It was another trying season for the Fort McMurray Giants with lots of ups and downs along the way.
A promising 3-1 start for the Giants during their opening homestand was followed by a disastrous 2-15 run that included a nasty 10 game losing streak that saw the Giants fall well back from the division leaders.
The Giants did bounce back and put themselves in a race for a playoff spot that had them fighting for the post-season until the bitter end but ultimately saw them miss out for a third straight season.
The Giants once again finished in 5th place in the Western Division with a 17-31 record but were the closest to the playoffs they’ve ever been, missing the post-season by just two games.
“There’s a lot of pride in this community and a lot of pride for the Giants here and it’s a third year organization and these things take time sometimes,” said Giants Manager Pat Riley who is in his second year with the club. “This is still a new organization and one thing for sure is the support is tremendous and it’s outstanding and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it and I’m very thankful for that and I know it’s going to continue in the future.”
This season seemed like a tale of two teams for the Giants. At home at Shell Place, the Giants were 12-11 but on the road the Giants finished a miserable 5-20. To be fair, the Giants easily have one of the toughest travel schedules in the Western Major Baseball League but if they are going to be successful, they need to find a way to win on the road.
“You can get frustrated all you want and I do, I do get frustrated and obviously you wish you’re still going to be playing after this weekend and unfortunately that didn’t happen but to see guys come from one summer to the next and see their improvement, you wish all the success in the world to those guys,” said Riley after the teams final home game.
The Giants are a first class organization, with top notch facilities and they have certainly helped the careers of every player that has passed through over the past three summers.
This season, a real bright spot was White Rock, B.C. native Liam Rihela who attends Thompson Rivers University. Rihela started the season as the Giants third baseman but transitioned to shortstop after an early injury to Chris Panzarella. Rilhela was not only strong defensively but he led the team in nearly every offensive statistical category. The 22 year old had a .315 batting average in 46 games, scored 31 runs, had 53 hits, 10 doubles, 5 homeruns, 31 walks and tied a Giants franchise mark with 38 RBI’s (Max Hewitt had 38 RBI’s in 2017).
He also tied for the team lead in stolen bases with Drew Dickerson who each had 14 which ties the franchise high set by Justin Bridgman in 2016.
“You play summer ball to get better and you want to be competitive, you want to win games and you want to win league championships but you also want to send guys back to their respective school as a better baseball player and a better person,” said Riley.
On the mound this season the Giants saw the emergence of Nicklas Cardinal who after two straight summers as a relief pitcher became a dominate starter in his third year with the team. Cardinal went 4-1 over 8 starts with a sparkling 2.98 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 54.1 innings pitched.
Fort McMurrayite Tyler Hodder was an absolute workhorse on the mound once again this summer, leading the league in starts with 10 and pitching the second most innings with 63.1. He finished the year with a 2-4 record with both wins coming in complete game efforts.
“I’m very thankful for the Fort McMurray kids who keep coming back and back and they’re solid contributors for us and I think that echoes what goes on here that guys want to come back and return and play for the Giants,” said Riley.
Relief pitcher Ryan Dunn set a career high in appearances with 19 this summer which was third highest on the club behind Matt Vonderschimdt (22) and Allan Brown who made the most appearances ever by a Giants pitcher with 23.
Over the course of three years, we’ve been able to watch local products Tyler Hodder, Ryan Dunn and Josh Iannetti grow and improve in the WMBL. Late in the season, the Giants signed four more local players, Max Poole, Gage Brebant, Mark Chappelle and Quinn Tassie who all played for the Midget Oil Giants this summer. The hope is to continue to develop local players and graduate them to the Giants from Fort McMurray Minor Baseball.
“Tyler Hodder, Josh Iannetti, Ryan Dunn, they’re the grassroots, they’re paving the way for the rest of the minor baseball boys. We signed four of the boys this year that are committed to go to school and for me and I know the rest of the community, that’s huge,” said Giants President & Owner Dutche Iannetti who is excited to have up to 7 local players next summer. “I talked to kids that played back in the day and the only vision was to finish playing minor baseball and then once you were 18 there wasn’t really a vision of moving on. To have what we have now in our community is wow.”
With the Giants out of the post-season, the focus shifts to 2019. The WMBL will become the Western Canadian Baseball League and will expand the season to 56 games from 48. With added games to the regular season, the playoffs will go from a best of five series to a best of three to make sure the season ends early enough to allow players to head back to school in time.
“We’ll have 28 home games next year vs 24 this year. Also the big All-Star game is going to happen in Edmonton next year with the best in the West vs the best in the East so we’re excited with the league and the way the league is moving forward,” said Iannetti.
The future is bright for the Giants with a strong ownership group and a talented group of players.
“Come on 2019!”