After the Delisle Pride U23 fastball team captured bronze during an eventful week in Ontario last year for nationals, their 2023 season got off to just as bumpy of a start.
Last year it was just their equipment that failed to make the trip out east, but this time around the entire team had their travel plans effected.
They were forced to pivot bigtime, and manager for the Pride Wade Harris did his best to describe their trip out west to Kelowna, BC for the annual "May Days" tournament.
"We had discussion on whether or not we wanted to cancel and try to get a refund beforehand, but we were hoping it would get solved before we were supposed to leave Thursday morning," said Harris, as the Pride just can't catch a break when it comes to travelling. "We got an email on Wednesday afternoon saying that our flight had been cancelled. That was about 3:30 PM, and by 6 o'clock we had arranged three rental cars and got everybody loaded up and headed out."
Even with the travel nightmare, Harris was happy to see everything work out.
"It was a little different than we were anticipating, but we got out and it was a good weekend, so it was lots of fun."
The team made it as far as Calgary the first night, with a good stretch of kilometres still left to go if they wanted to make their Thursday exhibition in Kelowna.
They might have had bus legs, but the team jumped out to a good start according to Harris as they played a local all-star team to get back into the swing of things. The Pride managed to get a practice in afterwards on Friday and locked in for the games ahead.
"It turned out better than we expected. We were a lot more prepared, and a lot more ready to go than we thought we would be."
The junior aged team has faced some good talent over the years. As mentioned in 2022 they claimed bronze at U23 Nationals, and in both 2019 and 2016 they won silver at the U19 and U16 levels respectively. This tournament presented a different animal being of the club variety. The May Days tournament is an International Softball Congress sanctioned event, as Delisle gained points towards future ISC events.
No stranger to the increased competition, Harris talked about just what they were up against in the first game on Friday night.
"We played the Sooke Loggers out of BC. They would probably be I would guess the number three ranked team in Canada. Their first four batters play on the men's national team."
They would drop the opening game 2-0 while leaving a bounty of runners on base, but it was a good look into what they were getting into.
"It was a lot of the top men's teams, and a lot of them paid players. One of the team's there actually has a budget of about $500,000... We are looking at working on a budget of $30,000 to $40,000."
They brought in imports themselves to help out with the high level of competition. They added Ontario pitcher Ty Sebastian who was a 'menace on the mound' and is also a member of the men's national team. Brian Banner was another important addition who swung the bat well.
Not for a lack of trust, Harris explained why they brought in the extra talent.
"Just to make it a little more competitive. Our pitchers were deep at the junior level. I would put our pitching staff up against anyone in Canada at the junior level, but that men's level especially at that level of elite, our guys are going to need a couple years to be (facing stuff like that)."
The team's next game would come against the 40+ Grande Prairie Masters. The Pride won that game 13-4, moving them into a Sunday morning matchup against the Irma Tigers. Harris shared that the Tigers were the Canadian Junior Men's National champions back in the day, and the team now in their early 30's is still playing together at a high level. Delisle would drop that one 5-4 in extra innings.
That incredible game helped win over some of the Kelowna locals according to Harris.
"(They) had really taken a liking to our team. Just as far as how they carry themselves, how they hustle on and off the field, and they just couldn't believe the talent level for a junior men's team."
Their final game of the tournament was also close against another top men's team in the country in the Grande Prairie Pirates. Leaving the bases loaded at one point they knew the opportunity to win was within grasp, but they had to settle for a 4-3 final.
"1-3 record doesn't sound great, but we are starting the season way ahead of where we did last year by gaining this experience and we are quite excited for the rest of the year ahead." said Harris.
The Pride did earn points towards the ISC qualifiers where they would be taking on even more top talent. Although they don't have any intentions to attend the men's tournament this year, Harris did share that an ISC official gave them an invite to next year's qualifiers in Surrey, BC.
"They just want to showcase some young up and coming talent at that tournament, and they thought our team would be one they really want to get behind."
Feeling more serious every year, the Pride went hard this offseason to secure a major sponsor based out of Saskatoon.
"The owner is an old softball player that still loves the game and has kind of fallen in love with our team, so they are backing us, and we are going to try and boost our roster for ISC's next year. Make it more competitive so we can compete with the big dogs."
Maybe the Pride stick together and make ISC play a possibility into the future, but this year they already have their top goal in mind with the U23 Men's Canadian Fastpitch Championships in Saskatoon this August.
"We are hosting junior nationals this year in Saskatoon, August 2-6. We will have teams from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, probably three from Ontario, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, all the best young players in the country. We are excited to host that."
This being their last year before entering the men's ranks, the Pride are still chasing the ever-elusive gold medal, hoping a weekend at home is all it takes. They have had success at the event as mentioned earlier.
"It's going to be exciting, and we are excited for the rest of the season."
The team from May Days will be a little different without their stud imports. Harris says that a few additions will be made to that team compared to last year's bronze medalists. One more kick at the can this year brings an exciting opportunity for the Delisle Pride to chase down the gold medal that has been evading them for years.
The Pride's first matter of business will be getting ready to go for Saskatoon in early August, but first up this weekend there will be a few exhibition games being played in their hometown.
It was originally set to be a tournament, changing into a round robin event that will kick off with the Saskatoon Angels taking on the Saskatoon Diamondbacks at 10:00 AM.
The Pride will play host for the first game, before back-to-back matchups against the Angels and Diamondbacks at 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM.
A booth will be available for drinks and snacks. Make the first weekend of June a good one by checking out the Delisle Pride in action this weekend.