The players were six-feet apart, and there were no peanuts or hot dogs, but it was still 90-feet between the bases and real baseball being played when the Okotoks 18U Black Dawgs took the field last week at Seaman Stadium.
“It’s been weird this year, it certainly is not normal, but you have to work with what you’ve got — we’re just happy to be out here,” said Dawgs pitcher Matt “Tugboat” Wilkinson, a southpaw who gave up three hits over six innings in their 3-1 victory over the Calgary Bucks on July 15. “It felt good — all my pitches felt good.”
It was the first game for the Black Dawgs all season against a team that didn’t have ‘Dawgs’ across the players’ jersey.
The no. 3 team in North America in 2019, the Black Dawgs previous games were against Dawgs alumni or the Dawgs 18U Red squad.
However, the Dawgs haven’t been doggin’ it because of COVID-19.
“We’ve been working out for about two months now, so we are pretty much in game shape,” said Wilkinson, who graduated from Foothills Composite High School in June. “It sucks that we aren’t travelling and playing baseball, but with what’s going on in the world, this is about the best you can get.”
And it looked and smelled like baseball.
“The only thing we had to do is stand six-feet apart — and have fun,” Wilkinson said.
Shortstop Ricardo Sanchez, a recent grad from Holy Trinity Academy, was chomping at the bit for some real baseball.
“It’s good to be back out here — that’s what we want to do is play ball,” said Sanchez, who scored the WCBL championship run for the Okotoks College Dawgs in their win over the Regina Red Sox last August.
“It’s good to play another team that isn’t with the academy – we were all nervous a little bit.”
Not nervous about COVID, Sanchez said, but jitters about being between the lines.
Right fielder Alejendro Cazorla Granados said being six-feet apart from their teammates and not able to high-five and congratulate each other was difficult.
“Regulations are definitely different — we’re used to being a family out here,” Cazorla Granados said. “Being six-feet apart can be tough at times, but as long as we are playing I’m not complaining…
“Today kind of felt like opening day for us. Just coming out and being able to show everyone that we have worked so hard this winter.”
He credits the Dawgs Academy for establishing a safe program in the midst of the COVID-19 regulations.
As for the game, Cazorla Granados went 1 for 3 with a stolen base and a run scored.
In regards to lead offs, first basemen were asked to give a bit more space when runners were leading off.
However, the fleet-footed Dawg said it wasn’t a COVID-jump that earned him the stolen bag.
“I like to think the speed part of it was what helped me get that stolen base,” Cazorla Granados said with a chuckle.
Making sure the Dawgs were getting the proper signs and the proper distancing was coach Helldobler.
“We have been playing in house for three weeks now, and I know this game meant a lot to our guys,” Helldobler said. “The one good thing about playing within the academy is the talent. The (Okotoks 18U) Red team is going to be one of the best teams in Western Canada, but it is nice to play other competition.”
He said the toughest part was his players were too amped up for the opening-day-like atmosphere.
In the most important aspect of the academy — education — the winning ways will continue.
The Dawgs Academy has been able to land college scholarships for all of its graduates.
However, the program directors had to think out of the box this season now that the Dawgs aren’t in elite tournaments in North America and being eyeballed live by scouts.
“When COVID started we started going with Instagram live video with our players’ every-day workouts,” Helldobler said. “We have been livestreaming our games for college coaches in the States. That’s been huge for us because we haven’t been able to travel to the States.”
He said all of the 2020 graduating seniors with the academy have the opportunity to play post-secondary baseball, pending restrictions due to COVID-19.
The Dawgs Academy teams played a trio of double-headers July 14-16 against the Bucks at Seaman Stadium.
The results were:
July 14: Okotoks 18U Red Dawgs 10 Calgary Yellow Bucks 0; Okotoks 18U Red Dawgs 11 Yellow Bucks 0.
July 15: Okotoks 18U Black Dawgs 3 Calgary Bucks Black 1; Okotoks 18U Black Dawgs 10 Bucks Black 9.
July 16: Okotoks 16U Dawgs 17 Bucks White 7; Okotoks 16U Dawgs 16 Bucks White 7.
For more information about the Dawgs Academy go to dawgsacademy.ca