One for the Record Books
By IAN WILSON
It was a summer that set new standards in the Western Canadian Baseball League.
At the gates, the WCBL set attendance records as a league and for a number of individual franchises, including the Okotoks Dawgs, Sylvan Lake Gulls, Medicine Hat Mavericks, Fort McMurray Giants and Moose Jaw Miller Express.
In the standings, the Okotoks Dawgs reached a new level for team wins, with 43 victories in 56 games.
Hitters and pitchers across Alberta and Saskatchewan also set high-water marks in a number of statistical categories.
Shortstop Zach Campbell had a phenomenal season with the Moose Jaw Miller Express. The product of Warren, Ohio posted a .339 batting average and stole 12 stolen bases during 56 regular season games while batting leadoff atop the Miller Express lineup. Campbell set a WCBL record for runs scored, with 69, and he added another seven runs in eight postseason games to help lead Moose Jaw to the championship final against Okotoks.
Campbell, who suited up for the Miller Express in 2019 as well, was one of the players selected to represent the team at the 2022 WCBL All-Star Game & Home Run Derby in Okotoks.
“I loved the atmosphere playing at Ross Wells Park,” Campbell said after signing with the Saskatchewan club for a second summer of collegiate baseball action in Canada.
STOLEN BASE STANDARD
Braden DeSonia was another base path beast.
Late in the season, the versatile outfielder with the Medicine Hat Mavericks set his sights on the stolen base record of 40 swipes, which was established by Weyburn Beaver speedster Garrett Perez in 2019.
DeSonia tackled the feat with flair. The Spokane, Washington native stole five bases in the second-last game of the regular season to topple the record and then he added another pillow theft in the final contest to set the new standard at 42.
Adding to the excitement of the achievement was the fact that he did it in front of a home crowd at Athletic Park as the Mavs clinched a playoff spot and several of DeSonia’s relatives looked on.
“It was a really awesome experience to be able to do it at home and in front of my parents and family and it was just great, a lot of fun,” DeSonia told the Medicine Hat News.
In addition to having his Rickey Henderson moment, DeSonia led the circuit in hits (80) and at bats (230) while registering a .348 batting average, 42 runs batted in (RBI) and 49 runs. As well, he led the WCBL postseason in stolen bases, with four in five games.
KING OF Ks
Someone DeSonia knows all too well is Josh Tucker, a 6-foot-3 lefty pitcher who also grew up in Spokane.
The southpaw with the Sylvan Lake Gulls put together a magnificent season for the central Alberta squad.
Tucker went a perfect 6-0 during the regular season and posted a 2.23 earned run average (ERA) during 10 games, nine of them starts. In the playoffs, he also pitched well, going 1-1 with a 3.37 ERA and 16 Ks in 10.2 innings of work.
His most impressive quality on the mound was his ability to sit batters down via the strikeout. So good was Tucker at racking up Ks that he set a new record this summer by striking out 96 would-be hitters in 56.1 innings during the regular season.
Tucker also got to renew his competitive rivalry with DeSonia in 2022, both in Gulls-Mavs matchups and at the All-Star Game at Seaman Stadium.
PRO AT GETTING PLUNKED
It’s unclear if he could fill up the hit-by-pitch column at the same rate as Coach Ernie Pantusso, the fictional barkeep from the TV show Cheers, but Matt Wolff set a record that future WCBL players likely won’t try to beat.
The outfielder with the Brooks Bombers was hit by 33 pitches in 55 games this summer, more than double the amount of times that Austin Gurney was victimized by stray stitched balls. Gurney, an infielder with the Miller Express, was beaned 14 times in 2022, placing him in second place in the bruising hit-by-pitch category.
Nonetheless, Wolff took the plunkings – and the 2,970 feet of base path real estate that came with it – in stride.
“I don’t think I’m too much on the plate, I just never get out of the way … it’s just something that’s been ingrained in me my whole life,” Wolff told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, adding the worst of the bean balls caught him in the knee cap.
Pantusso would undoubtedly be proud of the achievement.
Alejandro Cazorla didn’t quite establish a new record this season, but he did tie one.
The speedy outfielder with the Okotoks Dawgs led the league in triples, making his way to third base on hits nine times.
No one was close to him in that statistical category this year. Historically, Cazorla shares the feat with Zach Lain, who smacked nine triples with the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets in 2013.
It’s worth noting that some of the new record-breaking achievements have been aided by the rebranding of the WCBL, which was announced in 2018. That move changed the name of the league from the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) to its current moniker, and it also increased the length of the regular season from 48 games to 56 contests for each WCBL club.
For a more complete list of WCBL records and achievements, scroll through our “About” web page.