Built on speed and pitching, the Kelowna Falcons have assembled a roster they believe can make a legitimate run at the 2011 West Coast League title.
The 33-man list features seven Canadian-born players, including Kelowna’s Graham Drope.
An eighth Canadian has been offered a 10-day contract and will be given the opportunity to make the ball club.
The club will carry 15 pitchers and 18 positional players, including four of the best athletes from the UBC Thunderbirds.
To add to the Canadian flavour the Falcons have hired Al Cantwell as the new head coach. Cantwell was born in Saint John, New Brunswick and grew up in Calgary. He becomes the eighth head coach in franchise history and first Canadian since 2005. Cantwell has spent the last four seasons coaching the C.E. Byrd High School Yellow Jackets in Louisiana.
The pitching coach will be Lloyd Gage from Murray State College in Oklahoma.
Along with the eight Canadians, the Falcons have recruited nine players from California, two from Oregon and two players each from the baseball hotbeds of Louisiana and Texas.
For the first time in franchise history the Falcons will feature two players from San Diego State University, a team coached by Major League Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
Three other schools are sending players north for the first time—Cornell University, Louisiana State University-Shreveport (LSUS) and the University of Illinois.
Like last season the majority of Falcons will come from Division One schools in the NCAA, including three more players from the University of California, Davis. Last season Dayne Quist from UC Davis was named the WCL Pitcher of the Year.
“We’re really excited and like our chances,” said Falcons general manager Mark Nonis. “We have a ton of speed and really good pitching, I know we’ll be a very exciting team to watch this summer. I’ve always wanted to get more Canadians on this team, but up until this year the talent and skill has been tough to find. The four players from UBC will be a big part of our team.”
The Thunderbirds were ranked fifth in the nation for most of the year in the NAIA.
Pitcher Jared Mortenson from Abbotsford was 9-1 this year and helped LSUS to the championship round in playoffs.
“Ryan Paterson from Duncan is on a 10-day contract and Graham Drope from Kelowna and Kelly Norris-Jones from Victoria should help to add to our success,” added Nonis.
Players and coaches will start to arrive in Kelowna on May 30, with the first official practice on June 2.
The Falcons begin the 2011 baseball season on the road June 3 in Bellingham before their traditional free home opener on Friday, June 10 against the Langley Blaze.