WESTLOCK – The North Central Alberta Baseball League will not only crown a new champion in 2022 but see one of its storied franchises return to the diamond.
The NCABL kicks off its 55th-consecutive season May 10 when the Westlock Red Lions play host to the Fort Saskatchewan Reds at Keller Field in Game 1 of a 20-game regular season for the five-team league which lost the Edmonton Athletics, Edmonton Primeaus and the reigning back-to-back league champs, the Sherwood Park Athletics, over the offseason.
Following two years of COVID-19 and the associated struggles to craft a workable schedule, league commissioner Paul Riopel is looking forward to 2022. Rounding out the NCABL franchise roster are the Parkland Twins, who went 3-9 in 2021 and the Barrhead Orioles, whose are back following a five-year hiatus and will play their first home game May 11 when they’ll host the St. Albert Cardinals.
“It’s refreshing to be looking forward to a complete season in 2022. We were probably only one of the sports leagues in all of Alberta to go ahead with a season in 2020 and navigate all of the challenges of the COVID regulations,” said Riopel April 19.
“Our season is going to be shortened a little bit because of the number of teams, but we made sure each team has a solid, 20-game regular season. It will be a good season and start on time.”
While losing the Edmonton-area teams, especially Sherwood Park who won back-to-back NCABL titles in 2020 and 2021, is certainly a “disappointment” and a “major blow” Riopel said they’re happy to see Barrhead back, adding they’ll look to add more clubs in 2023 and beyond. The Red Lions, who went 7-0-1 in 2020 and 8-3-1 in 2021 but lost to Sherwood Park in the league championship both years, will face the Orioles May 24 in Barrhead.
“Admittedly the number of teams is a bit thinner than what we had hoped for, but we think the quality of baseball will be every bit as strong and maybe a tad stronger. We feel confident that we can ramp it back up, attract a few more franchises and fill in those vacancies in the years to come. I’d like to see the league at seven or eight franchises, but five will suffice for now,” said Riopel.
“But the return of the Barrhead Orioles makes us very, very happy. And hopefully the rivalry between the Red Lions and Orioles will resume and that will be really great for that area. This Orioles team will be young and vibrant and I’m happy so see the youth movement in Barrhead.”