The weather Monday afternoon didn’t exactly scream “Play ball!”
Hoodies, toques and hands jammed into pockets were a common sight at Lloyd Nolan Yard, but it didn’t stop the new and returning members of the Prairie Baseball Academy from taking the field in anticipation of another Canadian College Baseball Conference season.
For new PBA recruit Aaron Gardner, another weather trend typical of southern Alberta greeted the centre fielder from North Vancouver.
“It’s definitely a change, there’s tons of wind, so got to get used to that a little bit more,” said Gardner as the pitchers took their turns on the mound, getting in a few throws under the watchful eyes of the coaches and the radar gun. “This is a new field, new place and new teammates. I don’t know anyone, so it’s a little bit of a surprise. They all seem like a bunch of great guys, talking to them and getting to know them. Everybody is super friendly and saying ‘hi’ and socializing. Seeing all the players do all the rundowns. It’s looking pretty good. It’s nice to be here.”
Gardner arrives in time for Year 24 at the PBA.
“We had an orientation meeting upstairs and registered,” said PBA head coach Todd Hubka. “Our president and academic adviser talked and introduced the coaches. We came out on the field and we’re kind of doing a pro workout today. The pictures get to throw live off the bump. We’ll do some hitting after this and then enjoy some cheeseburgers and corn on the cob.”
A total of 58 players are on the roster for the coming year.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Hubka. “We look really athletic when we were running earlier and our in-and-outs looked really good. I think we’re a lot more athletic than we were last year.”
While Gardner gets used to his new surroundings, third baseman and Regina product Tyler Arnold returns for his third year at the PBA.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “It’s been slightly different every year coming back but always exciting. Last year we had a whole lot more guys, but looking around this year, it looks like we’ll have a pretty good squad.”
The PBA’s run of seven straight CCBC titles ended in May when the team went 0-5 at the championship in Kamloops.
“We learned, it meant a lot,” said Arnold. “We come back hungry and want to go out there and prove that we’re still the best and make sure that we can prepare the best we can to hopefully get back to that chance, not just hope and expect to get back to the championship game.”
Gardner joins in the PBA in time to help them get back to another championship title.
However, the first-year player does so recovering from an arm injury he sustained twice while playing with the Coquitlam Reds of the British Columbia Premier Baseball League.
“This is the first time I’ve really been out into baseball situations,” said Gardner. “It’s feeling a lot better, for sure. It’s going well and feeling good.”
The Reds missed the final-four of the BCPBL, but Gardner tipped his hat to the guidance he received that ultimately has him Alberta-bound.
“You couldn’t really ask for anything more. Our coach Jim Chapman is an amazing man and our assistant coach Jeff Honeysett is amazing, just super guys. Jim is a super knowledgeable and is an ex-scout for the Dodgers and Giants. So he definitely knew what he was talking about in recommending me to coach Hubka.”
The PBA will be hosting St. Francis Xavier Saturday and Sunday at 1:00pm and 11 a.m., respectively. The games will be split-squad and take place at both Lloyd Nolan Yard and Spitz Stadium.
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