The St. Albert Cardinals are reloading with young guns in hopes of triggering a winning season in the Norwest Midget AAA Baseball League.
Among the 10 newcomers on the 17-man roster are six graduates of the St. Albert bantam AAA program. They are joined by seven returnees in their second or third year of midget AAA from last year’s sixth-place 15-16 Cardinals.
“We look pretty good. We’re a lot better than last year,” said pitcher/shortstop Tanner Karpinski. “We have a bunch of new guys and the returning guys got a lot better in the offseason so it should be a good year.”
Field Manager C.J. Jayasekera is excited to start the season with the team the coaching staff has assembled.
“We have very committed individuals who have been doing the preparation work in the offseason,” said the New Zealand baseball product. “We have guys who are part of the Prospects Academy and the year round program in St. Albert, as well as the SFX Academy. They are year-round athletes committed to the triple-A mindset.”
Last year the Cardinals finished the season with fewer players than they started with.
“We had adversity. Some players opted out partway through the season from the program but now we have 17 players very committed at this stage,” Jayasekera said.
The Cardinals will be led by a deep pitching rotation.
“Our strength is in our pitching. We have about a dozen guys who can come out of the pen,” Jayasekera said. “The youth of the team and the energy they bring is another strength. We also have a very, very athletic population.”
This is Jayasekera’s third straight year as the midget AAA dugout boss.
“I don’t count my success by wins and losses, it’s how we go about things every day in making the guys become better individuals by the end of the four months with us. If we achieve these life skills and baseball skills I think we’re going to have a chance to be successful every day on the field,” said the technical director for St. Albert minor baseball. “It’s a process. As an association introducing the year round programming and working close together with the other academies has helped expose our programming. It gives kids the opportunity to prepare themselves, especially when they get to the 16-18 age group and they want to be very competitive.”
Jayasekera’s first season at the helm the Cardinals finished 7-25 for ninth place and failed to register a win at the performance Tier I provincials. Last year the Red Birds won two games at provincials as the seventh seed in the 11-team draw.
“We got better progressively every year and this is probably going to be the best year we’ve had hopefully,” said Karpinski, a third-year Cardinal.
The 17-year-old righty was expected to start tonight’s home opener against SEEBA 1 at Legion Memorial Park but the game has been rescheduled. The Grade 12 student at the SFX Academy posted a 5-3 record and 4.40 ERA while striking out a team-high 39 batters in 47.2 innings pitched in league play.
“I’ve worked on a little off-speed pitch, a change up. I got in a few bullpens at SFX so I’m feeling pretty good, said Karpinski, who hit .319 in 72 at-bats and drove in 17 runs.
Sunday afternoon marked the first outdoor session for the Cardinals at Legion park.
“Half of the team is away at the moment because they’re part of the Prospects Academy,” Jayasekera said of their weekend swing through southern Alberta. “But it’s still a chance for us to go out and see some balls off the bat and get a feeling of being outside and soak up some sun.”
Saturday, weather permitting, the Cardinals host the Okotoks Dawgs White at 1 and 4 p.m.