Wandler has turned out to be happy accident for RiverDogs

Sean Wandler kind of fell into his position as head coach of the Kamloops Player's Bench RiverDogs in the spring of 2000.

It might be difficult to find another accident that has worked out so well for everyone involved.

Wandler's RiverDogs are 5-1 in B.C. Midget AAA baseball play after going 3-1 in a weekend series with the South Okanagan Tigers. Kamloops won both of Saturday's games in Penticton - 2-1 and 13-5 - before losing 14-8 and winning 11-5 at Canada Games Field on Sunday.

The RiverDogs are scheduled to play host to the Mid Valley Saints on Saturday at Canada Games Field.

Kamloops always is a contender in midget AAA baseball, and Wandler is a big part of the reason.

Now into his 12th season as the RiverDogs' head coach, Wandler has taken his teams to two provincial finals, winning in 2007 and making the Western Canadian championship in 2002 and 2007.

He's back, year after year, wearing No. 28 for the RiverDogs and putting in countless hours building a winning program.

Funny, he wasn't really planning to be head coach for even one season - let alone a dozen - when he signed on as an assistant coach.

"I never intended to be head coach of this team," said Wandler, between games Sunday. "In 2000, I was helping out another coach, and he had to leave at the last minute . . . so the kids didn't have a coach.

"I was talked into it at the last minute, because the kids needed somebody. Here I am 12 years later - it was really an accident."

That first year - 2000 - was quite trying.

That year, the RiverDogs were scheduled to play AAA, but had to pull back to AA - again, at the last minute - and cobble together a schedule after a few players bolted.

Wandler made it through. Barely.

"At the end of the day, we put it all together," he said. "If you look at our humble beginnings as barely a team that could barely get a schedule together . . . we've come a long way."

Born and raised in Kamloops, Wandler played minor ball throughout his youth and saw some action with the senior Black Sox, before deciding to help out with the RiverDogs.

Now 34, Wandler still gets a kick out of coming out to the diamond.

"No one's holding a gun to my head - I come out here on my own free will and I do it 'cause I love it," he said. "As long as that passion is there and that love of coaching these kids and the game is there, I'll continue to come out."

This year's squad - comprising five Grade 10 players, eight Grade 11s and Spencer Lord, the lone Grade 12 - should be competitive, like most of Wandler's others.

Kamloops is to play host to the provincial championship at the end of July, following its 44-game regular season. The RiverDogs also will be the hosts for the Daley and Co. Canada Day Classic from June 30 to July 3.

Over 12 years, Wandler has taught a lot of players, some of whom have gone on to play professionally and in college. He also has tasted team success, with the 2007 provincial champion and the 2008 regular-season champion.

But the thing giving him the biggest thrill these days is seeing former players become coaches themselves. Robbie Kloster is helping coach the RiverDogs, and three of Wandler's former players are teaming up to coach the Bantam AAA RiverDogs.

"The best part is the opportunity to work with so many great kids and develop those relationships," Wandler said. "Now, we're starting to see these guys coach. . . . Robbie Kloster, our pitching coach - he was part of the original team in 2000, to see him out here helping these kids . . . that really does it for me."

---

Lord started Sunday's opener, but was pulled after an inning with a back injury. The Tigers scored eight off reliever Leyton Edye in the second inning and never looked back.

Dylan Luison had three hits, including two triples, two RBI and a run, Jordan Kealty also drove in a run and Blayne Halland scored twice.

Colton Thompson, Luison and Kealty pitched in the Sunday victory, which the RiverDogs sealed with a five-run fourth inning. James Arko had two doubles and three RBI, Colin Rintoul reached base five times and scored twice, and Connor Kozak had a single, a run and an RBI.

On Saturday, Mike Gilfillan went the distance in winning the opener. He struck out seven and walked only two.

Rintoul, Arko and Luison each had two singles, with Arko driving in a run and Rintoul scoring a run.

The RiverDogs needed only seven hits in their 13-5 victory. Tyler Cousineau started, and Arko and Jake Harris pitched in relief.

Rintoul had two singles, two stolen bases, three runs, three walks and an RBI. Kozak swatted two singles and drove in two runs and Harris scored twice.

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca

© Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News