Another season has come and gone for the Fort McMurray Giants and as disappointing as it was for the team to not make the playoffs, there is plenty to be proud of for what this group accomplished this summer.
The Giants playoff dreams were crushed when the Edmonton Prospects won their final seven games of the season to finish a single game up on Fort McMurray for the final playoff position in the Western Canadian Baseball League West Division. .
Despite sitting on the outside looking in, the 2019 season was the best season the Giants have ever had in their short four year history. The club finished in 5th place in the WCBL’s West Division for a fourth straight year but for the first time finished with a .500 record of 28-28.
Looking back on the season, first year Giants Manager Ray Brown knew his team was good enough to finish higher in the standings but it was a few games that they let slip away that ended up costing them in the end.
“There are some games that we gave away and some games that we lost and if we could go back and get those we would be in the playoffs,” said Brown whose team finished the year on a four game winning streak. “But overall, I’m pleased with my team, they gave me a good effort all year and I thank the city of Fort McMurray for supporting us all year.”
Every season has its ups and downs and this season was no different for the Giants. After a 1-4 start to the summer, the Giants battled to get back to the .500 mark and at the 38 game mark of the year had a 20-18 record. A six game losing streak followed and the Giants were never able to fully recover.
FRANCHISE RECORDS BROKEN
The Western Canadian Baseball League expanded their season from 48 games to 56 and with eight extra games, it gave a few Giants some opportunities to break a few franchise marks.
Tanner Hess who played in 52 games this season, the most of any Giants player, led the team with 63 hits and finished second on the club with 33 RBI. The previous high for hits in a season was 55 which was set by Max Hewitt in 2017 and Justin Bridgeman in 2016.
“Tanner Hess was a pleasure to have on our team. He comes from Victoria, BC, he had a good year in the CCBC and he comes to the field every day and he gives 100 percent. He knows how to play the game and he was a plus for our team,” said Brown of his every day first baseman.
Peyton Crispin led the team with a .331 batting average, finished second in hits behind Hess with 56 and broke the single season record for doubles (15) and triples (4 shared with Eric Meyer) by a Giant in a season.
Second year Giant Richard Ortiz who started the year on a 17 game hit streak, finished the year with a team high six homeruns and a franchise best 39 RBI’s (Max Hewitt 2017 & Liam Rihela 2018 had 38 RBI).
Then there was the diminutive speed demon Cam Sanderson from London, Ontario. Sanderson swiped 25 bases to blow the previous stolen base high of 14 out of the water. He also scored 40 runs which is a new franchise high.
As for the pitching staff, the Giants starting rotation was one of the best in the league as the Giants were able to send out Will Langford, Nik Cardinal, Ike Buxton, Tyler Hodder, Tucker Sorenson and Keith Manby.
All six pitchers continuously gave the Giants a chance to win game in and game out. Langford was an All-Star, starting 10 games and pitching 63 innings. The Cobourg, Ontario native had a 4-2 record and team high 51 strikeouts with a 3.14 ERA.
“He’s been one of our go to guys all season and I asked him before the game if he’d like this game and he said ‘yeah I‘d like to have this game.’ So, I said what three or four innings? And he said, ‘no I want the whole game’ and he’s earned that right.” said Brown with a laugh about Langford’s final start where he pitched a complete game in a 16-3 win over Yorkton.
Brown joked he had to pry Langford and Cardinal off the mound whenever he tried to pull them from games because of their competitiveness.
Cardinal, the longest serving Giant who has been with the club all four seasons, pitched the final inning of the Giants last regular season game and after recording the final out he and catcher Richard Ortiz shared a long hug in what was an emotional ending to the year.
“Ortiz and Cardinal it was pretty emotional for both those guys, they’ve been apart of this community for a really long time and I think they bleed black and orange,” said Brown on the moment.
FINAL GAMES VS YORKTON
The Giants finished off the season with a three game sweep of the lowly Yorkton Cardinals who finished the year with a 6-50 record. The Giants pumped them 20-0 and 16-3 on Monday in a double-header before concluding the series with a 10-4 win on Tuesday. The Cardinals arrived in Fort McMurray with just 14 players who all drove their own vehicles to get to the game.
The crowd at Legacy Dodge Field at Shell Place gave the Cardinals a round of applause at the end of the final game for their commitment and dedication to make the trip north.
“There might have been 14 guys who came up here but it just shows the character of the 14 guys who are out here on the field,” said Giants President and Owner Dutche Iannetti. “They drove their own vehicles up here to make sure they gave the Giants some baseball.”
Several community members stepped up to help the young Cardinal players who made the trip to Fort McMurray.
“Dan Lines picked up some steak sandwiches for them, Michelle Kennedy picked them up Boston Pizza, Northern Light Lunches fed them so it just goes to show what a great community Fort McMurray is.” said Iannetti.
“I went to their hotel and took them to the gas station and filled them all up with gas because that’s what we do in Fort McMurray. We appreciate what they did for us and I know they appreciate the way we took care of them while they were here.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2020
With their best season in franchise history now behind them, the Giants are looking to build on their success for the 2020 WCBL season.
“We want to put the best team on the field at all times and every year we critic what we did the year before and say what we can improve on and we do, so 2020 will be no different and we’ll start recruiting in September,” said Iannetti.
Brown hopes to return for a second season as Manager and build off his first season in Fort McMurray. The veteran coach says he enjoyed the opportunity to coach in such a great community and feels with a great owner like Iannetti, this will be a place that many players will want to play and be a part of such a great organization.
“No team in the league has an owner like Dutche Iannetti. He treats every single player like their his own son. He looks after them to the best of his ability, he goes on the road trips so he’s close to the players and the players are close to him,” said Brown.
“This is a great organization, they have a great place to play, they have the support of the community and this city deserves a champion and that’s going to be our focus for next year to bring Fort McMurray a championship.”