By SEAN ROONEY on June 12, 2019.
A couple new faces in the Medicine Hat Mavericks’ lineup gave the team a quicker, even more experienced look this past week.
With Julien Ly likely out for the season after a disastrous collision in centre-field June 3, the team got a replacement in Freddy Walker who’s already stolen eight bases in his first five games.
“Leadoff guy, real fast, I hit for contact, not really a big power guy but I like to get on, use my speed and steal some bases,” said Walker, who finished his senior season at Tabor College in Kansas and was recommended by returning Mavs pitcher Evan Sutta. “This is another opportunity to keep playing. That’s all you can hope for, play until it’s your last game, and you don’t know when that’s going to be. Fifty games out here, it’s going to be fun.”
Walker and fellow Californian Austin Sojka have been slotted in the top two spots in the batting order since their respective arrivals, producing plenty of offence for a team that is still finding its identity. Sojka, also a graduating senior, wound up with 2018 Mavs coach Andrew Murphy’s team at Oklahoma Weseleyan to finish his college ball and has played infield – though he admits he’s happy to play anywhere the team wants him.
“I’m just going to try to contribute to the team, whatever they need,” he said. “First time out of the country. Canada’s been very fun, I heard only good things about Medicine Hat before coming here. It’s been everything everyone has said it (would be).”
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Medicine Hat went 4-2 on its longest trip of the summer, still above .500 as the team is home for a couple days. They host Brooks tonight, then head to Weyburn for three games before coming home Sunday to begin a home-heavy stretch.
“I’m happy to be home, first and foremost,” said head coach Tom Vessella. “We’ve got 11 of our first 15 games on the road so it’s good to understand and get the feel for what it’s like to play on the road. If you’re successful on the road, you’re going to have a good season.”
Getting runners on base early certainly helped temper the home crowds in those games, too. Vessella doesn’t have a full green light for Walker to steal bases but it’s pretty close.
“I love it,” he said. “Freddy, you let him go. He’s got a great feel on the basepaths, he understands when to go, the best timing. If he gets walked or has a base hit, it’s pretty much a guy on second base so there’s a lot you can do.”
Vessella said Ly’s back home in Texas awaiting an MRI on his knee, which is to say he could return but don’t count on it. In the meantime, Walker has taken over in the outfield. He’s also north of the border for the first time, knowing his competitive days of playing the game are likely nearing an end.
“Most of the leagues where I’m from – San Diego – it’s not always as competitive because there’s a lot of teams, a lot of this, a lot of that, a lot of money and politics,” he said. “This is a new and different experience so I’m enjoying it.”
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