Friday, November 30, 2012

Victoria to host 2013 WCL All Star Game!

The good news for the Victoria HarbourCats just keeps on coming. This morning, the team announced that they will be hosting the West Coast League’s All Star Game in July 2013.

Owner John McLean, GM Holly Jones and SportHost's Hugh MacDonald
The game will give local fans a great chance to view the league's best players, many of whom will go on to be drafted by big-league clubs. In last June’s MLB draft, 55 former or current WCL players were selected. Given the talent level in the league, we are assured of seeing some outstanding baseball in the All Star Game. It’s possible that this might turn out to be the greatest collection of baseball prospects to take to the field in the history of Royal Athletic Park.

The game will also feature a Home-Run Derby, which is always a hit with the fans. Last year when Walla Walla hosted the event, the Home-Run Derby took place roughly two hours prior to the 7:35 PM start time.

Unlike the MLB All Star Game, the position players selected for the game get to stick around for more than one at-bat. That's because there are only about 20 players on each squad, a factor that adds to the realism of the game. Another important difference between the two All Star Games is that WCL fans cannot stuff the ballot box for their home team. Although fan voting will be taking place, fans are only responsible for selecting a representative for their team. All other players are selected by scouts, coaches and owners.

The fact that the West Coast League chose to award the game to Victoria speaks volumes about how the city and franchise are viewed by the league’s Board of Directors. Given that the team is entering its inaugural season and not a single WCL game has been played in Victoria as yet, it’s incredible that such a prestigious game would be awarded to the HarbourCats. There are seven other teams in the league that have never hosted an All Star Game (inaugural season shown in parentheses): Bend (2005), Kelowna (2005), Kitsap (2005), Wenatchee (2005), Cowlitz (2010), Klamath Falls (2011) and Medford (2013). WCL President Ken Wilson was quoted as saying "... Victoria is now the largest market city in the league, a city with a rich baseball tradition, a great fan base and a strong minor baseball and softball community." Clearly, Victoria is already considered one of the premiere franchises in the West Coast League.

Now the hard work to organize such a high-profile event begins. The challenges for the HarbourCats front-office are fairly significant, but we’re confident that the team will host a first-class event. One of the measures of success will obviously be the attendance. It’s worth noting that the league record for attendance at an All Star Game was set by Corvallis in 2011, when 2,517 fans took in the mid-season classic. We’re putting the odds at greater than 50-50 that the baseball fans of Victoria will come out in droves and smash that attendance record.

  • Former Blue Jay Marc Rzepczynski, Tommy Milone and Eric Sogard of the Oakland A's and Jeremy Hefner of the NY Mets played in the West Coast League's inaugural All Star Game in 2006. Rzepczynski, nicknamed "Scrabble", went on to win the 2011 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • Tickets to the All Star Game will be available in the New Year. Season Ticket Holders will have tickets to the All Star Game included in their package for free.
  • Season Tickets and 10-Game Flex Packs go on sale on Monday December 3rd at 10 AM. For ticket information, go to the HarbourCats web site.
  • The exact date for the All Star Game will be announced in the near future, likely when the 2013 WCL schedule is released. Last year's All Star Game in Walla Walla took place on a Tuesday, so there is good chance the game will be played on July 23, 2012.
  • With the addition of expansion franchises in Medford and Victoria, the league will operate with 11 teams in 2013. Victoria will likely be placed in a five-team division with the Bellingham Bells, Kelowna Falcons, Walla Walla Sweets and the perennial powerhouse Wenatchee AppleSox.
  • The club has opened a new office at 103-1814 Vancouver Street (between Caledonia and North Park). Some merchandise is available for purchase (e.g. hoodies and caps). Office hours are 10-3 Monday to Friday and 10-3 Saturdays until Christmas.
  • Victoria's Mayor Dean Fortin was his usual supportive self at today's press conference. It's not always easy to find good things to say about politicians, but Fortin is an exception to the rule. His role in bringing elite baseball back to Victoria is commendable.
UPDATE: The All Star Game will indeed be played on Tuesday July 23rd.

Friday, November 23, 2012

HarbourCats to make major announcement next week

The Victoria HarbourCats have informed the media that a press conference will be held on Friday November 30th to make a major announcement. The team is being tight-lipped about the subject of the "presser", but it is clear that this is bigger than a run-of-the-mill press conference to unveil new team jerseys.

Rumours have started circulating about what the news might be, so I might as well join the fun and add to the speculation. Verifiable facts are hard to come by at this point, but I have a few educated guesses that are worth throwing out there. In no particular order, here is what I have come up with:
  1. The team will announce a high-profile addition to the coaching staff to help out Dennis Rogers and Bob Miller. Perhaps an MLB legend like Maple Ridge's Larry Walker or ex-Victoria Seal Josh Arhart will spend their summer in the Garden City helping out the HarbourCats.
    Chances of panning out: ** out of five baseballs. 
  2. The City of Victoria will announce they are making major renovations to Royal Athletic Park. Given the recent budget issues at City Hall, this one is highly unlikely. A guy can dream, can't he? Don't the great baseball fans of Victoria deserve a palace like the residents of Hillsboro, Oregon?
    Chances of panning out: Zero out of five baseballs.
  3. The team will announce the signing of a mega-prospect. Perhaps a player who will go high in the MLB draft will be wearing a HarbourCats jersey next season -- someone like slugger Michael Conforto of Oregon State. How cool would that be? And does it get any more Canadian than having a Beaver on your team?
    Chances of panning out: *** out of five baseballs.
  4. The West Coast League will award the All Star Game to Victoria. Earlier this year, 55 West Coast League players were taken in the MLB draft. Can you imagine having two teams full of bona fide prospects roaming the friendly confines of RAP? If Victoria were to get the All Star Game then the city would be crawling with hordes of big-league scouts. An event of this magnitude might energize this city's baseball fans like the Eri Yoshida game in 2010. Realistically, I can't see the league giving the All Star Game to an expansion team. Yet.
    Chances of panning out: * out of five baseballs.
  5. The HarbourCats are being purchased by the Toronto Blue Jays / Rogers Communications. Why not? The Jays have purchased just about everything else this off-season, so maybe HarbourCats owner John McLean will flip the team for a tidy profit. The Jays have added $166 million to their payroll recently. What's an extra few bucks?
    Chances of panning out: ** out of five baseballs.
But seriously -- after racking my brain I have to admit that I have no idea what the announcement will be. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment on this blog post. It's going to be a torturous wait to find out.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hello HarbourCats; Goodbye 3 1/2 hour games

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the differences in the style of play of the West Coast League versus the Victoria Seals' old circuit, the Golden Baseball League. As I outlined in the post, we'll be seeing a lot of low-scoring games featuring "small ball" at Royal Athletic Park next summer. An alert reader left a comment on the blog reminding me of the three-to-four-hour Seals games that we regularly suffered through -- a fact that had started to fade from my memory.

The anonymous reader also mentioned that he/she hoped that shorter games would be the norm in the West Coast League. Although neither league publishes the average length of their games, I decided to collect some stats to find out if that would indeed be the case when the HarbourCats come to town. For the WCL, I looked at the last 25 league games played in 2012. For the Victoria Seals, I reviewed the last 25 games that they played in 2010 (excluding 7-inning games played as part of a doubleheader).

According to my calculations, the average length of a Victoria Seals game was a whopping 3 hours and 19 minutes. The average length of a West Coast League game? A much more reasonable 2 hours and 49 minutes -- a full half-hour less than what we saw in 2009-10 and a hair shorter than the MLB average. Shorter, fast-paced games featuring strong fundamentals makes for awfully exciting baseball. Personally, I think that's a winning combination.