For the Moose Jaw Miller Express and other teams in the Western Canadian Baseball League, it’s a touch earlier than that.
Like before Christmas. If not earlier.
Such is the way things have to be when you have college and university players looking to find a place to play in the summer, with their winter teams often playing a role in how things shake out.
“Our roster has been together for quite awhile, we’re to the point that rosters have to be finalized sometime in November because schools are looking to place players for the summer sooner rather than later,” said Express general manager Cory Olafson.
“You’re going to have kids who get hurt or have to go to summer school or something like that and you’ll have a few spots to fill, but it’s mostly done by Christmas.”
That means things are already pretty much set for the local squad this summer at Ross Wells Park, and there will be a few familiar faces in the mix right off the bat.
Leading the way is Fredericton’s Blake Gallagher, who is currently playing with Colby Community College in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference after a stellar season on the mound, in the field and at the plate with the Express.
“Overall he was probably one of our most valuable guys last year, Olafson said. “Him and Logan Hoffman were our two power arms off the hill, plus he was our fairly regular second baseman and our most consistent hitter. So having him coming back is awesome.”
Gallagher hit .296 through the regular season, finishing second among players with more than 100 at-bats. He added two home runs and 14 runs batted in while drawing 16 walks.
On the mound, Gallagher pitched 15 innings of relief, striking out 20 to go along with a 4.80 earned run average.
Joining Gallagher from the rubber will be Nick Falco, currently a freshman with Fresno City Community College in the California Community College Athletic Association. Falco saw action in 18 games and pitched 35.2 innings with a 4.29 ERA, 39 strikeouts and 20 walks last season.
He’ll have a familiar batterymate behind the plate in Ty Barclay, the Wyoming, Ont. product currently in his junior season with Division II Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas.
Barclay hit .211 last season with 16 RBI and 19 walks while playing 32 games behind the plate.
Returning at shortstop will be Ty Lightley, who like Barclay played for Garden City Community College last season but moved on to Division II baseball for 2019, suiting up this spring with the Metropolitan State University of Denver Roadrunners.
Lightley hit .202 for Moose Jaw last season, with two doubles and eight RBI in 29 games. He recorded a .938 fielding percentage at short.
More veterans will be announced as opening day grows nearer, with Olafson confident in the team’s returning experience.
“Most of the guys who we’ve asked to come back are coming back, there’s a pitcher or two where their coaches are putting them on ice for the summer, but we have a handful of guys, a good core of guys who contributed to the team last year,” he said. “We know what we’re going to get out of those guys and we look forward to having them here again this summer.”
The Express kick off their regular season a little over a month from now, with their season opener at home against Melville on May 29.
Season tickets are currently on sale, with holders receiving 28 tickets to be used at any game. Packages cost $195 or $275 for club seating with a limited amount available.
To purchase tickets contact Cory Olafson at 306-631-8893 or Darryl Pisio at 306-630-8108 or contact the team at https://www.mjmillerexpress.com/contact