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.

  • 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.

  • 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