HarbourCat managing partner Jim Swanson describes today as being “Our Christmas Day. Like opening that present you’ve been asking for all year”. Indeed when the gates of Royal Athletic Park open this afternoon at 5:00pm, it may seem like the yule season’s largest party – minus the tacky tree and eggnog of course. If inviting 5000 of your closest friends over for a drink is your kind of thing, then you should probably stop on by!
The Wenatchee AppleSox are the guests of honour this week. Well actually as this is the home opener, the true honoured guests are our new friends in blue and white – the 2016 edition of the HarbourCats will have their first showing on the Pembroke lawn for all to see. This new breed of talented young men will start working their way into our hearts tonight as part of our beloved home team. They come from all walks of life, all corners of North America and beyond. We have islanders – both Vancouver and Hawaiian. We have BC boys, prairie boys, California surfer dudes, and Texas range riders. Some easterners, some westerners. We have some familiar faces, and plenty new additions. But tonight, they are all Victorians.
Tonight begins a summer most will never forget. While some play at bigger schools with fancy ballparks, many play at schools where only a few hundred people attend their games. Tonight, with 5000+ screaming fans behind them, some will play to a crowd bigger than anything they ever have – or ever will again.We remind ourselves that these are still kids growing into men before our eyes. For many, this will be the farthest from home they have ever been. They will be meeting and making new friends, and joining new families who will open their homes to them and treat them like their own children. For some this will be as good as it ever gets, for others, this will be another step on the way to future greatness. For all, it will be a truly memorable couple of months.
On the field it’s different still. For some, this will be the first time in their careers they play with wooden bats. Almost all high school and college programs use aluminum bats exclusively, while the WCL is a wooden-bat league – and it makes a huge difference. Wood bats are nowhere near as forgiving – a bloop single with an aluminum bat is a dead ground-ball out with a wooden bat. You can mis-hit an aluminum bat and still put a ball over the fence for a home run, where a wood bat turns that into an easy fly ball. Pitchers love the change, while hitters must constantly try to adjust.
But adjust they will, and as fans we will be there to cheer them on each game and watch them progress.
For the HarbourCats, Tuesday’s game marks game 4 in a 58-game season after three season-opening games in Walla Walla this past weekend. Simply put, it wasn’t the start the team was looking for, going 0-3 on the trip (and completely destroying the blog’s preview prediction) by giving up 17 runs while scoring only 8. Starting pitching was tagged with all but 4 of those runs – in fact the solid relief core only gave up runs in one of eight innings. Game 1 starter James Kannenberg had the best outing of the weekend, going six strong innings while giving up only 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks. Victoria fell short on offence though, hitting safely only 5 times as he took the 2-1 loss.
Offensively, the Cats were led by OF Cody Snider who collected 3 hits in the series despite an 0-5 final game, and by 10-day signee Riley Guntrip who enters tonight’s game on a 2-game hit streak (it’s early, you gotta grab stats where you can!).
If it’s any consolation, Victoria’s 0-3 start was matched exactly by Wenatchee as they dropped their entire weekend series to the Yakima Valley Pippens. And not in a good way – the Pippens outscored them 23-6, including Sunday’s 11-0 final game rout. Offensively the Sox are off to a slow start as well with a team batting average sitting at .175, and every pitcher who saw action on the weekend except for one gave up at least 1 earned run.
Wenatchee is another franchise that values the returning players, and the team puts a great deal of effort into retaining key players and fan favourites. The Sox have seven returning players – the most notable being 2015 Home Run leader Evan Douglas. Douglas crushed 7 balls deep last year, including a couple of the longest balls hit at RAP all season. He hit safely in every game against Victoria, an impressive 10-27 overall. He was 2-12 in Wenatchee’s three-game start, so he’s in town looking to get back the magic he showed us last year. RHP Kyle Blankenship is also returning, and he hopes to avenge a couple of spankings Victoria dropped on him last season: in two outings, he went a total of 5.1 innings, giving up a total of 13 earned runs – including 5 in that crazy 21-10 drubbing the Cats laid on the Sox in early August.
Similar to Victoria, the AppleSox are led by second-year WCL coach AJ Proszek, with a couple of new assistant coaches. Wenatchee finished last season at 24-30, and won only 2 of 6 games against Victoria last year.
Victoria has set its rotation for the series, while Wenatchee is still looking for a Thursday starter. Planed are:
- Tuesday: Victoria sends Dalton Erb up against Tyler Burch
- Wednesday: Victoria sends Colin Ashworth up against Jimmy Dobrash
- Thursday: Victoria sends James Kannenberg (0-1) against an undecided starter.
Still paying the homer card, but I’ll once again pick the Cats to win two of three. For what it’s worth (and it’s not worth much), Victoria went 4-2 against the AppleSox last season.
Today’s 2015 stats review looks at runs per game scored by the HarbourCats.
- Not many lineup changes for this second series with only three new arrivals since the season start – but they are key ones..
- Two lefties join the pitching staff with the arrival of Creed Smith and Nick Wojtysiak.
- Catcher Joe Prior is scheduled to be in town Thursday and may see his first action as the only non-10-day catcher on the staff
- No sign yet of returning MVP Griffin Andreychuk as he completes his school year at Seattle U. Don’t worry though, he is expected in town around mid-month, in plenty of time to get enough at-bats in to challenge for the WCL batting crown…
- The HarbourCats continue to adjust the roster to fill some holes left by late-departing players. Look for some additional player announcements in the coming week (including another returning player!)