Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Cats sign their first three ballplayers for 2014

Ty Russell (L) presents Rutckyj with his jersey
The HarbourCats introduced the first three players inked to 2014 contracts on Friday and all three hail from British Columbia. Kelly Norris-Jones, a Victoria native, has the potential to be an impact player for the HarbourCats, while Nick Rutckyj (Surrey, B.C.) and Griffin Andreychuk (Nanaimo, B.C.) also have the skills to make a meaningful contribution this summer.

Hardcore HarbourCats fans will recognize the name Nick Rutckyj, because he’s the answer to three of the franchise's trivia questions: “Who had the first plate appearance in HarbourCats history?”, “Who had the first hit in HarbourCats history?” and "Who scored the first run in HarbourCats history?". Yes, the answer to all three is Nick Rutckyj. In the team’s inaugural game (June 5th at RAP versus Kelowna), Rutckyj led off the bottom of the first by striking out, but he more than redeemed himself by hitting a leadoff double in the fourth inning to notch the team’s first-ever base hit. He would then come around to score on a Chris Lewis double. Although Rutckyj went two-for-four with three runs scored in the game, he was only a one-day call up and was released the next day. The outfielder was re-signed on July 24th and he finished the summer with a .171 average in 41 at-bats. Rutckyj is currently a freshman on the Cuesta College Cougars, the team piloted by HarbourCats Co-Head Coach Bob Miller. In 2013 he played for the Langley Blaze, hitting .312 with an impressive 5 homers and 40 RBI in 138 at-bats. Don’t be surprised to see him post some solid power numbers for the Cats in the upcoming season.

Norris-Jones, a 2010 Toronto Blue Jays draft pick, is a junior at the University of Illinois. The 5-11, 185 lb. catcher was limited to only 48 at-bats last season with the Fighting Illini due to injuries, so we shouldn’t put too much stock into his .167 batting average. In his freshman season, Norris-Jones posted a .266 batting average and a .349 OBP in 128 at-bats. The 22-year-old has won a Big-10 title, so he’ll be expected to provide veteran leadership on the team. He’s a singles hitter with gap power, but he has shown a knack for doing anything to get on base – including taking one for the team. In the 176 at-bats in his collegiate career, Norris-Jones has been plunked a total of 13 times – that’s one HBP every 13.5 at-bats. By comparison, one of the top players in MLB history for getting hit by a pitch, Ron Hunt, was only struck once every 21.5 at-bats. As Norris-Jones himself said yesterday, “If they are going to give me a free base, why not take it?” With a hockey grinder’s mentality that’s more common to third-line centres, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him become a fan-favourite at Royal Athletic Park.
(L-R) Rutckyj, Andreychuk and Norris-Jones

Griffin Andreychuk is a middle infielder who is entering his freshman season at the University of Seattle, a Division I school that plays in the Western Athletic Conference. He's also the younger brother of Cody Andreychuk, who hit .298 for the Kelowna Falcons last summer. Griffin was a teammate of Nick Rutckyj’s last season in Langley, and he finished fifth in the batting race with an impressive .355 average. The 5-10, 175 lb. spark-plug is a singles hitter who controls the strike zone and has excelled at getting on base and scoring runs. He’s also strong defensively, as shown by his 2010 award for being the top defensive player in the PBL.

Last year’s Canadian contingent on the team -- Austin, Ty and Connor Russell -- were on hand to present the new HarbourCats with their jerseys. The “passing of the torch” was a nice touch during yesterday’s press conference and proved once again the great character of these former HarbourCats.

General Manager Jim Swanson, who has served as an assistant coach with the Langley Sr. Blaze, was fairly tight-lipped on the remainder of the HarbourCats roster. Hopefully we’ll find out about more player signings early in the new year, but Swanson did let us know that we’ll be getting four players from the nationally-ranked University of New Mexico Lobos team. Not surprisingly, Alex Real isn’t one of those players, as he is MLB draft-eligible and could turn pro in early June. The fact that UNM head coach Ray Birmingham would trust the HarbourCats with four of his players speaks volumes about the feedback Real must have given Birmingham about his experience playing summer ball in Victoria. The future for WCL baseball in Victoria looks bright, indeed.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bucket seats to be installed at RAP for 2014 season

Last season's RAP seating chart
The Victoria HarbourCats have only been in existence for one year, but they have already accomplished something that three of the most recent Victoria baseball teams (Capitals, Royals and Seals) have been unable to do – get seats with backs installed at Royal Athletic Park. On Wednesday, the HarbourCats announced that the City of Victoria will be installing 1,300 bucket-style seats in time for the 2014 season.

The seating in the grandstand (section 10) and the (General Admission) aluminum benches above the walkway will remain unaffected, but there will no longer be any of those back-breaking benches in sections 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 or 12. As most fans will agree, this long overdue upgrade is a huge step forward for the Grand Old Dame on Caledonia Street.

It’s worth mentioning that bucket-style stadium seats are quite different from those installed at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre or at Bear Mountain Arena, as bucket seats do not flip up and down and they don’t have armrests (see bottom right for a sample). Unfortunately, the new seats will not have cup holders either, but we can live without that small luxury.

Sample bucket seat
Once the bucket seats are installed, RAP will accommodate slightly fewer fans for baseball. That’s a small price to pay for a significant improvement in fan comfort, as it appears that the seating capacity in the affected sections will only be reduced by 5 to 10 percent.

The team also announced that they are reducing the number of pricing tiers for tickets to two. The single-game price of all reserved seats will be $14.50, while all General Admission (rush) seats will be only $9.50. Sections 6 and 7 have now been designated as General Admission areas, making it possible to sit in a bucket-style seat for less than ten dollars. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, so I’m expecting these two sections to be very popular this summer. Discounts for children, seniors and for buying online are still to be determined.

The HarbourCats will be announcing a number of player signings this coming Friday, so stay tuned for more information on the 2014 version of our team. Opening Day is only 172 days away!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Return of the Three Amigos!

Ah I love a good movie tie-in! Tuesday's press release from the HarbourCats made official the return of last year's coaching staff to the friendly confines of Royal Athletic Park.


In the original, Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms, and Ned Nederlander were "Up to their necks in Senoritas, Margaritas, Banditos, and Bandits" (that was the movie tag line, if you're still playing along...). In this sequel, Head Coach Dennis Rogers, Co-Head Coach Bob Miller, and Assistant Coach Ben Jackson will be faced with Bloggers, Lagers, Warm Nights, and Wins - or so we hope.

The return of the coaching staff from 2013 should bode well for Victoria fans, as the knowledge and contacts gained from last season here should equate to a bigger talent pool to pull from, and an easier sales pitch to players. It should also provide some consistency for new GM Jim Swanson as well, as he takes to the helm in his first WCL year.

You can read the official press release here.

Players will be announced soon, and the train will continue to pick up speed as summer approaches. Stay tuned for more developments in the coming weeks.

Monday, November 25, 2013

HarbourCats Hot Stove with Jim Swanson

“It’s round and white with red seams.” That was Jim Swanson’s response to my question about why he and his young family would move across the province so that he could take the job as the HarbourCats’ new General Manager. “I just love baseball,” Swanson declared. “The chance to get back into the game was too much to pass up.”

Although the temperature in Victoria isn’t exactly suited to baseball right now, the spring sure seems a lot closer after a Hot Stove session with Jim Swanson this morning. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this guy loves to talk baseball as much as – OK, more than – the baseball nerds here at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog. It’s safe to say that his enthusiasm is likely to rub off on many others at Royal Athletic Park this summer.

I threw a variety of questions at him during our half-hour discussion, which also included owner John McLean. The two were back in town after attending the fall GM meetings in Salem, Oregon and they were quick to point out that they heard many positive comments from around the league regarding Victoria’s inaugural season. That fact reflects well on all HarbourCats employees from last year.

I also learned that the team will be announcing the coaching staff for 2014 on Wednesday morning, but both Swanson and McLean were tight-lipped about who might be named. Swanson stressed that the team will be relying on “... the coaching network to find the best players” and that the roster will be “... stronger and deeper across the board, especially the pitching depth.” The goal is to sign 40 players so that the HarbourCats don’t run out of arms, especially in the last couple of weeks of the season.

Swanson officially starts his new job next Monday, and he and his staff are already busy getting ready for Opening Day. The promotional schedule needs to be ironed out and contracts have to be renegotiated with the various ballpark vendors. As for promotional ideas, Swanson said “I’ve got a million ideas -- let’s put 500,000 in place this year and 500,000 the year after.” That may be a slight exaggeration, but fans won’t be subjected to the same old promotions in year two and the ballpark experience will be kept fresh.

I was also happy to hear that the team will make better game-day use of the scoreboard. The video screen was under-utilized last summer, as static corporate logos and boilerplate player info ruled the day. That’s understandable for the team’s first year, but Swanson acknowledged that “... there is a step forward to be taken there.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who hopes that one of the steps forward is up-to-date player statistics.

I inquired about the organization’s goals for next season and clearly one of them is related to on-field performance. “We want to do everything we can to put a winning team on the field,” Swanson said. “I can just imagine what this town is going to be like following a playoff baseball team.” Another goal – clearly related to the first – is to raise attendance. While last season’s attendance was good overall, it was far too inconsistent. If the team can avoid the precipitous drop that it experienced in the middle of last season then there is no reason why the HarbourCats can’t lead the league in attendance, especially considering that Victoria is the largest market in the West Coast League by a wide margin.

There were many positives to take away from our lively chat this morning, but perhaps my favourite Swanson quote was also the simplest: “Victoria deserves a winner.” Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.

HarbourCatNip
  • The roster will once again be largely made up of NCAA Division I players. Many of the same schools will be providing us with players this year.
  • You can expect to see between three and five Canadians included on the regular roster, plus a number of players signed to 10-day contracts.
  • The team has moved to a larger office in the same building as before (1814 Vancouver Street). The new digs have a direct entrance off of Vancouver Street, a proper reception area and an enclosed team store.
  • There are only 192 days until Opening Day!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

HarbourCats tap Swanson as GM and VP

2011 photo of Swanson, manager of the P.G. Axemen
It may still be November, but the Victoria HarbourCats registered their first win of the season on Wednesday morning when they named Jim Swanson Vice-President and General Manager of the club.

Swanson appears to be ideally suited to his new role, and the 45-year-old comes with an abundance of experience in baseball operations, media and marketing. We won’t reprint the long list of his credentials from the team’s press release, but it’s glaringly obvious that Swanson has a deep understanding of the game of baseball. Organizer, GM, manager, coach, player, co-commissioner, media analyst – he has successfully performed all of these baseball roles. That experience will be instrumental in allowing him to (in his own words in an interview with Cleve Dheensaw) “...create an environment that allows the coaches and players to do their jobs.”

Another aspect of his background that we like is his extensive involvement with amateur baseball in the province of British Columbia. The soon-to-be-former resident of Prince George comes to the HarbourCats with a wealth of baseball contacts in the province and many friends and business associates in the CRD, so you can be sure that he will thrive in the local community.

In their inaugural season, the HarbourCats organization laid a solid foundation with which to move forward. But from our perspective, the key to making it the model franchise in the West Coast League is to improve the quality of the on-field product (a 12-28 record after June 23rd just won’t cut it). Victoria is a demanding sports market that’s full of knowledgeable baseball fans, and in this town winning -- or at least holding your own -- is everything. Based on his skills and experience, it seems likely that Swanson is exactly the kind of person that the team needs to take it to the next level.

On behalf of the bloggers at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog, we'd like to wish Jim a long and successful career with the team!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

HarbourCats release 2014 schedule

Mark your calendars, because the home opener for the Victoria HarbourCats is set for Tuesday June 10th when the Cowlitz Black Bears pay their first-ever visit to Royal Athletic Park. The 2014 schedule for the H-Cats was released on Thursday and it features 27 home games against a variety of West Coast League teams. Only two teams, the Kitsap BlueJackets and the Bellingham Bells, will make more than one visit to Victoria during the summer, so fans will get to see a good cross-section of the talent in the summer wood-bat league.

The highlight of the schedule – other than the home opener – is a Canada Day matchup on a Tuesday afternoon against the Kitsap BlueJackets. Fans may remember that the HarbourCats were on the road for Canada Day last season, but the tradition of Canada Day baseball will make a much-anticipated return in 2014. The team has also scheduled a fireworks night on the evening before Canada Day, so you can be sure that those two games will be well attended. The three-game series will also be Kitsap’s first trip to the Garden City.

A total of 13 of the 27 home games will be played on the weekend, although those games are heavily back-loaded. The team’s first 13 home games (including the Canada Day matinee) will be played during the week, but 13 of the last 14 games will be contested on the weekend, starting with the Friday July 11th game against the Medford Rogues.

The HarbourCats don’t play regular-season home games on more than three consecutive days next season and that can only help the attendance figures. Technically speaking, there is one six-game homestand that starts on June 16th, but the team has four consecutive off-days between the three-game sets against Bellingham and the Bend Elks. An exhibition series will likely be scheduled during the break to help keep the team focused and in playing shape. Last season the team had five consecutive off days in late June with no exhibition games scheduled and the layoff ended up becoming the turning point of the season. Although the HarbourCats posted a surprising 10-4 record to start the year, the team completely fell apart after the five-day layoff, posting a 12-28 record for the remainder of the summer.

The 2014 season concludes with a Sunday afternoon game at Royal Athletic Park on August 10th.

HarbourCatNip
  • You can expect announcements on the team's new General Manager, coaching staff and player signings in the next few weeks.
  • Victoria opens the season with a three-game series in Kelowna on June 6-8. The Falcons do not play in Victoria in 2014.
  • The All-Star Game will be held in Klamath Falls on July 21st.
  • The yet-to-be-named Yakima squad, an expansion team for 2014, will not make a visit to Royal Athletic Park in their inaugural season. 
  • The breakdown of home games by day is as follows: 3 Mondays, 4 Tuesdays, 4 Wednesdays, 3 Thursdays, 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 3 Sundays.
  • Here is the complete home schedule for Victoria:
    • Tuesday June 10 to Thursday June 12 vs. Cowlitz Black Bears
    • Monday June 16 to Wednesday June 18 vs. Bellingham Bells
    • Monday June 23 to Wednesday June 25 vs. Bend Elks
    • Monday June 30 to Wednesday July 2 vs. Kitsap BlueJackets
    • Thursday July 10 to Saturday July 12 vs. Medford Rogues
    • Thursday July 17 to Saturday July 19 vs. Klamath Falls Gems
    • Friday July 25 to Sunday July 27 vs. Corvallis Knights
    • Friday August 1 to Sunday August 3 vs. Bellingham Bells
    • Friday August 8 to Sunday August 10 vs. Kitsap BlueJackets

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yippee ki-yay

John McLean - Owner
Season one is in the books. I'd say it was a pretty good year, a nice foundation for moving forward. The on-field product was pretty entertaining, the crowds were solid (meeting ownership goals set prior to the season), the beer was cold and we had the added excitement of hosting the All Star Game this year. It did seem to speed by though, didn't it? One day I was at opening day and before I knew it, it was over as fast as a Miley Cyrus sanity test.

So now it's time for reflection, as well as looking ahead to what could be in store for us next year. I recently had the opportunity to speak with HarbourCats owner John McLean about exactly that. Once I figured out that I was not talking with John McClane, and he wasn't going to yell and swear at me, we had quite a good chat.

When asked about the overall "fan experience", John considered this to be a success which I tend to agree with him on. From my perspective, the fans not only got to see some of the future MLB lads strut through RAP, but they got a sampling of the complete minor league experience with fireworks displays, a kid-friendly mascot, dizzy bat spin (aka "lawsuit waiting to happen") and many other ballpark perks. The fans were very positive for the most part, and really seemed to enjoy just getting out to the yard. McLean also indicated that this sentiment was backed up by a postseason survey of fans, billet parents, families, etc. who - aside from the obvious gripes of different food, better start times, etc. (which I myself have been guilty of!) - provided very positive feedback.

As for the "on the field" product, McLean lamented that everyone loves a winner, but kept it in
John McClane - Bad-ass
perspective with this being the organization's first year. I think the strong start set expectations a little too lofty and then when, after the All Star game, the team ran out of gas, fans got generally disappointed. The Boss is quick to point out though, that the 'Cats - being a bit late to the party in their inaugural season - were an unknown quantity so probably missed out on some big ticket recruits. Now that word has spread on what an amazing summer we have here in Vic-town (no rain outs yet again!), and what a great city we have in general, McLean is expecting that next year's recruiting class will be even better.

As well, the 'Cats ownership and management teams now have a season of experience under their belts and know that the team will lose a certain number of players to attrition, even before they ever show up. This could be due to injury, players shut down by their coaches, last minute changes of heart (these are 18 year old kids, after all!) and many other unforeseen circumstances.

To combat this phenomenon, the 'Cats plan to sign 40 players vs. the 35-ish that were signed this year. As for returning players, McLean indicated that in this league they are few and far between due to many factors, one of which is that they - or their coaches - want them to experience the different leagues out there. For these college players, they're looking for any new experience that better prepares them for their quest for the "show". Net, don't count on seeing many of the same players year to year.

The owner was tight-lipped when it came to front office hiring and the coaching staff. We know that there is a vacancy in the General Manager role, now that Holly Jones has moved on. I'm hoping for Theo Epstein, but all I know is that they are still on track to make an announcement sometime in November as originally communicated. Now to the coaching staff, McLean would only say that an announcement would be made soon - so keep your ears open for that one. As a Reds fan, as long as the manager is not Dusty Baker, I'm good.

The roster, on the other hand, is very much taking shape with approximately 30 of the 40 players already signed. I'm sure they will be gradually introduced to us in the coming months which is an excellent way of building up interest and excitement for the new season. The 'Cats will be keeping some of their relationships with the strong programs and look to add even more, in order to generate a quality recruiting class for the 2014 campaign.

Another interesting topic we hit on was the business model and general "off the field" goings on. As expected, not having to pay the players makes this a lot more viable than a pro or semi-pro team. It can only get better as the start up expenses that were incurred last year will not be repeated. Apparently the relationship with the city and the concessions, etc. went very well. From what I could gather, this was due in large part to the good communication and expectation setting that both sides fostered before, during and after the season. The short season of the WCL is well suited to our (short burst of) excellent summer weather, and the fact that it is a true bus league, making it all that more economically viable vs. flying to, say, Hawaii or Mexico.



Looking ahead, I got a glimpse into the boy that lives in the body of the founding partner of Ansera Capital. This owner gets excited when talking about the future and this passion bodes well for the stability and longevity of the team in Victoria. It does not seem like just another business venture, but something much more personal. Like all of us, McLean sets his sights on making the playoffs this year. This should be helped by the new division alignment which has Victoria in the West with Kitsap, Cowlitz and Bellingham, away from the perennial powerhouses of Corvalis, Wenatchee and Walla Walla. With the division winner and one wild card making up the playoff field, I like our chances.

The fan experience will also be pumped up, with popular items like fireworks still being there but with some new twists to keep it fresh. Music to my ears! No major renovation plans are in store for the stadium, but there are some minor improvements being discussed with the city which should lead to an even better RAP experience.

In any case, while we tuck away our memories of 2013, we can now look forward to the series of upcoming announcements, press conferences, etc. that lead us into 2014. Game on!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

2013 Stan Musial Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). The VHCBB once again has the honour of casting a ballot for the five awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we reveal our ballots for the Stan Musial Award, which will be presented to the MVP in each league.

National League

In the senior circuit, the choice for league MVP is simple: It's Andrew McCutchen. "Cutch" has improved in each of his five years in the big leagues, and this year his career-best season was enough to lead the resurgent Bucs to their first winning season since 1992. McCutchen hit .317 with 21 homers, 84 RBI and 27 steals in 2013, but he also played great defense in centre field.

Matt Carpenter was an offensive force for the St. Louis Cardinals, as he led the National League in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55). The Cardinals, who won the NL Central with relative ease, led the National League in runs scored without the benefit of a serious power threat and Matt Carpenter was the biggest reason why that happened.

Our National League ballot looks as follows:
  1. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  2. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
  5. Joey Votto, Reds
  6. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  7. Matt Harvey, Mets
  8. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  9. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  10. Hunter Pence, Giants

American League

Mike Trout
Last year Mike Trout put together the best rookie season in baseball history. This year he had the best sophomore season in baseball history. I'm not a statistician, but that trend line looks pretty darn good.

Trout was far and away the best player in the majors this season. While his defense wasn't quite as spectacular as in his rookie year, his offense was incredible: 27 homers, 97 RBI, 109 runs, 33 steals and a .323 batting average. Trout's batting eye is phenomenal, as shown by his league-leading walk total of 110 and his .432 on-base percentage. It's scary to consider that the 22-year-old is still five or six years away from his peak production, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that he'll end up being viewed at some point as the greatest ballplayer in baseball history. 

Josh Donaldson is also worthy of special mention. The 27-year-old former first round pick of the Chicago Cubs surprised most of the baseball experts with his incredible breakout season in 2013. The free-spirited Donaldson hit .301 with 24 homers and 93 RBI and he was a big reason why the Athletics finished ahead of the heavily-favoured Texas Rangers in the AL West.

Our American League MVP ballot stands at:
  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Josh Donaldson, Athletics
  3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  4. Evan Longoria, Rays
  5. Chris Davis, Orioles
  6. Max Scherzer, Tigers
  7. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
  8. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  9. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
  10. Manny Machado, Orioles

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 Walter Johnson Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). Once again this year, the VHCBB has the honour of casting ballots for the five BBA awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we give you our ballots for the Walter Johnson Award, which is presented to the top pitcher (starter or reliever) in each league.

National League

Clayton Kershaw
Last year, both the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and the Baseball Bloggers Alliance botched their voting for the top pitcher in the National League by giving the award to R.A. Dickey over Clayton Kershaw. Voters got seduced by Dickey’s 20-win season, but this year they have no excuse for snubbing Kershaw -- he led the National League in ERA for the third consecutive year and he should be a slam dunk for the award. The only other players to lead the National League in ERA for three or more years in a row are Greg Maddux and Sandy Koufax, so Kershaw is in a pretty elite group. This season he posted a 16-9 record with a stellar 1.83 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Can you say “Hall of Famer?”

Adam Wainwright earned the second spot on my ballot with his 19-9 record and 2.94 ERA. While his (more relevant) numbers are outstanding, most still fall behind Kershaw’s. Wainwright did a great job as the anchor of the St. Louis pitching staff, posting a 1.07 WHIP in a league-leading 241 2/3 innings on the hill.

Matt Harvey took the National League by storm in 2013, but the 24-year-old hurler blew out his elbow in August and is now scheduled for Tommy John surgery. The first-round pick in the 2010 draft is likely to be out of action until the start of the 2015 season. In his 178 1/3 innings of work before his injury, Harvey posted a 9-5 record, a 2.27 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.

A pair of 14-game winners, Cliff Lee and Mat Latos, snagged the last two votes on our ballot. That ballot looks as follows:
  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  3. Matt Harvey, Mets
  4. Cliff Lee, Phillies
  5. Mat Latos, Reds
American League

Three of the five pitchers on our American League ballot are from the Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation. Max Scherzer topped our ballot thanks to his stellar 21-3 record to go along with a 2.90 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Scherzer mixed a curve ball into his repertoire this season and the results were impressive, as he set career highs in innings pitched (214 1/3), strikeouts (240), ERA and WHIP.

Anibal Sanchez won the American League ERA title with a 2.57 mark, but his other numbers weren’t quite good enough for him to finish ahead of his teammate Max Scherzer in the voting. The 29-year-old Venezuelan registered a 14-8 record and a 1.15 WHIP.

The Seattle Mariners may have moved in the fences this year, but that didn’t seem to slow down Felix Hernandez. King Felix’s numbers actually improved over 2012 and he posted career bests for strikeouts per nine innings (9.5) and walks per nine innings (2.0). He even managed to have a winning record on the 71-91 Mariners, as he registered a solid 12-10 mark with a 3.04 ERA.

Chris Sale and Justin Verlander earned the last two spots on our AL ballot, which looks something like this:
  1. Max Scherzer, Tigers
  2. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
  3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  4. Chris Sale, White Sox
  5. Justin Verlander, Tigers

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Goose Gossage Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). The VHCBB once again has the honour of casting a ballot for the five awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we reveal our ballots for the Goose Gossage Award, which will be presented to the each league's top relief pitcher.

National League

Craig Kimbrel
This is starting to get a little boring, but for the third consecutive year my vote for the top reliever in the National League goes to Craig Kimbrel. Although Kimbrel’s season was the least impressive out of his three full years in the big leagues, he still lit it up: Kimbrel posted a 4-3 record with 50 saves, a 1.21 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. His underlying numbers dropped off a bit from the previous two seasons, but they were still eye-popping. Kimbrell struck out a whopping 13.2 batters per nine innings and only walked 2.7 per nine. Most pitchers could only dream of having such a “sub-standard” season, but that’s what happens when the bar gets set so high.

Although he toiled in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh, my top vote almost went to Mark Melancon. Had he not struggled in the latter part of September, he most certainly would have garnered my top selection. Melancon went 3-2 on the year with 16 saves, a 1.39 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP, but his most impressive statistics was the fact that he only gave up one home run over his 71 innings on the mound in the regular season. He also showed incredible control, walking a miserly one batter per nine innings while striking out 8.9.

The Dodgers’ closer, Kenley Jansen, rounds out my ballot thanks to his 4-3 record, 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA. Jansen relied heavily on his nasty cut fastball to strike out nearly as many hitters as Kimbrel did – an incredible 13.0 batters per nine innings.

My National League ballot is as follows:
  1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  2. Mark Melancon, Pirates
  3. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
American League

Without a doubt, Koji Uehara had the most dominant season out of the bullpen in the entire major leagues. In fact, Uehara broke Dennis Eckersley’s all-time MLB record for the lowest WHIP by posting an absurd 0.57 mark. Add in 21 saves and a 1.09 ERA and the 38-year-old wonder gets my vote easily.

Greg Holland had a fantastic year for the Kansas City Royals on the way to breaking the team’s single-season record for saves (47). The record was previously shared by Dan Quisenberry (1983) and Jeff Montgomery (1993). Holland posted a 1.21 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in what was by far the best season of his career.

Another 38-year-old, Joe Nathan, rounds out my ballot by virtue of the 43 saves he earned for the Texas Rangers. Nathan also had a 6-2 record to go along with a miniscule 1.39 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.  

My AL ballot is therefore:
  1. Koji Uehara, Red Sox
  2. Greg Holland, Royals
  3. Joe Nathan, Rangers

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 Willie Mays Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). In this blog post, we present our ballot for the Willie Mays Award, which is given by the BBA to the top rookie in each league. Similar to the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the alliance is organized into different chapters. Gus, the founder of the VHCBB, is President of the alliance's Other Baseball Chapter.

National League

The National  League featured a slew of high-performing rookies in 2013, although the dynamic Yasiel Puig garnered by far the most media attention out of the current rookie crop. Puig was incredible in his inaugural season, but he wasn’t called up until early June, so we’re going with the right-handed phenom Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins instead.

Jose Fernandez
The Marlins were smart to put the 21-year-old Fernandez on a strict 170 inning limit this season, and they stuck to their guns and shut him down on September 11th. On the season, the Cuban flamethrower went an incredible 12-6 with the hapless Marlins and posted a spectacular 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Those stats were no fluke – his underlying numbers of 9.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 prove that he's the real deal.

Another Cuban, Yasiel Puig, came close to earning my vote as the top rookie in the senior circuit, but the fact that he only had 382 at-bats pushed him down a notch in my books. Puig still managed to put up great numbers: .319 BA and a .925 OPS to go along with 19 homers and 11 steals. If he can cut down on the fielding and base running errors then he’ll be a future MVP in the National League.

A.J. Pollock of the Arizona Diamondbacks quietly put up a solid rookie campaign this past season. The 25-year-old outfielder was a first round pick in the 2009 draft and although he doesn’t possess a ton of power or speed, he can do everything well and he’s an excellent defensive player and base runner. Pollock’s numbers on the year were .269 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI and 12 steals in 443 at-bats.

My National League ballot for the Willie Mays award is:
  1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
  2. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
  3. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
American League

The pickings were slim in the American League, but Wil Myers on the Tampa Bay Rays was clearly the best of the mediocre lot. Myers played a big role in getting the Rays into the playoffs, hitting .293 with 13 homers and 53 RBI in only 335 at-bats.

Outfielder David Lough of the Kansas City Royals didn’t have the offensive numbers of Myers, but his defense was outstanding in 2013. Lough did hit .286 with 5 homers and 33 RBI in 315 at-bats, but it’s his great defensive work that nudges him onto my ballot.

Mariners fans had little to cheer about once again in 2013, but at least some of their youngsters are starting to develop. Danny Farquhar, the 26-year-old rookie who came over in the Ichiro trade, took over as Seattle’s closer in August and finished the season with 16 saves. Although Farquhar’s ERA was only 4.20, he didn’t get much help from his defense and still registered some solid underlying numbers: 1.19 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 0.3 HR/9.

My ballot for the junior loop looks as follows:
  1. Wil Myers, Rays
  2. David Lough, Royals
  3. Danny Farquhar, Mariners

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

WCL re-aligns into three divisions

The West Coast League has re-aligned from two to three divisions for the 2014 season. With the addition of an expansion team in Yakima, some had been expecting the new team to simply be added to the North Division, but the league has instead decided to implement three four-team divisions.

The new divisional alignment is expected to help cut down on travel costs. All four of the Oregon-based teams have been placed in the new South Division, while the remaining teams will be split into East and West Divisions. The new alignment is as follows:
East
Kelowna Falcons
Walla Walla Sweets
Wenatchee AppleSox
Yakima (expansion)
West 
Bellingham Bells
Cowlitz Black Bears
Kitsap BlueJackets
Victoria HarbourCats
South 
Bend Elks
Corvallis Knights
Klamath Falls Gems
Medford Rogues
It is expected that each team will play half of their games within their division. Each of the division winners and one wildcard team will advance to the playoffs.

The re-alignment works out extremely well for the Victoria HarbourCats. In addition to saving on travel costs, the HarbourCats no longer are in the same division as the powerhouse Wenatchee AppleSox and the tough Walla Walla Sweets. The West Division is clearly the weakest of the three divisions and the HarbourCats have a viable shot at making the playoffs in 2014. At the very least, Victoria should be in a pennant race deep into the 2014 season.

2013 Connie Mack Awards

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. As a member of the alliance, we have the honour of casting a ballot for each of the five awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. The first award for 2013 is the Connie Mack Award, presented to the top manager in each league.

National League

Choosing the Manager of the Year in the National League was a slam dunk – consideration starts and ends with Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hurdle was one of the big reasons why the Bucs improved from 79 wins in 2012 to an impressive 94 wins this season and their first winning record since 1992. Their 94 wins is even more astounding when you consider that the Pirates had the 5th lowest payroll in baseball.

The Washington Nationals were the clear favourites in the NL East heading into the season, but they finished a full 10 games behind the surprising Atlanta Braves. Fredi Gonzalez deserves a good amount of the credit for the Bravos' reappearance in the postseason, especially considering the number of injuries that he has had to deal with this year. Gonzalez did a masterful job of juggling his lineup and selecting the right players to plug the numerous holes.

The St. Louis Cardinals surprised few by winning the NL Central title once again, but their path to victory wasn’t exactly free from obstacles. Mike Matheny had to deal with losing his closer, setup man and two starters for the remainder of the season by the end of May. The losses proved to be no problem at all, as Matheny calmly led the Cardinals to an NL-best 97 wins.

Accordingly, my National League ballot is:
  1. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
  2. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
  3. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals
American League

The waters were muddier in the junior circuit, but I’m giving the edge to Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians. Little was expected of the Tribe this season, but Francona led them to a 92-win campaign and a wild card berth in the playoffs. That achievement was vindication for a man who received an unfair share of the blame for the Red Sox implosion of 2011.

Bob Melvin may have won the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2012, but he still deserves serious consideration for this year’s award. All he did was take a team with a paltry $60 million payroll and lead them to a 96-win season and the AL West title. Since the BBWAA has only given the award to the same manager in consecutive years once (Bobby Cox in 2004 and 2005), it's unlikely that Melvin will come out on top in either the Baseball Bloggers Alliance or BBWAA voting this year.

The trendy pick by many is John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox, but I'm not one to blindly follow trends. Sure, the BoSox had the best record in the American League, but they also featured a $150 million payroll. Boston’s AL East title in 2013 only proves just how bad of a manager Bobby Valentine is, and that's not enough to warrant the AL Manager of the Year award for John Farrell.

My AL ballot is therefore:
  1. Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
  2. Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
  3. John Farrell, Boston Red Sox

Thursday, August 22, 2013

West Coast League hands out 2013 awards

Alex Real
The West Coast League awards have just been handed out and there is plenty of good news for the Victoria HarbourCats organization.

Although the team finished in fourth place in the North Division with a lackluster .407 winning percentage, the HarbourCats still had three players receive league honours. Alex Real was named to the All-WCL First Team, while Alex DeGoti and Bryan Conant received All-WCL Second Team honours. Real led the HarbourCats' offense in their inaugural season, posting a sparkling .339 batting average -- good enough for seventh best in the entire West Coast League. Conant was the ace of Victoria's pitching staff, and his 1.81 ERA was the fifth-best mark in the league.

The West Coast League's MVP award went to one of the few Canadians in the league -- Alex Calbick of the Bellingham Bells. The left-handed hitting slugger, who used to play for the Coquitlam Reds in the BC Premier Baseball League, won the batting title with a remarkable .384 average. The Burnaby native was a thrill to watch during Bellingham's visit to Royal Athletic Park on the final weekend of the season.

Nick Sabo of the Klamath Falls Gems was named the WCL Pitcher of the Year. He posted a 6-3 record and a 2.63 ERA in a league-leading 75 1/3 innings pitched. Although he didn't make his first appearance until June 19th and pitched fewer innings, the award could easily have gone to Andrew Olson of the Bellingham Bells. Olson had a 1.84 ERA and a miserly 0.86 WHIP, while he struck out more than seven batters for each hitter that he walked.

Brooke Knight received Coach of the Year honours for the fourth time in his career. He led the Corvallis Knights to the WCL championship after compiling a league-leading 37-17 record in the regular season. That mark was an impressive 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-best record in the league, a 31-22 season put together by the Walla Walla Sweets. Although Knight is a fine coach and a worthy recipient, I would have liked to have seen the award given out to Josh Hogan of the Medford Rogues. Hogan led the Rogues to the playoffs with a 30-24 record -- a new league record for the most wins by an expansion team. It's worth noting that Hogan accomplished the feat with only one of his players named to the All-Star team, while Corvallis had seven players named.

As for the off-field awards, HarbourCats GM Holly Jones was named WCL Executive of the Year. Under Jones' leadership, Victoria finished second in the league in average attendance with 1,437 fans per game. Only the Bend Elks (1,574 fans per game) posted a higher average attendance. The Medford Rogues, the other expansion team in the league, finished third in attendance with 1,372 fans per game.

From this vantage point, it appears that the deciding factor in awarding Executive of the Year honours to Jones was the wildly successful All-Star Game. The midsummer classic, which received rave reviews from all corners, attracted 4,210 excited fans and smashed the all-time WCL record for single-game attendance. Achieving this kind of success helped to improve the (already excellent) reputation of the West Coast League. Although their work was largely performed outside of the limelight this summer, a good amount of the credit for the All-Star Game should also go out to HarbourCats staff members Cale Reining and Nicole Post.

Congratulations to all of the award winners!

Corvallis wins WCL championship

The bloggers have been busy of late with summer vacations and (yes!) even one of us getting married, but we're back and trying to get caught up on recent news. On that note...

The Corvallis Knights defeated the Wenatchee AppleSox 1-0 on Monday night to sweep their best-of-three series 2-0 and win the WCL championship for the third time in their history. The Knights have now appeared in the championship series six of the last seven years. The AppleSox, five-time winners of the WCL championship, have made it to the finals seven times in the league's nine-year history.

Pitcher Jorge Perez was dominant in the playoffs for the Knights, winning both of his starts while posting a 1.17 ERA. In 15 1/3 innings pitched he struck out 11 and walked only one batter. His WHIP in the playoffs was an absurd 0.46.

Corvallis also swept our expansion cousins, the Medford Rogues, in the South Division final. In the North Division final, Wenatchee swept the Walla Wall Sweets two games to none.

Congratulations to all of the playoff teams for a great season!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunny Sunday victory ends season on a high note

HarbourCats pre-game pep talk...
In a true feel-good afternoon at the park, the Victoria HarbourCats pulled off a come from behind victory to send their faithful fans home with smiles on their faces and promises of next year.

It was family day, and that meant taking time to honour and thank the many families who give up their homes and their free time to billet the players. I was surprised to learn many families take in more than one player, showing a true commitment to the team, and to baseball in Victoria. All managed by Austin and Ty's mother Karen Russell, everyone involved deserves a big hand.

There were plenty of other thanks to give on this day, including to the many volunteers and 'Cats staff who keep the games running smoothly. Thanks also to the many concession, security, and field workers who are there night after night keeping us fed, safe, and hydrated.

And thanks to the HarbourCats for ending the season in style - thanks to a late 3-run rally and some great relief pitching from Logan Lombana.

A bit of a scare in the ninth inning... With two out, a long fly ball to right looked like a possible game-ending fly, but it continued to slice toward the foul line, landing just inches past the outstretched glove of a diving Chris Lewis.  With the tying run on 2nd base, another line shot to center field looked like it might find grass and score the tying run before Brandon Smith hauled it in for the final out of the season.

Connor Russell had a strong start, mixed with a couple of unfortunate base hits that added runs to the board for Bellingham. He left after 5 down 3-1, giving way to Lombana who finished the game giving up only 1 hit over the final 4 innings.

Bells 3B Alex Calbick started the game and went 1-3 before being pulled in the 6th inning. He left the game hitting .384 and a one-point lead over Wenatchee's Connor Spencer for the batting title. Spencer plays later tonight in Kelowna and will have to come from behind to take the title.

GM Holly Jones took the field late in the game to announce the outstanding attendance number for the game at 2,467. A weekend total of just over 6,700 gives Victoria the highest paid total attendance in the WCL this year, and the second highest average behind only the Bend Elks.

Coach Dennis Rogers also thanked the crowd for all of their support throughout the year, and promised a winning team next season.

Plenty of post-game activity with players lining the concourse to sign autographs and chat with fans. With a few weeks left before the college year starts, there was lots of talk about fly fishing, surfing, and hitting the beach, mixed with some good old home cooking.
...and Post-game Victory line. That's Brandon Smith receiving the hugs for his game winning catch!

Victoria will miss these boys of summer, and we look forward to seeing some of them return next season.

Stay tuned to the blog over the next couple of weeks while we wrap up the season, share some insight on what happens next, and post some exclusive interviews. Thanks for reading throughout the season!

Bubba

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spectacular night at RAP

Oooooooh. Ahhhhhhh.
What a great crowd at Royal Athletic tonight for the last night game of the season. 2513 fans took in the action, a 4-1 loss, and stuck around for the fireworks spectacular that followed. And what a spectacular show it was - nearly 20 minutes of pyrotechnics lighting up the sky above center field to many Oooohs and Ahhhhs from the crowd, and dozens of people lining the fences of RAP outside the park.

The fireworks were apparently the largest privately organized and funded display in Victoria's history! I've seen some Canada Day sets that weren't as good...

Apart from that, there was a lot going on at the park tonight if you knew where to look...

The huge attendance number vaulted Victoria firmly into second place in league attendance, where they will finish the season.

In about the 7th inning, the Wenatchee AppleSox finished their game against the Kelowna Falcons, winning 10-2. That win eliminated Bellingham from the post season.

Alex Calbick, now hitting .385
Bells' third baseman Alex Calbick went 2-4 on the night, raising his league leading average to an incredible .385. Wenatchee's Connor Spencer went 3-5 in their lopsided win (including a first inning grand slam), and sits at .383. The batting title will come down to tomorrow's games. In case you're wondering, Calbick will have to go 6-6 tomorrow to break the single season WCL batting mark of .403 set in 2008 by Bend's Drew Heid.

John Schuknecht went 1-4 tonight, but it stayed in the park. John remains at 6 home runs on the season, still two shy of the league lead. His brother David, who sits at 5 home runs, spent his second game in a row on the bench without as much as a pinch-hit opportunity.

A couple of roster moves today. Gone is All-star pitcher Ty Provencher, signed was Lambrick Park grad Evan Willow. Willow, a catcher, has been warming up pitchers in-between innings while Alex Real gets his gear on...

One more game to go, 9 more innings of HarbourCat season coming up tomorrow. Cheer on the Cats, but throw a little love Calbick's way as well.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bells' hopes still alive!

The Bellingham Bells are a step closer to making the WCL playoffs after a convincing 8-2 win over the HarbourCats Friday night. The win, coupled with a Wenatchee loss in Kelowna puts the Bells 2.5 games back of the AppleSox for second place in the North Division. If the Bells continue to win, and the Sox continue to lose, Bellingham will make the playoffs.

Friday night's game had a bit of everything. In a segment approved by Clint Eastwood, we give you...

The Good

Alex Calbick
  • Bells third baseman Alex Calbick goes 4-5, with a single, a double, and two rocket-shot home runs. Hard not to like Alex - he's from Coquitlam, and played on Canada's junior team. His near-perfect night leapfrogged him into first place for the WCL batting crown, passing Wenatchee's Connor Spencer who only went 2-4 on the night. Calbick sits at .382 to Spencer's .376.
  • Mr August, John Schuknecht hit his 4th home run of the month, moving himself into second place in the WCL Home Run race with 6, just 2 behind league leader and Home Run Derby Leader Cody Hough.
  • The fans were out in full force! Not sure what to expect as the team struggles down the stretch, ticket sales were exceptional, with 1700+ passing through the gate. A great crowd on a beautiful warm summer night. The crowd moves Victoria closer to the top of the WCL attendance list, less than 20 bums less per game than second place Medford. With similar crowds the rest of the weekend, Victoria should be second behind only the Bend Elks (who average almost 200 more a game than Victoria).
  • Brandon Smith, whom despite going 0-4 in the leadoff spot, still hasn't given up on a ball hit anywhere near center field this year. Yet another fantastic flat-out catch tonight to take away a sure hit.

The Bad
Mr Floatie!

  • On mascot night, all the local heroes come out to the park with a couple of notable exceptions... Turbo the Harbour Air mascot, who's been to a couple games now, was nowhere to be found. Seymour Seal (you know, he's still in town!) would have been a real treat for the throwback fans at the park. And the one mascot Victoria can claim as their own without a doubt - Mr Floatie, was left off the invite list.
  • No Russells. Not a single AB or pitch thrown by the trio tonight.

The Ugly

  • Back... back... back... gone! Victoria pitchers gave up 5 home runs tonight, raising their total given up on the season to 40. Forty home runs is 17 higher than the next closest team, and a whopping 14 over the previous league record for most dingers given up in a season.

There you have it. More good than bad if you look for it.

New-guy starter Daniel Koo, and new-new-guy reliever Emilio Foden (added to the roster just before game time) had interesting nights on the mound. Both looked composed making their first appearances in front of a sizable crowd, had good control and success against the weaker hitters, but were over-matched by the likes of Calbick and catcher Jake Bailey (who went 3-5 with a monster HR on the night).

For the rest of the series... it would be great to see BC boy Alex Calbick keep his lead and win the batting title, as it would be nice to see John Schuknecht put two or three more out to challenge for the HR title. Lots to cheer about at RAP!

Bellingham Bells - series preview

In a rare weather-assisted home-and-home series for the Cats, the Bellingham Bells comes to town for the final three games of the season this weekend. Victoria is in position to play spoiler to the Bells in their quest to make the WCL playoffs.

Bell's mascot "Dinger". Get it - he's a HAM-ster
Victoria dealt a huge blow to the Bells playoff hopes last night, getting a strong outing from Will Ballowe in a 3-2 victory. The Bells had plenty of opportunities to score runs but were unable to get key hits when they needed them. The Bells now need to sweep this series while Wenatchee gets swept, and knock them out based on their head-to-head record. Wenatchee is ending the season with three games in Kelowna starting tonight - if I was a betting man, I’d say Bellingham is done. Actually, they have been done for a while now... the Bells were leading the North division just two weeks ago, but have gone 1-7 since July 28th. This is a team that is in a serious slump at exactly the wrong time of the year.
Given the situation the teams find themselves in, you can expect to see a few changes and oddities happening in and around the field…
On the ‘Cats side, for perhaps the first time this season, Victoria doesn’t have their starting rotation listed for this weekend’s series - except for Friday’s game, where newcomer Daniel Koo – a Yale man (the Fraser Valley Baseball Academy one) – is scheduled to take to the mound in his WCL debut. Koo previously played in the BCJPBL with Abbotsford. Victoria also signed pitcher Gunner Swanson this week, and he pitched 7 strong innings down in Wenatchee on Tuesday but took a loss. The “Gun Show” played with Everett in the NWAACC, alongside Dylan LaVelle where they won the league championship back in May, and was the winning pitcher in the final game against Pierce, throwing a gem of a 4-hitter. Would be nice to see him with a start, if he made the trip North.
I doubt we will see Ty Provencher as he’s been all but shut down for the season with his pitch counts so far. Ryan Keller threw in relief last night (picking up the save) so he will likely stay in the pen. That may mean one more start for Bryan Conant which would be a nice way to end the season – he’s been by far Victoria’s most consistent starter. Maybe if a game gets out of hand early we’ll see Connor Russell and his mop one more time… We’ll have to wait and see what mound magic the coaching conjures up.
On the sticks, the Schuknecht brothers have found a rhythm for sure and are hurting the ball. Both are now tied with Alex Real with 5 HR each, 3 behind league leader Cody Hough. A good weekend could net one of these boys the home run title. Alex Real has dropped off considerably in his quest for league average leader, but Bellingham’s Alex Calbick currently sits at .370 – only 3 points behind the league leaders Connor Spencer from Wenatchee, and Cowlitz’ Kyle Knigge.
Flip a coin on any of these games, as either team could win all three. I really hope the HarbourCats give the fans a positive to close out the season. Victoria should be able to take 2 of 3 in the series, and end the year on a somewhat high note. Saturday’s fireworks night will bring lots of folks to the yard, and the weather promises to be outstanding for all three games. Come on down for one last Pig and Spinnakers Original at the park!

Arrivederci HarbourCats

I must apologize for my lack of posts lately, but a family vacation beckoned so I write this as I sip my cappuccino in Italia. But it is a good segue...the Italians are emotional, passionate people and so are Victoria baseball fans. I have been following the games whenever time and wifi allow and I love all the comments recently. Seems like I am missing some controversial times.

Firstly, a big THANKS to all those who leave comments. It keeps the blog lively and interesting. In fact, this quick post is really just to clarify my own thoughts on the developmental aspect of the league and how I see it.

I just reread some of my old posts and a lot of the recent comments, since it beats following my daughters around shopping. My take is this... the HarbourCats do want to, and do try to win every game. You may not agree with how they go about it, but that is what they try to do. However, the nuance is that this is a developmental league so consider this a "constraint" to putting the best team on the field. Is it a developmental league or a league where players are developed? I say both.

The WCL coaches have a tough job trying to win every game while at the same time, deal with college coaches imposing restrictions, injuries and the fact that these are 18  to 20 year old kids. I am certainly not giving the coaches amnesty for their questionable decisions (exhibit A- Connor Russell), I'm just saying when you see one of those decisions, it MAY, I repeat MAY, be because a college coach has given some input, there is some sort of injury or the kid may have been goofing around off the field. I have two kids that age and it is an understatement to say that the can have crappy attitudes or make bonehead life decisions from time to time.

So again, continue to question the coaches, but realize that there are other factors in play in this league. I don't believe it makes it any less appealing - I, for one have loved watching the ball this year - just more complicated.

My advice is to not be so quick in "throwing your toys from the pram" when you see your favourite batter hitting in a weird spot, or your favourite pitcher riding the pine. Question it, for sure, but consider that other factors may be at play.

So no playoffs this year, but lets keep that passion flowing into next year. Positive momentum. This developmental thing may end up working in our favour if we can generate some returnees from this year's freshman rich roster (exhibit B - Conant the Barbarian) as we strive to become a perennial Titan club like Wenatchee or Corvallis.

Enjoy these last fleeting days of summer, support the lads and keep those comments coming. We love it!

Ciao!



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Connor Russell mows ‘em down

"Russ" on the mound for VIBI
With the HarbourCats trailing 8-0 to the Wenatchee AppleSox in the third inning tonight, the team made the call for Connor Russell to come out of the bullpen and try to stop the bleeding.  And stop the bleeding, he did.  Although Wenatchee is the second-best hitting club in the entire league, Russell slammed the door for the rest of the game, allowing no runs and only three hits in 5 1/3 innings on the mound. The sensational outing gave his teammates plenty of opportunities to get back into the game, but the HarbourCats could only put four on the board the rest of the way and they would eventually lose by a score of 8-4.

The lone HarbourCat who had a good night at the plate was David Schuknecht, who homered twice and knocked in three runs. He raised his average to .252 on the season and he is now tied for the team lead in homers (5) with Alex Real and his younger brother John.

Russell’s great work on the mound lowered his ERA to 3.24 this summer, second-best on the HarbourCats among those pitchers who qualify for the ERA title. Only the ace of the team, Bryan Conant, has a better ERA on the squad.  “Russ” now has the 19th-best ERA in the entire West Coast League, an amazing accomplishment considering the adversity he has faced this year. Well done, Connor!!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Top 10 reasons to come out to RAP this weekend

The sun is setting on the season
The WCL season is winding down and entering its final days, so you might want to wander down to Royal Athletic Park this weekend to take in a HarbourCats game one last time. The Bellingham Bells will be taking on the ‘Cats in a three-game set that starts on Friday, so if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, come on down to the old ball yard and take in some of the action. 

With apologies to David Letterman, we present our Top 10 Reasons to Come Out to RAP This Weekend:

10.
Alex Real.
He’s cooled off at the plate of late, but he’s still seventh in the league in hitting with a .342 average. This guy alone is worth the price of admission.
9.
Sunshine.
The weather forecast is for continued sunshine, but this glorious summer won’t last forever and the winter rains aren’t that far off. Take advantage while you can and grab one of the many sunny seats at RAP this weekend.
8.
Alex Calbick.
I know, I know, he plays for Bellingham. But he too is worth keeping an eye on. The Burnaby, B.C. native is third in the batting race and he is within striking distance of the league leader, Wenatchee’s Connor Spencer. Although this is Bellingham's first-ever visit to town, Calbick has already played in Victoria this summer – he went two-for-three with an RBI in the WCL All-Star Game.
7.
Fireworks.
Seriously, who doesn’t like fireworks? On Saturday night, there will be a fabulous fireworks display following the completion of the game. The first two fireworks shows got rave reviews, so we’re expecting the third and final show to be just as good.
6.
John Schuknecht.
The younger of the two Schuknecht brothers has been on fire at the plate recently. He became the first HarbourCat to register a five RBI game when he hit a pair of homers to left field at RAP on August 1st. Come on out and see if he can do it again.
5.
Spinnakers Beer.
For those of drinking age, a trip to the Spinnakers kiosk during the game is a must. What goes better with baseball and sunshine than a frosty beer? OK, maybe a hot dog -- but let's not split hairs.
4.
Bryan Conant.
We’re holding out hope that we’ll get to see Bryan Conant take to the hill one more time at RAP this year. This guy is a joy to watch pitch – he’s like a left-handed Greg Maddux.
3.
Great Ballpark Food.
There’s the outstanding pulled pork, beef brisket and poutine at the Pig food truck and some awesome burgers at Ambrosia to choose from. Either way, the grub is top shelf.
2.
Dave Westgeest.
Some like to come the ballpark early to watch batting practice, but I think it’s more fun to watch the pre-game antics of Dave Westgeest. He’s officially listed as the team’s Baseball Operations Coordinator, but if you’re lucky enough you’ll see him skipping rope, drinking from the hose or pretending to be in a wet T-shirt contest in the infield while he takes care of his grounds keeping duties. Classic.
1.
Alex Real.
Seriously, you gotta see this guy play if you haven’t already. The future All American will be in the big leagues in four or five years.

See you at the ballpark!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another head-scratching decision dooms the ‘Cats

The HarbourCats let yet another one get away tonight, and this time it’s hard to point the finger at a player.

After trailing the Walla Walla Sweets 2-0 for most of the night, Victoria came through with a clutch two-out rally in the top of the 8th to take the lead. The big hits in the inning were an RBI single by David Schuknecht and a base hit by Dylan LaVelle to bring home the elder Schuknecht and Chris Lewis to give the HarbourCats a 3-2 lead.

In the bottom of the eighth, starter Tyler Rowe walked Dominic Miroglio with one out and was removed after having thrown 106 pitches on the night. So far so good. With a slim one-run lead and the team in desperate need of a win, who would be brought in? Ryan Keller (1.74 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since Monday? Connor Russell (3.63 ERA), who has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, but hasn’t exactly been overused of late? Will Ballowe (5.78 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday? Scott Kuzminsky (5.26 ERA), who threw six pitches and took the loss the previous night? Nope, pitching coach Ben Jackson chose to bring in the man with the highest ERA (11.73) on the team, Cameron Cuneo. Here’s how Cuneo’s outing went: hit by pitch, walk and another walk to tie the game.

Now that the lead was blown, Jackson brought in Kuzminsky, who promptly struck out John Skrbec and Scott Silva to end the threat and keep Cuneo’s ERA from climbing any higher than 11.73. But by then the damage had been done. The HarbourCats would go on to lose the game in ten innings for the second consecutive night, with Kuzminsky taking both losses.

Fans at Royal Athletic Park
The situation mirrored what happened in a game against Corvallis at Royal Athletic Park on Monday. With the ‘Cats holding a 3-1 lead in the top of the 7th inning and (as usual) being in desperate need of a win, Victoria brought a struggling Joe Record into the game. Record gave up a couple of hits and then couldn’t get out of the inning. With runners on first and second and the score at 3-2 in Victoria’s favour, Jackson brought in Cameron Cuneo, who had a 12.15 ERA at the time. Cuneo quickly issued a walk and a base hit, and suddenly Corvallis held a 4-3 lead. Cuneo was summarily removed from the game and the guy who should have started the 7th inning, Ryan Keller, was brought in. But again, the horses were out of the barn and the HarbourCats would go on to lose that game by a score of 6-5.

We aren’t bringing this up to embarrass Cameron Cuneo. We’re sure that he’ll be a fine professional pitcher someday, but right now he’s struggling. So much so that he should only be used in mop-up duty until he can regain his confidence. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other relievers who have earned the right to come into tight ballgames with a slim Victoria lead.

Some may simply dismiss this blog post as second guessing. However, we think the situation is worth pointing out, because it highlights a pattern that we have seen from the Victoria coaching staff this summer. On many occasions, opportunities have been given to players who are struggling, while those who have performed well are relegated to the bench. We understand the West Coast League is a developmental league, but the paying customers deserve better. Playing time should be at least partially dependent on a player’s performance – in this or any other league.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lack of offense wastes dominant outing by Conant

Bryan Conant
Bryan Conant was spectacular on July 14th when he threw a complete-game shutout against Klamath Falls, but he was even more impressive last night against the Walla Walla Sweets. Conant gave up only six hits in nine shutout innings, he struck out 10 and he didn’t walk a single batter. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to pick up a win, as the underachieving HarbourCats fell 1-0 to Walla Walla in 10 innings. On the plus side, at least the team had the good sense to sit Conant down after his 115-pitch masterpiece.

In his last four starts, Conant has now only given up a total of two earned runs in 33 innings. Yes, you read that correctly – TWO earned runs in his last 33 innings pitched. The season numbers for Conant “The Barbarian” continue to defy gravity, as he is currently fourth in the West Coast League with a 1.81 ERA. Opponents are hitting a paltry .198 against him and his WHIP stands at a miserly 0.93. The big lefty looks to have a bright future ahead of him, but we knew that well before he donned a HarbourCat uniform for the first time.

On Friday night, the ‘Cats did manage to push across three runs in a 3-1 victory over the Sweets. Those precious runs made a winner out of Ty Provencher, who also had what was likely his best outing of the season. “Ty Pro” threw a complete-game gem on Friday, giving up only one run on five hits and a walk. He struck out nine batters, which gives him 28 strikeouts in his last 25 1/3 innings on the hill. Provencher threw a whopping 135 pitches in the game, topping his previous high-water marks of 121 pitches on July 21st and 118 pitches on July 8th. Let’s hope that his arm really is made out of rubber and that the former short reliever remains injury-free over the remainder of his college career.

Saturday’s loss leaves the HarbourCats four games out of the last playoff spot in the North Division standings, but only the most hopelessly optimistic fan would be entertaining post-season thoughts at this point. With the team’s transmission stuck firmly in neutral, the most pertinent question remaining to be answered this summer is whether or not the HarbourCats can avoid a last-place finish. The Kelowna Falcons, made up primarily of Division II and junior college players, have managed to pull within three games of the fourth-place HarbourCats. In fact, the Falcons have been a much better team than the Victoria squad since late June. At the end of the day on the 23rd of June, the HarbourCats had a record of 10-4, while the Falcons stood at 3-12. Since that oh-so-obvious turning point of the season, Victoria has gone a shocking 10-22, while Kelowna has posted a respectable 14-17 record. If the team is to avoid finishing in the basement, a number of those sleeping bats are going to have to wake up in the dying days of the team’s inaugural season.