Since their inception some 30 years ago the Red Deer Riggers have been fortunate to draw most of the best young talent in the area.
As a result they’re consistently one of the premier senior AAA baseball teams in the province.
This year is no different as they’re in a bit of rebuilding mode, but have once again added outstanding young talent.
“There are really good young players in central Alberta and they will be a huge part of the Riggers now and in the future,” said Riggers veteran Jason Chatwood, who is the head instructor with the St. Joseph’s Baseball Academy.
“We have a lot of good young talent coming back to the Riggers, which leaves us in a good spot.”
Red Deer native Austin Hammond is one of those players to join the Riggers this season.
Coming up through the Red Deer Minor Baseball Association Hammond had an idea he’d like to play with the senior squad.
“(Former Riggers player and manager) Dwayne Lalor was my coach for most of my minor baseball years and seeing his number 13 retired by the Riggers left me thinking in the back of my mind I wouldn’t mind playing here.”
The 20-year-old Hammond graduated from the Red Deer Midget AAA Carstar Braves in 2017 and played a year with Vanouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C.
“I always had it in mind to play college baseball and got the opportunity with VIU, but I was taking heavy duty mechanics and I just didn’t have the time to combine the two,” he explained. “So this year I came back home and put in some hours I need for my apprenticeship.”
It was different not playing ball during the winter, but he’s fitting in nicely.
“It was a bit different not playing all year, so it’s taking me a bit of time to adjust, but it’s coming around.”
He certainly doesn’t look out of place on the infield.
“I’ve always been an infielder, mainly at third base, although I play all over the infield … still I enjoy the (hot) corner the most.”
Austin feels the calibre of ball is near what he saw at VIU.
“There are a number of players in this league I played with and against in college,” he said. “It’s very competitive with a high skill level.”
The six-foot-one, 180-pound Hammond looks at himself more as a defender than an offensive player.
“I’d say my fielding is ahead of my skill at the plate. I’m stronger in the field whereas I need to work on my plate discipline and my swing.”
Austin gives Dwayne Lalor credit for his development.
“He was instrumental in develop0ing my fundamentals and the mental side of the game,” he said. “The mental side is so important because of so many things going on at once. It’s as important as the physical side. You can’t have one without the other.”
Chatwood likes what he sees in Hammond’s all-around game.
“One thing you see from Austin is that he plays hard… he’ll give you everything he’s got every day. He’s does everything he can to help the team. Throw batting practice, play any position. He checks all the boxes you like in a young player … has everything you need to be a good player with the Riggers for years to come.
“He looks comfortable no matter where we play him … doesn’t look out of place.”
That can be said about Zach Olson and Kelsey Lalor, two other first year players.
“I played with Zach up through minor ball except for a couple of years at the end and played with Kelsey every other year,” said Hammond. “They’re great to play with.”
“Maintaining a strong program starts with players like Austin, Zach and Kelsey,” added Chatwood, “and there are a number of other playing coming up. There’s also a lot of talent on the (junior AAA) Innisfail Merchants, players who can look at us as the next step.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org