BARRHEAD – Regardless of whether or not the Barrhead Orioles make the playoffs, their season has been a success.
That is what North Central Baseball League (NCABL) commissioner Paul Riopel told the Barrhead Leader before the final series of games that would determine whether the St. Albert Cardinals or the Orioles would grab the final playoff spot.
The NCABL is a senior ‘AA’ amateur baseball league established in 1968 that traditionally has between 10 and 12 teams, a notch or two below single ‘A’.
The Leader reached out to Riopel to ask what the tie-breaker would be if the teams remained deadlocked at the end of the regular season.
For the Orioles to make the playoffs, must win their final game against Fort Saskatchewan on Aug. 9 against the Reds and hope St. Albert loses its final game, also against the Reds on Aug. 8.
As of Aug. 7, the Cardinals and Orioles remain tied in the standings with five wins.
"I am really pleased to have a team from Barrhead back in the NCABL," he said. "They are a very young group, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do next year."
Riopel added that it is rare for a first-year team to make the playoffs and that the squad led by manager Chase Visser did well to be able to bring the franchise back into the league.
"I just hope they don't get discouraged," he said, noting some of the Oriole's losses were on the lopsided side.
Although Barrhead has had a long history in the NCABL, it has not been in the league for extended periods.
However, he said, they have a strong nucleus of young players, who did very well, especially considering that the majority, due to the pandemic, had not played for two or three years."
Riopel added he could see the Orioles becoming one of the league's stronger teams, saying they were hampered not only by their inexperience but by a "thin bench."
He said in a competitive league, such as the NCABL, teams need to have a roster of 14 or 15 players.
"When you go into games with only 10 or 11 players, you don't have the manoeuvrability to make changes during the game that benefit you or the depth on the mound," he said.
Riopel suggested that the Orioles would benefit from more experienced leadership.
"Don't get me wrong, the young players worked very hard to get this franchise off the ground and into the books, and I compliment young Chase Visser (Orioles manager and one of the governors), but I think it would be of great benefit to have some of the old guard, come back," he said. "Not to play, but serve as managers, coaches and mentors."
Riopel reiterated that the majority of the Orioles' players have been out of baseball since they finished AA Midget (U18), and thus having experienced players would help their development.
He said over the 55-year history of the league, Barrhead has had some powerhouse, dominant teams, and many of those players are still in the community.
"If they want to go onto the next level they have to borrow from the expertise that is in Barrhead that have played in previous decades to get this young team on its feet," Riopel said.
Riopel said he hopes other communities like Barrhead will decide to come back into the NCABL fold, noting that the 2022 season had the fewest teams in the league's long history.
Although the Orioles have had a long history in the league, until this season, the last time Barrhead fielded a team was in 2017.
"I would like to sustain and grow baseball in rural Alberta, where the league was born," he said. "In the last decade or two, we've morphed into an urban, suburban league, with the rural teams dwindling constantly," he said. "We need to rebuild the league, and to do that, we need teams like the Orioles and Westlock's Red Lions."