The Elmwood Giants have come close in the last two Western Canada Senior AA Baseball Championships, winning silver medals both times.
Now they’ll have a chance to one-up themselves in front of a friendly crowd as they welcome the 2012 event to Koskie Field from Aug. 23 to 26.
The Giants are the host club in the five-team event, while the Brandon All-Stars will represent Manitoba thanks to their victory in last summer’s provincial championship.
Mark Bullion, a 34-year-old from Whyte Ridge who pitches and serves as manager for the Giants, said the same core group of players will be in the Elmwood lineup for the third straight year.
"We’ve had some good showings in the past," Bullion said. "We won the provincials this summer… so it’s just a matter of keeping the momentum going this year at the westerns."
The Giants open their tournament against Team Manitoba on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., with the round robin continuing all day Friday and Saturday and the final (and any necessary tiebreakers) scheduled for Sunday.
The Elmwood team, which has added a few players to its roster for the tournament, ranges in age from 22 to 38. Bullion said in a short tournament, unlike a long regular season, every pitch can be crucial.
"We want to put our best lineup on the field every game," he said. "We need strong outings from pitchers, as a team we need to play strong defence, and we need to get hits when we get guys on base."
The Giants lost 1-0 to the eventual-champion Trail (B.C.) Orioles last year, so they know one play can make the difference. (Trail will be returning this year to defend its title.)
"We expect all the teams to be real competitive," Bullion said. "B.C. always brings a real strong team. They have some players with pro experience."
Those thoughts are echoed by Bryan Hodgson, the host committee chair, who has been preparing for the event for close to a year.
"People are going to see some really good baseball that will surprise them somewhat," said Hodgson, who has a team of about 50 volunteers. "We’ve had the parents of ball boys stick around after a game and say that this is as good as pro ball."
Making things more exciting for organizers and spectators alike is the narrowing gap between B.C., the event’s traditional power, and the rest of the provinces.
"The last few years the games are closer," Hodgson said. "The scores are closer and some of the other provinces have a little more balance now."
Tournament passes are available for $20, while daily passes are $10 and tickets to the Thursday night opener are $5. Children 12 and under will be admitted for free.
For a complete schedule, visit www.wcbaseball.ca and click on Senior AA.