Well that did not go as planned did it… The opening home series of the season is supposed to be one of magical wonderment, one that brings with it the hopes of league titles, monster performances, and season-long winning streaks. What we ended up with though, is a dose of baseball reality. It’s not all sunshine, hot dogs, and wins – it seems there’s an equal share of tough at-bats, missed opportunities, and unfavourable results in there too.
Yes the Cats lost 2 of 3, and were over matched at the plate for most of the series, managing to score runs in only 5 of 27 innings. The team hit a disappointing .216 over the home stand, on 21 hits with only 4 of them for extra-bases. On the mound it wasn’t pretty either, with the team sporting a 6.33 ERA and giving up 12 extra-base hits including 4 home runs.
Not that we didn’t see hints of greatness… Tuesday’s pitching crew was a fine oiled machine that saw Travis Kuhn’s 1-2-3 9th inning put an explanation point on two solid innings by new addition Taylor Prokopis and a fine 5-inning start from AJ Block. Block continues to impress with two quality starts now, his first coming in Port Angeles. Offensively, Justin Orton went 4-8 in the two games he played, and Ethan Lopez had 3 RBI while going 4-10. KeKai Rios also played some solid 1B and went 5-13 driving in 2. Riley Zayicek, while only hitting 1 ball all series, hit the longest one, the first Victoria home run of the year. Kevin Collard, although going only 1-8 was a perfect 3-0 on steals.
And of course it goes without saying that Claire Eccles debut was a highlight of the entire series. The pressure must have been intense for her, but she persevered and came out unscathed. Sure she gave up a couple runs, but pretty much everybody else did too. The support she was getting all around from fans, players, and coaches was nice to see.
But stats aside, from where I sat this team is missing something. Granted the season is less than a week old, but this team needs some serious time to gel as a unit. With last year’s team, it was a road trip just shy of the mid-way point where the team really came together. That’s when the win streak started, that’s where they started to believe in each other. This team does not have that yet. For most of the three games, the team sat in total silence on the bench, watching pitchers flail and at-bats go astray. At least last year there were a couple of louder outspoken individuals that riled the team up early (remember “Rock skipper! Grave digger! Worm burner! Soiled It! Soiled it! Soiled it!”). While this year’s squad seem more mature, more professional, it costs them in not presenting as a team – at this point, they are just a bunch of individual ball players. Who knows, maybe the media frenzy around Claire will help with that as well.
What’s really interesting, is how the crowd reacted. All three games were very quiet by Victoria standards. The excitement of opening night was quickly replaced by stony silence as the team got behind and never recovered. Tuesday’s game was better once the team got a lead, but Wednesday’s early runs against put the crowd right back into silent mode. When Claire Eccles took the mound in the 8th, you could hear a pin drop at RAP as people watched the first batter with nervous apprehension. Crowds were down significantly in numbers as well, the 2,676 opening night was the smallest in club history, about 1,900 fans fewer than last year (it was on a comparable Tuesday as well). Games 2 and 3 brought in 1,780, and 1,263 respectively for a three-game total of 5,719 – a 1,300 drop from last year’s opening series.
As the team moves on now to Wenatchee for the back part of the 6-game home and home, the three days on the road together will hopefully pull them closer together. I suspect by the Port Angeles series next week, we may see a renewed excitement on the first-base side. We should also see a few more regulars on board as the college world series ends for several teams, and players complete other commitments. The additions should hopefully solidify the lineup.
Hopefully before that happens, Victoria can find their road bats and not come home 4-6!