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!

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