There’s no question who the team to beat is entering the 2022 Ban Johnson Collegiate League season.
The BJ Raiders have posted the top record in the regular season for four straight summers, winning the BJCL title in 2020 and topping the Creche Innovations Stars for a repeat championship last summer.
“At this point, everybody in the league kind of knows that we’re the top dogs right now,” RHP Chandler Ashby (Park Hill/Crowder CC) said. “Obviously, there’s a little pressure to hold that. Then again, everybody else has the pressure to try to beat us. That’s how I see it.”
For manager Jake Bradshaw, the key to building and sustaining a winning culture isn’t a big secret.
“Building relationships with the guys, so they want to come back and play,” Bradshaw said. “Obviously, some of them get opportunities to go elsewhere, but they said they’d rather stay home and play for us. I think that’s a big thing.”
Bradshaw said it also builds from within as players tend to recruit friends as teammates.
“That in itself is a buy-in for kids,” Bradshaw said. “They know that they’re here to get better, but you’re also here to win games. It’s not just, ‘Ah, summer ball, who cares?’ I think that carries a lot of weight with the players as well.”
It certainly did for second-year Raiders OF Ben Walsh (Rockhurst/Johnson County CC), whose brother played on the 2020 Raiders team.
“It definitely felt good to win that championship,” Walsh said of his role in the repeat last summer. “It was fun and I really enjoyed it. It’s always fun to win, and we won a lot.”
The goal in 2022 remains the same,
“Team-wise, it’s the same plan every year — go win it all,” Ashby said.
That goes for every player and coach in the Raiders’ dugout.
“For sure, we’re always looking for the next championship,” said Walsh, who slashed .308/.446/.538 last summer with five extra-base hits, including three home runs, 12 RBIs and 17 runs scored. “We’re going to be ready to play and I’m excited for the season.”
Development, of course, remains the primary aim for the BJCL, which enters its 95th season giving Kansas City-area collegiate baseball players the chance to log at-bats and innings while staying sharp during otherwise idle summer months.
“A big thing in summer is getting all your stuff dialed in to where it needs to be going into your school year,” Ashby said. “The summer gave me a lot of confidence to go into school with, and I think that’s a huge thing going into a college season. … The guys I played with last year, I had a lot of fun and Coach Bradshaw was a really good coach. I liked the success I saw last year, so I’m hoping to find more this year.”
Ashby went 5-0 with a save, posting a 1.17 ERA and a 0.900 WHIP with 39 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched. He returns to headline a BJ Raiders staff primed to pace another title chase.
“We’re going to be strong on the mound again,” Bradshaw said. “Four of the five starters on the mound are returning and we’ve got some bullpen pieces that we’ve added.”
The lineup is in flux and will lean on newcomers in several spots.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they do,” Bradshaw said. “It doesn’t feel too different. I’ve always kind of felt that we had a target on our back, just because of the success we’ve had in the past. I think it’s even bigger now that there are more teams.”
The Raiders became the BJCL’s first repeat champions since the team won four straight championships from 2002-05. A three-peat is the only thing that matters for Bradshaw and company in 2022.