Last Tuesday night, the fifth season for the Victoria HarbourCats ground to an abrupt halt on the harsh artificial turf of Goss Stadium, down in Corvallis Oregon. After taking a dramatic first game walk-off win up here in Victoria, the team managed only 9 hits in the last two games, ending the season one game shy of WCL immortality. At least we had a chance in game three, with the tying runs on in the ninth and nobody out. Then from where our group was sitting, the team was over-coached out of a comeback. Leading home run candidate Harrison Bragg was asked to bunt (on artificial turf of all things) which he had done maybe once all season to that point, producing an out at the wrong base (third). Then, Kevin Collard, a guy who had hit more doubles (12) than any HarbourCat all season, was pinch-hit for by a guy who hasn’t played in nearly two weeks due to a bad foot, Noah Prewett. Now don’t get me wrong – we’re huge Prewett fans here at the blog, but it seemed like an impossible situation to put him into, especially given the alternative of leaving the 1-for-3 Collard in. Noah strikes out, leaving returning 10-day guy Justin Orton with the task of prolonging the inning, where he also fell victim to the strikeout to end the season. Let Bragg swing away, leave Collard in, and pinch-hit Prewett for Orton maybe? Bah, we’ll never know, and that’s why we spend the season cheering from the cheap seats… ed. Update: Bragg’s decision to bunt was 100% his own apparently, and not expected. Now THAT makes more coaching sense… Still keeping my regular seat though 😉
2017 was another big step forward for the HarbourCat franchise though – a first trip to the finals after a first playoff win and a first playoff series win against Kelowna. Getting that far into the playoffs though, really showed what I think is a league-wide issue – the season is just too long. From team picture day, to the start of the final game, close to thirty players had left the team already. Injuries, inning limits, school commitments, or just pure burnout takes its toll on these kids, and expecting them to go at the intensity and length of a summer-ball season is proving unrealistic. Had it not been for some late-season local pitching additions and 10-day returns, Victoria would have had a hard time fielding a team down the stretch and into the playoffs, let alone winning a championship. And although the players have good reasons to leave, it’s difficult seeing them on Instagram lounging on the beach in Mexico, having a successful hunting outing, or surfing with their girlfriends in Malibu while the team is still fighting to make the playoffs. Such is summer ball. I can’t help but think that a 40-game season, or a season that features more games with double-header weekends that ends by July 31st would be more inviting to even higher calibre players and would keep them here for the duration. But try telling the league and teams to all take revenue hits like that and see how far that gets you…
Season five for the HarbourCats was actually pretty spectacular on the field though. While not setting any streaks or wins records like last year, the team on the field experienced a great deal of success. Offensively, there has never been a better HarbourCats team. The 2017 squad set team records in almost every offensive category, including most runs, hits, highest average, fewest strikeouts… The 45 home runs hit this year would have set a WCL record – if Bellingham hadn’t hit 48 thanks to Chase Illig’s league-leading 15 (as an aside, he hit 4 against Victoria this year – perhaps we should have walked him?). The team had a monster offensive year and led the league across the board.
On the mound though, it was another story entirely. This was actually the worst year of HarbourCat pitching, setting franchise highs in several key categories like runs allowed, hits given up, wild pitches… Team ERA was a franchise worst 5.08, that’s the eleventh worst ERA (out of 85 squads) in seven years of league history.
The pitching staff seemed the hardest hit by having the fewest of the original set of players signed early actually make the trip north. Not surprisingly, it’s always a risk signing a top college arm early, where the better they do in college, the worse your chances of landing them for the summer become. Pitching wins championships, and no college coach is going to let a top stud blow out his arm for a summer team. Summer ball is about betting on the “next big thing”, and getting him before he peaks in college. It’s like constantly betting on the long-shot and hoping you find a thoroughbred.
Over the entire season, OF Hunter Vansau was – I think – the most exciting player to watch game after game. He ended hitting .359 (good for 4th in the WCL), and 8 home runs (2nd in the WCL), with 34 RBI while striking out only 15 times. And those stats don’t include the dozens of fantastic catches in the outfield and key assists on ropes from the fence. Hunter is the blog’s player of the year for 2017 hands down. The aforementioned Noah Prewett also stood out, he’s probably the best all-round HarbourCat ever as far as skill goes? If not for an unfortunate tumble over a bunt and a bad flipper, he could have made a real difference down the stretch. And have we ever had a more consistent defensive player than Harry Shipley? If the WCL gave out gold gloves, Harry would be a deserving recipient.
And as happens every year, Victoria always ends up with some top talent that isn’t here long enough to be considered for league awards. Catcher Shane Maguire led the WCL hitting .451 and Andrew Shaps was just behind that at .441, but neither had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title (don’t get me started on that again, please).
On the mound, despite difficulties as a team, Victoria saw one of the best seasons ever by a HarbourCat pitcher in Jack Owen, who posted a 1.02 ERA in 44.1 innings of solid work. Owen could have won 7 games this year had it not been for a couple defensive miscues that kept him at 4. A great year was also seen from Vancouver Island native Adam McKillican, who registered 5 wins on 8 starts.
Overall, Season V will be looked back on as a success. Off the field, the team struggled with some cold June nights and mid-week games which lowered attendance figures to start, but as usual Victorian’s showed up when the team was winning and the weather warmed up, helping the HarbourCats lead the league in attendance once again. Team management provided what can be described as a “comfortable” experience at the park, copying last year’s tried and true game-day presentation almost exactly. While it’s getting a touch repetitive, it seems to work for Victoria fans, and if it ain’t broke…
Season six is already well into the planning stages, and the franchise – and league – seem stronger than ever with no end in sight. As team management likes to say, baseball in Victoria isn’t going anywhere folks!
The same can’t be said for the blog. A funny thing has happened over the past season and a half, not specific to this blog, but more with written media in general – nobody’s reading, nobody’s commenting anymore. Readership is way down, while other forms of short-form media are going up. The average blog post this year got 30-50 reads, where 200+ used to be the norm. Contrasting, tweet reads and facebook hits are higher than ever though, with thousands of people seeing them, following them, retweeting and forwarding them – but nobody clicks through to actually read the article. The headline and picture are enough for people to just scroll past onto their next story. Even more mainstream media is having the same issue – talking to Christian J. Stewart, who writes fabulous HarbourCat content for ISN, he estimates “a couple hundred” for each article he posts. In a city with close to half a million people, were a team draws close to 2,000 fans a game from a fan base of 15-20,000 say, less than 1% of them click a link to read a story? That’s pretty tragic. For me, some of these posts – the detailed ones that comb through years of stats and game logs, and find just the right pictures take several hours to put together, and take away from my own work and/or family time. On the other hand, I can post an Instagram picture and reach 300-500 people within an hour, with great results. The picture will instantly get likes and comments from the entire roster of players, their friends and family, and ex-players and families. It’s pretty cool when you post about a big home run the team just hit, and you get an instant like or a comment from ex-Cats like Dominic Topoozian, or Josh Mitchell, or Gabe Clark’s mom… It shows how much the HarbourCats become part of a player’s extended family, and continue on as part of their journey through baseball and life. It’s pretty cool to be providing a family with a picture of their son (or daughter of course) crossing home plate after a big hit, or coming off the mound after a big K.
So that’s where the blog will go. While the written words and the hours of stat hunting will stop, we’ll continue to find new and interesting ways to share in-game moments from the field with you all. If you haven’t yet, please follow us on Instagram, we are @VicHarbourCatsBlog. We will also cross-post to Twitter and facebook so you can see content there as well, but really – Instagram is the way to go!
If you have read this far, and you’ve been with us on the long journey to this point, thank you very much for your support, your comments, likes, re-posts, and for saying hi if you see me around the ballpark. If there were more people like you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation 😉 Here’s looking forward to the HarbourCats Season 6 and beyond. It’s been fun chatting baseball with/at you.
As for the logistics of the blog, it will revert to its original unpaid URL of vicharbourcatsblog.wordpress.com, and the registered domain will expire in June. Feel free to update your bookmarks at any time should you want to review any old posts.
And Spike, if you’re out there reading this for some reason, I miss you buddy…