By Cole Parkinson
For Taber Times
While the Vauxhall Jets were able to get a handful of games in earlier this month, the weather has not been kind for baseball since. After opening the spring season with two wins against Prairie Baseball Academy —12-0 and 16-5 and a 9-4 win against the Calgary Bisons, the weather has denied them any chance of getting outside and into games.
Despite the wintery weather, the Jets still have plenty to look forward to this spring. After a long winter of training indoors, players are eager to get outside and put what they’ve learned.
“I think top to bottom, this group is — we maybe don’t have the high, high-end arm that we’ve had historically — but top to bottom, I think we’re as strong as we’ve been in a long time,” stated Les McTavish, head coach of the Jets. “They’ve worked hard, it’s been a tough winter. It’s been the toughest winter in a long time when it comes to weather and trying to get outside, and things of that nature, but they got after it. They got bigger, stronger, and faster, and saying they’re hungry right now is probably an understatement. We got teased a little bit, we got to go outside a couple of days in Lethbridge, but, the group as a whole can’t wait to get going and we’re excited to get out.”
Looking back at the first three games of the spring, there were plenty of positives considering it was the team’s first chance to get outdoors in 2023. Like any other first game of the spring, the Jets may not have played their best baseball of the year, but the results were encouraging. The real test has been the fact they haven’t been able to play any more games since due to the continued snow in late March.
“I thought we showed flashes of all facets of the ball. We didn’t hit as well on the Sunday, but the Saturday we swung the bats really well. We probably pitched a little better on Sunday. I thought for the first two days outside, playing three games, there was nothing that was a glaring weakness. But at the same time, I think there was room for improvement in a lot of areas. So, that was encouraging and we played three games in 24 hours, so that’s not easy to do. We’re pretty sore and stiff coming out of it, but, I think overall it was just a really good experience to see what we’ve got. Now you feel like you’ve been back inside long enough that you’re starting (things) over again.”
With former MLBer Ricky Romero in town for the VAB annual banquet earlier in March, that also led to a great discussion for the team. Any time the team can hear life experience of life as a major leaguer, it helps not only on the field but in all walks of life for the players.
“Ricky is a tremendous human being first and foremost. He shared his wisdom with not only the players but the people who attended the event. He met privately with our players prior to the event to talk a little bit more specifically on the baseball front. I can’t say enough about just who he is as a person. He was generous with his time,” continued McTavish.
Having known Romero for a little bit, McTavish knew that the former Blue Jay pitcher would be a hit in Vauxhall not only with the players but also for everyone in attendance.
“I’ve known Ricky for a little bit longer than just that weekend. He’s polite, he’s well-spoken, he’s very honest, he’s got a great story, and he’s an inspiration to a lot of people. He had the highs and he had some lows, but he’s extremely humble. I think we would all consider him kind of a friend of the program. We’ll see, we’ve been pushing him hard to see if he’d come and coach with us in Vegas next Monday. If the weather is not good in LA (Los Angeles), he might be in Las Vegas,” said McTavish with a chuckle.
Speaking of the trip to Las Vegas, it’s always a highlight for the program every year. And with the weather still blustery in southern Alberta, a trip down south to warm weather can’t come soon enough.
“I think everybody’s really excited. We open up (with) a really challenging game. Game one in Vegas is a team out of Cincinnati who’s a top ten team in the United States, and I believe it’s close to ten teams in the tournament are ranked in the top 100 teams in the U.S. When you start thinking about how many high school baseball teams are in the United States, we’re certainly going to get challenged and maybe a little bit behind the eight ball when it comes to (playing) outside. But I think we’re really excited and you just want to get going and win or lose, you just want to go play good baseball and represent our program, the community of Vauxhall, and the country of Canada,” said McTavish. “That’s what we always talk about — it’s not always about wins and losses, it’s about doing things the right way.”
While getting down to Vegas will certainly result in nice weather, the Jets had planned to play their way down south with stops in Idaho and Utah — but the weather might once again present a challenge.
“Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t look good. We’re supposed to play on the way down in southern Idaho and in Salt Lake City, and the weather doesn’t look good this Thursday and Friday, so we’ll see. All day today we were trying to revamp and possibly look at different schedules. So, it’s like a never-ending story. We’re going 12 hours south and the weather still isn’t good. I talked to our principal, Todd Ojala today, and he said ‘just keep driving south until it gets sunny.’ That’s probably our plan — we might end up in Mexico before we’re done to find warm weather,” added McTavish with a laugh.
The tentative schedule sees the Jets take on Twin Falls HS on March 30 for a doubleheader before taking on Lone Peak HS from Salt Lake City on March 31. Games in Las Vegas go from April 3-6.