BILLINGS — The Great Falls Chargers hope to build momentum and gel as a team as the American Legion baseball season advances.
And, the Chargers feel there is no better place to improve than in a tournament setting.
Great Falls is one of 12 teams playing in the annual Goldsmith Gallery Jewelers Baseball Tournament hosted by the Billings American Legion Baseball program.
“I think it will be great, especially this year as we are playing a few more conference games so we are seeing everyone quite a bit,” Great Falls third-year head coach Tony Forster said as classic rock played in the background at Dehler Park prior to the tourney’s opening game between the Chargers and Sheridan, Wyoming. “So, this is good to see other teams and states. Billings does a good job of bringing in teams for this tournament.”
Great Falls defeated Sheridan 3-2 to improve to 6-12 overall. The Chargers are 1-5 in the Class AA standings.
Forster said the Chargers, like all teams, were thrown off by the late start to the season, caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had a really good winter workout and things were looking good and we had the whole month and a half off and we came back a little rusty,” Forster said in reference to the start of the season being suspended because of the virus. “We are getting better each day and want to play our best baseball in August.”
Overall, Forster has coached in the program for 11 years. He played for the Great Falls Stallions American Legion team from 2003-05 and the Stallions won the annual Billings tourney in 2003 with a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Titans when the event was named the Rawlings/UAS tournament.
This year, Great Falls has two players who were on college rosters last season in Andrew Paradise (C, OF, P), and Derick Spring (INF, OF, P). Paradise played for Salem University in West Virginia and Spring was a member of the Dakota College (North Dakota) at Bottineau team.
Keeton Clark is batting .370 for the Chargers and Tyler Marr has a .350 batting average.
Left-hander Cam McNamee is scheduled to pitch on Friday and is a “quality, good-left-handed pitcher who knows how to pitch and does a good job of pounding the zone and mixing it up,” said Forster.
Hunter Houck, who pitched against Sheridan, is another left-hander who “has really good stuff and really competes when he’s pitching” added Forster.
Working through injuries
Kael Richards is the Chargers’ lone member of the Class of 2020.
Richards has an interesting story of overcoming the odds as he’s had to have shoulder surgery on both of his shoulders in the past year.
Last season, he hurt his right shoulder during baseball and had season-ending labrum surgery in June.
Then during football season, he hurt his left shoulder and had surgery in December.
“The doctor cleared me for football and liked where I was and my second game I dislocated my left shoulder and had surgery in the winter,” said Richards.
Richards said he isn’t aware of too many athletes injuring both shoulders and needing surgery in such a short period of time.
“I’ve heard the same shoulder, but not two different ones,” he said. “My parents were in the stands and I had a big brace on my right shoulder and there was a fumble on the two-yard line and I saw it and cut inside and a lineman landed on my left shoulder and it dislocated and ripped everything up.”
Richards, who played inside linebacker for the Great Falls Bison, said he ended up playing in four football games this year. He missed the first four contests and came back for the fifth and was injured in his second game back. He missed one game after that and then played in two more.
As for his future plans, Richards would like to play college baseball.
Forster said Richards would probably see most of his time at DH or second base during the Goldsmith tourney as he is still recovering.
“It will take a full year of recovery time for him to get back to normal,” said Forster, adding Richards has a chance for an eventual scholarship to play baseball. “He wants to play baseball in college and might take this year off (from school) and focus on getting healthy.”
Richards said he “thought about playing college football but I didn’t have the film tape.”
So, he’s focused on getting healthy, completing a throwing program so he can once again play third base, and improving so he has a chance to play college baseball in the future.
Overall, Richards is pleased with his progress but admits the situation is taxing at times.
“It’s part frustrating and part relief. I’ll hit a good line drive and it’s a relief because I’m getting into the groove of things,” he said. “If I’m having a bad game, I’m like, ‘Why is this going on?’ And, then I realize I had a year off from baseball and I’ve only played 17 games, so I have to go with the flow and relax.”