Sunday, June 9, 2013

Observations from the inaugural series

Ty Provencher picked up a win and a save vs Kelowna
By any measure, the inaugural series in HarbourCats history was a resounding success. The games were highly entertaining, the crowds were large and boisterous, and the HarbourCats now sport a perfect 3-0 record atop the North Division standings. A total of 5,650 fans came out to the three games against Kelowna, enough to put Victoria firmly in the league lead in attendance with an average of 1,883 fans per game. Those attendance numbers will likely improve further once school lets out and the weather warms up, especially considering that two of the Kelowna games were mid-week and the Friday night game was played with a cold wind blowing out to right field at Royal Athletic Park. Since the HarbourCats lucked out with the schedule and have 14 of their last 21 home games on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Victoria finish significantly ahead of the rest of the league in attendance (Walla Walla is currently second in attendance with 1,352 fans per game).

One thing that jumps out at baseball fans who are seeing their first West Coast League game is the impressive pace of the game. The three opening games had an average duration of two hours and 23 minutes, almost a full hour below the average length of a Victoria Seals game. There are many reasons for the shorter games: the players run (instead of saunter) on and off the field, there is a better balance between pitching and hitting talent in the league, players aren’t constantly stepping out of the batter’s box and wandering away from home plate, umpires actually enforce the time limits between pitches and innings, and the energetic HarbourCats staff make sure that the between-inning promotions are completed by the time the pitcher has finished his warm-up tosses. Put it all together and the on-field product is far superior to anything found in the independent leagues. Sure, the indy league guys are professionals, but it’s tough to beat the desire shown by college athletes. Nothing illustrates these differences more than a relatively small detail that I noticed on Friday night. When the return throw from catcher David Schuknecht got away from the pitcher and rolled towards second base, both Jack Graham and Alex DeGoti ran to retrieve the ball. Even though it was clear that Graham would get there first, DeGoti continued to run towards the ball until Graham actually picked it up off the infield grass. It’s the little things like that race for the ball that fans notice and appreciate.

Although the HarbourCats have an impressive 3-0 record, one should tread carefully when jumping to any conclusions about where the team will finish this year. Kelowna’s record now stands at 0-5, and from what I have seen they are clearly a team that isn’t destined for the playoffs. On the other hand, all of their regular players had reported for Opening Day, while only 13 of the 27 HarbourCats signed to a full-season contract were available for the series. Once the majority of the other 14 players have reported, the HarbourCats will be a force to reckon with. However, I’m not making any predictions for a playoff appearance until I have seen how we perform against the stronger teams in the league like Wenatchee and Bellingham.

  • Alex Real of the University of New Mexico Lobos has arrived in Victoria and is available for the Medford series, which begins on Tuesday night at Royal Athletic Park. Real is likely to bat fourth or fifth in the lineup and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take on the bulk of catching duties, with some starts at DH and first base mixed in.
  • Both the Cal State Fullerton Titans and the Oklahoma Sooners were eliminated from the Super Regionals this weekend, meaning that CSF’s Bryan Conant and Oklahoma’s Anthony Hermelyn and Justin Burba may soon be on their way to Victoria. Hermelyn may well be the HarbourCats’ best all-around player and he should see a significant amount of playing time at third base. Conant will likely be a key lefty out of Victoria’s bullpen, while Burba’s speed will be a boost to our outfielder corps.
  • Tim Richards, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton in the Fall, will likely be Victoria’s starting shortstop when he arrives in town (Alex DeGoti may slide over to second base). The slick-fielding infielder is finishing up his senior year at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, and the last day for final exams at the school is on Thursday.
  • The HarbourCats have only one player who will participate in the College World Series (June 15-26), UCLA’s Brett Urabe. The UCLA Bruins upset the 3rd-ranked Cal State Fullerton on Friday and Saturday night in the Titans’ home ballpark.
  • Even though the Battle of BC is only three games old, there appears to be a bit of animosity between the Kelowna Falcons and our Victoria squad. In the three-game series 10 batters were hit by pitches, including six HarbourCats. The two teams play again June 15-17 in Kelowna and then they square off for the final time of the season on July 5-7 at Royal Athletic Park. There won't be any fireworks at RAP on Canada Day, but don't be surprised to see some fireworks of a different variety when Kelowna rolls back into town a few days later.

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