They’re called the Alberta Oilmen‚ not the Lethbridge Oilmen.
With a roster consisting of players from Taber and spanning as far north as Grande Prairie, good luck slapping a hometown moniker on the Alberta Oilmen men’s softball team.
But since forming over 10 years ago, the Oilmen have mined a good name for themselves with six straight provincial titles and a national title last year that they’ll head to Fort McMurray from Aug. 10-16 to defend.
Not too shabby for a team spread out all over the Wild Rose Country that coordinates its schedule as well as travel and holiday plans in the off-season to accommodate another summer on the diamond.
“We have a few guys that have been here a little over 10 years and we’ve just kind of added pieces as we go along,” said Jeff Zanolli, a Taber product who has been with the team since its inception in 2002.
“We’ve got guys from all over the province, from Taber all the way up to Grande Prairie and every place in between. It really is a provincial roster and that’s how we treat it. We have two guys from Grande Prairie, two from Edson, some from Edmonton and some from Calgary. We get together four or five times a year to play. We all travel, it’s a huge commitment. Everyone takes their holiday time to go play.”
Fortunately, the southerners and the northerners have been able to meet in the middle.
“All the other tournaments are in Sherwood Park or Stony Plain or up by Edmonton,” said Zanolli. “It’s actually not bad. For us, it’s about a four-and-a-half hour trip and for them it’s the same.
“On these weekends when it’s down here and they have to come down, it’s a big commitment. In the winter we talk to everybody and lay out what the schedule is going to look like. They book their holidays and commit and get ready to go. It’s what we do.”
The results have spoken for themselves with six straight provincial titles and a national championship last summer in Leduc that the Oilmen will now head north to Fort McMurray next month to defend.
Having returned from playing college baseball in Texas in the summer of 2001, Zanolli played league baseball with some friends.
“We started our own team the next season and it’s been going ever since then. I was 22-years-old when that happened and now I’m getting a little bit older and have been playing for a while and it’s still fun every time we come out,” said Zanolli, who will turn 34 next week.
“My brother (Josh) and I started it and wanted to play and run a team and not just be players on a team and choose who we want to play with and build toward something. Our goal was always to be the provincial champion.”
However, those provincial championships weren’t immediate.
“It took us six tries to do it and we finally got over the hump and we haven’t looked back,” said Zanolli, whose team won its first provincial title in 2008 in Lethbridge. “And once you win the provincial championship, we now have to re-set your goals and we wanted to be the national champion. We got over that hump last year. It’s very fulfilling. It’s what we choose to do with our time and our money. We take time away from our families, so when you accomplish goals and win those championships, it’s very rewarding, especially with your friends.”
Zanolli looks back fondly on that first provincial title six years ago.
“I just remember it was such a huge relief because we had worked so hard for so long,” he said. “We finished second and third and just couldn’t quite get over the hump and then we put ourselves in good shape going into Sunday like we did here and we just played great that last day.
“I played shortstop then and I know I caught the last ground ball that game and I’ll never forget that. It was pretty rewarding. A lot of guys had put in a lot of years at that time.”
The focus for the Oilmen today will be their seventh straight provincial title, but Zanolli took a sneak peek to next month as the Oilmen head to the tar sands to defend their national title.
“Absolutely, we feel great,” he said. “We have most of the team back and made a couple of other changes that we think make us better. The tournament is long. You’re there for a week and you play 11 round-robin games and then playoffs. It’s a war.
“We think there’s no reason we’re not going to be right there at the end of it. That’s our plan, to put ourselves in position to win the championship. I think we’ve got as good a chance as anybody.”