upon to provide leadership as a veteran presence in the league.

Dunn has been a utility man over his first two years in the league playing nearly every position but has best performed when on the mound and will predominately be used out of the bullpen once again this season. In seven appearances last season, the 20 year old pitched 17 innings, striking out 10 and only walked one batter while finishing with a 3.17 ERA.

Hodder will be counted on again to be an ace in the starting rotation. Hodder led the WMBL with 6 wins and a 2.37 ERA in 9 starts. The 20 year old worked 57 innings, striking out 33 batters and was named a WMBL 1st Team All-Star.

“The chemistry is a big part of baseball and as a pitcher you want to have confidence in the guys behind you especially when those balls get on the ground you want to make sure you have players who can make those plays and these guys come from great schools all over North America and I know they can do it and it’s going to be a great year for us,” said Hodder.

Hodder is coming off a strong season at Thompson Rivers University and will team up with his Wolfpack teammate Tyler Moskalyk as a 1-2 punch in the Giants rotation. The Thunder Bay native returns for a second summer with the Giants after scorching the Canadian College Baseball Conference leading the league with 67 strikeouts (including 18 in one game)  and finishing fifth with a 3.02 ERA.

Pitcher Nik Cardinal also returns for a third season with the Giants while outfielder Jordan Stickler returns for a second season.

Players have been arriving over the last couple of weeks, flying in from all over North America. The Giants roster will comprise of 10 Canadian born players and 19 Americans. With little time to meet and practice before the season starts, the team knows they will have to find early chemistry to start strong.

“It’s definitely tough sometimes. You have to try and get to know everyone quick and see who works well with who and make your order and sort out your pitching staff as quick as you can and pick up some big wins at the start of the season,” said Dunn who just finished his season at the University of Calgary.

Some changes this season by the Giants and MacDonald Island Park will enhance the fans experience at the ballpark. The Giants have expanded their concessions to include soft serve ice cream, taco in a bag among others to go along with the usual hamburger and hotdog. The team will also have specials like Wing Wednesday where you can get a pound of wings for $9 or a pound and a beer for $15. They will also have new games such as the ‘Beer Batter’ where a player on the opposing team is chosen ahead of the game and if he strikes out, beers are on for a 2 for $10 special for the rest of that inning.

“It’s amazing to be able to come out and have a team that’s going to be able to compete and put on a show. The fans are always supporting us and cheering us on. The atmosphere is great here and being able to bring a high caliber team here is what this community deserves,” said Iannetti.

Tickets are now on sale for all Giants games and can be purchased at the Shell Place Box office or online. The Giants will open the season with a three game set against the Lethbridge Bulls at Shell Place. Friday and Saturday’s games are a 7:35pm first pitch and will also be broadcast live on Country 93.3 while Sunday’s game will be a 2:05pm start.