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Strong play from Bonnyville Braves

The first annual Extravaganza baseball tournament swung through Bonnyville over September's long weekend. Bonnyville Braves head coach and tournament co-ordinator Fred Cardinal said the weekend was an “absolute success.
Pitcher Nikolas Cardinal shows off his fastball, pitching for the Bonnyville Braves at the Extravaganza Tournament, which took place here in Bonnyville Sept. 3 – 5.
Pitcher Nikolas Cardinal shows off his fastball, pitching for the Bonnyville Braves at the Extravaganza Tournament, which took place here in Bonnyville Sept. 3 – 5.

The first annual Extravaganza baseball tournament swung through Bonnyville over September's long weekend. Bonnyville Braves head coach and tournament co-ordinator Fred Cardinal said the weekend was an “absolute success.”

The Extravaganza ball tournament showcased the best baseball players aged 13 and 14 in all of Alberta. Scouts, evaluators and even coaches attended this tournament in order to select the top athletes for a high calibre camp next spring, followed by the Western Canada Summer Games next August.

Cardinal said there was an abundance of talent at the tournament. “There are probably four or five boys from each team with the ability to be selected for next spring's camp.”

That talent on display was obvious, with some of the games being defensive gems and other games showcasing the offensive skills on hand. The Bonnyville Braves battled their way to a 2-1 record in the round robin before running into a couple hot pitchers in the bronze medal game and losing to Red Deer by a score of 18-6. The game was actually tied 6-6 after the first inning, but Red Deer saved their best pitchers for last, stifling Bonnyville's bats the rest of the way.

Despite the loss, Cardinal said the boys played great ball the entire tournament. They lost their first game by just one run to the top team, the Spruce Grove White Sox. Bonnyville saw a momentum shift in their second game, being down 8-6 after the fourth inning, then exploding for 15 runs to mercy Fort McMurray after five innings. According to Cardinal, the Braves “really started to gel” in their final game of round robin play. They showed good defence and solid pitching and added a few timely hits to beat Kirriemuir 10-0.

The very strong Spruce Grove White Sox swept their round robin games, going 3-0, before finishing the tournament unbeaten. They won the gold medal game on Sunday, beating the Okotokes Dawgs by a score of 9-1.

There was also an educational component to this tournament. The boys and their parents were treated to a banquet and several great guest speakers on the Saturday night. The speakers presented the boys with different opportunities and new possibilities in baseball and spoke of the importance of maintaining a balance between education and baseball.

Cardinal said, “this is important for kids this age because you want them to be receptive and capture that knowledge before it's too late.”

One of the guest speakers was former Texas Ranger draft-pick and local product Reggie Rivard. Rivard is currently playing baseball with the Calgary Vipers of the Golden League but knows the importance of delivering these messages to kids at this age, because he went through the system himself. Cardinal said it was really generous of Rivard to take time from his schedule to come speak at the tournament.

Although the educational portion of the tournament is very important, it was apparent that all the boys were excited to get out on the field and play ball. “You could tell the boys were very excited and a bit nervous before the first game,” Cardinal said. “But all that nervousness went out the door once the first game started.”

With so much talent at the tournament the coaches had a difficult time organizing playing time, but they managed. Cardinal said he was able to get “every player an opportunity to play at their number one or number two position.” This allowed the boys adequate time to showcase their own skills.

Just like organizing playing time, Cardinal said organizing the tournament was difficult, but with all the help he received from the town, volunteers and C2 staff they managed to pull off a great tournament. “The tournament was very well organized, we received lots of compliments from coaches and players…kudos to the volunteers, they did a great job.”