Fort McMurray Giants ready for aggressive season after mixed opening home games

Giants head coach Joe Ellison is optimistic in the team’s abilities this season. He’s aiming for 36 victories after last season’s 30 wins.

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The Fort McMurray Giants kicked off the season with a massive 13-3 victory against the Edmonton Prospects on Friday night at Legacy Dodge Field. But what began as a victorious season opener turned into a weekend of mixed fortunes as the Prospects won 6-5 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday.

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Joe Ellison, head coach of the Giants, said he is optimistic in the team’s abilities this season and is hoping for 36 victories. The opening weekend showed him the Western Canada Baseball League (WCBL) has lots of talent that the Giants will face.

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“From what I’m seeing around the league, there’s a lot of talent that we’re going to need to be prepared to meet every challenge we face,” said Ellison on Monday. “You put out that many hits and that many runs right out of the gate, and it’s very tough to come back and do.”

Ellison said he was proud of how aggressive the Giants fought on Saturday to nearly tie, and potentially win, the game. He said Sunday’s defeat was because of costly errors.

The team is short, but Ellison hopes to add more players by July. He believes the team will perform better once that happens, but he’s impressed with the fight he’s seen in them so far.

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“Last year we pitched really well although our offense was spotty. This year, we’re going to put the ball in play a little more and play faster,” he said after Friday’s victory.

Bryn Biemiller of the Fort McMurray Giants pitches during the home opening game at Legacy Dodge Field on May 24, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Bryn Biemiller of the Fort McMurray Giants pitches during the home opening game at Legacy Dodge Field on May 24, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

The current roster is a mix of veterans from last year’s season and rookies. Some players on this year’s roster did not play a lot during school this past year, so Ellison says they’re getting back into the swing of things.

Last year, the Giants were swept in the first round of playoffs by the Okotoks Dawgs. The Giants finished the 2022-23 season with 30 wins and 26 losses.

Ellison is also thrilled with the public turnout. More than 3,500 people came out for the entire weekend, which Ellison says was 20 per cent of last season’s total attendance. Saturday was light because the game was scheduled during the Edmonton Oilers’ playoff game against the Dallas Stars, but Ellison is hoping more people will come out.

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“One of the most exciting things was seeing the ballpark filled tonight. Hopefully people want to come out every single night we’re here and the guys play. Hopefully we get better and better as we go,” he said.

Mix of veteran, rookie players returning this year

This is Ellison’s second summer as head coach. His past experience includes being the recruiting coordinator for the McPherson College Bulldogs in Kansas. He was nominated for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Ball Assistant Coach of the Year in 2023.

He also spent 13 years with the Ontario Blue Jays as pitching coach, pitching coordinator, recruiting coordinator, baseball operations director and general manager.

Ellison, who is from Mississauga, Ont., has also welcomed three new coaches to the Giants. They include hitting coach Nathan Robl, pitching coach Alex Escobar and bench coach Nico Saldias.

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Jaden Wiley of the Fort McMurray Giants slides into home during the home opening game at Legacy Dodge Field on May 24, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Robl competed for McPherson College and went on to become a coach in 2021. Escobar is a former pitcher for McPherson College and was starting pitcher for the Giants last summer. Saldias is a veteran of the Ontario Blue Jays. He has pitched in two summer collegiate circuits and for Connors State College in Oklahoma and Saint Xavier University in Chicago.

Returning athletes include Bryn Biemiller, Bryn Biemiller, Ethan Pittman, Ethian Mayuk, Gage Ninness, Jayden Shafer, Joe Finder, John Shields, Lincoln Fugle, Max Stagg, Matt Whitney, Michael Buckley, Michael Szpak, and Rob Schmidt.

Newcomers include Adam Thuss, Benicio Diaz, Braden Iannetti, Chan Yoon, Corey Morro, Cruz Oxford, Darcy Barry, David Benitez, Ethan Pittman, Jaden Wiley, Jakob Brandenberger, Jason Maldonado, Keith Manby, Liam Watt, Mack Mitchell, Manny Alberto, Peyton McDowall, Phoenix Johnson, Broc Selstrom, Ryan Wells, Trevor Syer, and Jun Ho Son.

Mayuk, Szpak, Iannetti and Pittman are all from Fort McMurray.

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Jun Ho Sun and Joe Finder run towards third base during the home opening game at Legacy Dodge Field on May 24, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
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Members of the Fort McMurray Giants cheer during their weekend home opening game against the Edmonton Prospects at Legacy Dodge Field on May 24, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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