Bantam AAA returns to Ridge

Top tier baseball squad has sights set on 2011 season

An important rung in the Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball Association’s development ladder is back this season as the Royals will be fielding a top-tier bantam AAA baseball team for 2011.

Last season the local baseball association opted not to field a AAA team at the bantam level, instead running a bantam AA team.

Bantam AAA is the springboard to the elite B.C. Premier Baseball League, and Royals general manager Peter Francis says he’s happy to be a part of the team’s return.

“To be honest, it was extremely disappointing not to have a bantam AAA team last year, especially when we didn’t make the provincials at AA,” he said. “Hopefully we can bring some structure to the program.”

Along with Francis, who played college ball with Douglas College, is head coach Kyle Lukacs, and assistants Jamie Head, Dayne Chabot, Derrick Hansval, and Louie Bocolas, all of whom are just a few years removed from playing with the RMMBA.

Francis said he expects the young coaching staff the association has put in place to be around for some time.

“I think what’s lacking has been that continuity,” he said.

The team itself is made up of seven second-year bantam players from the AA and A ranks, as well as five bantam rookies, and an import from Surrey, pitcher Graham Bailey.

Starting on the mound will be right-handers Bailey and Brendan Halstrom, and lefties Kyle Ross and Colin McMaster.

“Having two lefties in the starting rotation helps us,” said Francis. “We’ll be able to show teams something they haven’t seen before.”

Matt Johnson, Andre Pelletier, and McMaster can be relied upon for hitting the long ball, while Devon Bird will be making the transition from outfield to second base.

The team has already been rained out five times, and their only league game of the season so far saw them tie the undefeated Burnaby Braves 5-5.

Francis says he’s not too concerned about results at this point in the season.

“Right now it’s all about the process,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the structure in place.

If Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball Association ever want to land a senior B.C. Premier League franchise, success at the bantam AAA is a must, says Francis.

One of the biggest challenges is the huge commitment bantam AAA baseball poses for players accustomed to a summer season.

“We pretty much go year round,” says Francis. “After the season ends, there’s fall ball, and then we start our fitness sessions in December.”

Francis said he and the coaching have set the goal of qualifying for provincials, and at least making it to the semi-finals.

“Obviously we want a provincial title, and that’s not unrealistic,” he said. “But once you get to the semi-finals, at that point, anything can happen.”

• The 2011 Royals are Ryan Anderson, Graham Bailey, Kole Benard, Devon Bird, Nick Evans, Bayley Germaine, Liam Godfrey, Brendan Halstrom, Matt Jonsen, Colin McMaster, Andre Pelletier, Kyle Ross, Ben Stadnik, and Matt Whieldon.