The blog is happy to debut a new segment with a familiar ring to it – Coaches Corner! No Don Cherry here, but taking you inside the dugout for a regular chat with the HarbourCats dynamic head coach, Graig Merritt.
I sat with coach Merritt before Friday’s game against Wenatchee, and got his thoughts on some early season challenges, what the team’s immediate goals are, and about playing baseball in Victoria.
Talk about the HarbourCats and what it’s like being part of this organization.
The HarbourCats are truly a great organization. The best in the league as far as facilities and ownership that I have seen. The fan support here is amazing too – they stay right to the end, and even though we aren’t off to the best start this season, their support has been massive.
What does that fan support mean to the players at this level?
Many of these players, at their college games, have a couple hundred fans a game. We have 4600 on opening night, a couple thousand for a few other games…I know how it was when I played – a lot of people in the stands makes you raise your level of play for sure.
What’s it like coaching a bunch of college-age kids who come from different backgrounds, at different levels, and are at different places in their baseball careers?
It’s been great, and it’s a huge challenge. I have a great coaching staff with Joe (Meggs), Alec (Adame), and Jerry (Pena) and we are working our butts off to develop these guys. We have seen some huge improvements in some of our players. We have a varied group – we have four guys who just finished high school, a handful of guys who have been in college for three and four years, red shirt juniors… It’s really great to see the leadership of players – the older guys helping the younger guys. Guys like Zach Bonneau and Jackson (Thoreson) helping out Nick (Meyer), AJ (Alcantara) helping out the younger outfielders all the time. It’s rewarding to see that happen, and that leadership goes a long way.
How is the team doing coming together as a unit?
We have a great group of guys here. It’s taken a bit of time to get the chemistry and morale that we were looking for, but I think after that road trip to Kitsap, we have it – the bus trips help build that. These kids are awesome to be around and are super respectful to each other all the time. Last week we found a few of them out for dinner and we didn’t even know they were friends – so it’s getting there and good to see. We go to the gym on the road – most of the WCL team provide a gym facility. It’s optional, but we get on the bus and it’s full. Ninety percent of our guys go to those optional workouts, and that goes a long way as well.
At this point, the ‘Cats record isn’t where we hoped it would be. Share your thoughts on that.
It’s tough because a lot of these guys didn’t get a lot of playing time at their colleges or universities. Looking at the roster, 75% of these guys were second-line players where they came from, so they didn’t have a lot of reps, and you could really see the rust in their games the first quarter of the season. That’s where the coaching and the development, and us coming to the yard early and working with the guys, really pays off. We’re looking for a big turn-around in the second quarter of the season.
What needs to change? Where is the biggest need for improvement?
It’s pitching. Baseball is pitching and defence, and we haven’t pitched the ball very well yet. We got a lot of guys in late too – we just now have our full roster now with Henry Omana joining us in Kipsap. We have one more starter coming in (Jonathon Buckley) a guy we are really excited about, who is going to be our number three or four starter. He should be here by July 6th, right after the Corvalis trip. But again, we need to pitch better if we want to win some games.
What about this weekend? What are you hoping to see this weekend?
Wenatchee, in the win-loss column, is doing about as well as us. Being at home here, we’re looking to win a series. A sweep would be great, but we made a team goal last night to get to .500, and we’re four games under, so we are going to have to start winning some series.
What’s your season highlight to this point so far?
It’s working with the coaching staff. Working with Jerry, and Alec, and Joe, we are all learning so much from each other. Sitting at breakfast every morning going over the game plan, talking about the lineup we’re going to use that night. I wake up every morning and just can’t wait to come to the park and work with these guys.
How about getting tossed out the other night against Cowlitz?
I finally had to stick up for my guys there. I think I beat the over-under on that though – I think the front office thought I’d be thrown out in the first four or five games, and I think I lasted a dozen or so. I’m keeping my mouth shut in there for the most part, but finally got chucked. I had to stick up for my guys.
I have to ask – how’s the Ginja Ninja making out these days?
The Ginja Ninja… He’s finally getting out of the reality TV mindset, but it took months. It was an awesome experience. I keep very close contact with everyone in that Big Brother house, we talk pretty much daily on a group chat or individual chats, and we have all struggled with it. It’s like coming out of jail where you have had no cell phone, TV, or access to the outside world and it’s a huge adjustment. We are all adapting now, and I think I’m finally out of that mindset and focusing 100% on the HarbourCats.
Till next time…
If you have any questions you would like Graig to answer in a future Coach’s Corner, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try and fit them in!