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Play Ball: A Look Back at Fort McMurray Giants’ Inaugural Season

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The inaugural season for any club in any sport will bring about a number of challenges, although even a visit to the fortune teller by Fort McMurray Giants co-owner Dutche Iannetti wouldn’t have tipped him off to the challenges brought on by the wildfire.

“I believe we handled the situation fairly well. Under the circumstances that we were in, facing the wildfire, the evacuation, making a decision to open up our season at [The Ball Park] in Edmonton, the Prospects opened up their field to the Giants and allowed us to do that,” said Iannetti.

The Giants expansion season was supposed to start with a bang. A season opening game at the incomparable Shell Place against the reigning Western Major Baseball League champions, the Lethbridge Bulls. That game wouldn’t happen, instead just under a month before the start of the schedule Fort McMurray was swept up by wildfire, all of a sudden what promised to be a summer full of baseball was in jeopardy.

“Making that decision to go down there [Edmonton] and use it [Edmonton Ball Park] as our home field until such time as we were able to come back home was the right decision for sure.”

The Prospects saved the Giants’ season, allowing the team to play out of the Capital city until Fort McMurray was ready for the teams return.

“In seeing our home stand when we finally were able to come home back in June, seeing the fan support and really possibly with only fifty per cent of our city back. The support that they showed for the Giants organization […] was tremendous. I feel that the Giants are going to be here for a long time.”

The slow building crescendo of attendance at Giants games built until a four game home stand against the Brooks Bombers, the WMBL’s other expansion club. Fort McMurray won all four games leaving Shell Place rocking. Proving a point that Iannetti and many involved in the game already knew, Fort McMurray is a baseball town.

Not only was the proof of that in the stands but it was also on the field. A total of seven players born and trained in Fort McMurray closed the season on the Giants roster. The likes of Matt McPherson and Joshua Iannetti became every day players by years end, due to a mounting number of injuries.

“We coached those players all the way from tee-ball to Midget and to see their contribution to the Giants team this year, they’ve got to be very, very happy with their results. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure on them but our local boys did a tremendous job stepping up when we had a lot of injuries,” said Iannetti. “It just goes to show what a great organization we do have here in our community in the Fort McMurray Minor Baseball Association.”

Ryan Dunn, Tyler Hodder, Reagan Gillis and Daniel Morris were regulars either out of the bullpen or as part of the starting rotation by the end of the season while Gage Brebant and Taylor Sterner played support roles.

After finishing the year with a record of 16-32 falling short of the playoffs Iannetti is taking lessons learned from this season and already trying to improve the club for next year.

“It’s my first year being the Vice-President & General Manager of a baseball club, I really learned a lot about the players, the rest of the league and how they go about their business. It’s not a one man or a two man show, it’s the whole package that you really need from the marketing side, media side, your managers, coaches, players, so I’ve learned a lot from it.”

Iannetti is also hoping to continue to build a strong relationship with the Regional Recreation Corporation, owners of Shell Place. A solid bond between tenant and facility manager is important for any franchise, but the stakes are heightened when talking about a venue like Shell Place which is far and away the nicest ball diamond in the WMBL.

“We are the only show here in the community for Shell Place [baseball diamond] I think just working together with our team and their team we’ll have a lot of success.” Having the RRC buy into the club being a fixture in the community for a long, long time will be important moving forward.

The Giants are looking to play with more of a winning mentality next season, and for the General Manager, that starts with playing the right way. Expect to see some more small-ball at Shell Place next year.

“Team-wise, player-wise, I think if we want to be successful we need to put the proper coaching in place, we need to put the proper managers in place. We need to have the coaches that are going to have that mindset that it doesn’t matter if you’re the number one player on the team or the number nine player on the team, one through nine when the situations arise and there’s a bunting situation that’s what you need to do.”

There were times this season where the Giants were effective at playing small-ball, that’s usually when they were successful. Not only will a new approach at the plate hopefully help the club pick up many more wins, but finding some consistency on the mound will go a long way as well. Too many times this season Giants hurlers gave free passes to first base.

Dutche and his staff have many lessons still to be learned, but for him, it all starts with having a winning mentality.

“We’re going to take a look at the overall program that we put forward this year, we’re going to see what we can do better. Not make the same mistakes twice, because we want our organization here to be a great organization, we want to be a winning organization. We want to win the championship, to me it doesn’t matter if this was our first year and we’re going into our second year in 2017, we want to win a championship.”

It looks like Iannetti has Fort McMurray’s WMBL club poised to take a Giant step forward next season. 


Photos by Dan Lines & Sean McLennan