Saturday, January 25, 2014

A very good day, indeed

Life is a journey, not a destination. That famous quote has been turned into a cliche over the years, but it was particularly relevant to me this past Friday. I was fortunate enough to attend the 4th Annual Vancouver Canadians Hot Stove Luncheon that day, thanks to the generosity of HarbourCats owner John McLean and GM Jim Swanson. The main purpose of the lunch is to raise funds for the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Foundation and to allow children who come from low-income families to experience the joy of playing baseball. The luncheon was wonderfully supported by the Toronto Blue Jays, the parent club of the wildly-successful Canadians. The Jays, who are keen on spreading their brand from coast to coast, sent a star-studded cast of Fred McGriff, Hall of Famer Robby Alomar, Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopolous and Kevin Pillar to the get-together. It was truly a must-see event for any Canadian baseball fan.

The best jerseys in the minor leagues
To my surprise, the affair wasn't even the highlight of my day. Oh sure, it’s hard not to be charmed by the upbeat personality of Fred McGriff, especially since he was the only man in the fairly extensive Q & A session who gave answers that were even remotely candid. It’s not every day that you get to be in the same room as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame either. Then there was the unveiling of the impressive new Vancouver Canadians uniforms, a quaint baseball-friendly proclamation by Mayor Greggor Robertson and the release of good news regarding the endangered UBC baseball program. All in all, it was a pretty darn good luncheon.

To be honest, the best part of my day wasn’t spent inside the Fairmount Hotel Vancouver, site of the Hot Stove Luncheon, but inside of a van and on a ferry. The real fun on Friday was hanging out with seven great baseball men on the journey to and from Victoria: John Wilson, Trevor Strandlund, Fraser Campbell, Steve Sinclair, Brad Norris-Jones, Jeff Fisher and Jim Swanson. For the majority of the trip, the baseball stories --  some accurate, some slightly exaggerated -- flowed like lava out of Mount Vesuvius. Sinclair, who pitched for both the Jays and Mariners, shared many a story about his days in the minor and major leagues. Swanson and Strandlund have been involved in the game their entire lives, and they only scratched the surface of some of the baseball adventures that they have been on (barnstorming to raise funds for old Negro League players? Really?? I gotta hear that one some day). Needless to say, the laughs just kept coming all day.
My new favourite ex-Phillies player

It’s easy to put a price tag on the day -- just add up the cost of the tickets, ferry, van, food and any additional charitable contributions. But what was it worth to those of us who had a chance to travel to Vancouver and back together? To those of us who reconnected with old friends and made new ones? To those of us who got to briefly escape our predictable middle-aged lives and feel like an eighteen-year-old joker again? That, dear reader, is priceless.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Five more NCAA Division I players coming to Victoria

Andrew Calica
The HarbourCats inked five more ballplayers today, all of them from NCAA Division I schools. Four of the five will also have at least two seasons of college baseball under their belt when they report to Victoria in June, so they’ll provide the 'Cats with some valuable veteran leadership. The roster now stands at 14 players, with 11 of those 14 coming from Division I schools.

Outfielder Andrew Calica is a sophomore at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). The 6-1, 180 lb. switch-hitter is a teammate of ex-HarbourCats David Schuknecht, Robby Nesovic, Cameron Cuneo and Joe Record. He was drafted in the 17th round of the 2012 draft by the Cleveland Indians, although Baseball America had predicted that he might go much higher than that. He was expected to be an impact player in his freshman season at UCSB, but he was plagued by a back injury and only hit .130 in 23 at-bats. Calica is an on-base machine and a classic leadoff hitter who is very patient and controls the strike zone. In his senior year of high school he walked 23 times, yet only struck out on five occasions in 94 at-bats. Even in his disappointing debut season with UCSB, he still managed to register more walks (3) than strikeouts (1). Calica makes good contact and sprays the balls to all fields, so he should fit in nicely somewhere near the top of the HarbourCats batting order. He’s also a good fielder -- he went his entire senior year of high school without committing an error. Calica is one smart ballplayer who will be a lot of fun to watch this summer at Royal Athletic Park.
Gabe Clark

Is there anything more Canadian than having a Beaver on your team? The HarbourCats just gained one of those by signing power-hitting sophomore Gabe Clark of the Oregon State University (OSU) Beavers. Clark is a 6-0, 210 lb. first baseman from Riverside, California who can also play in the outfield or at third base. He only had a .161 BA / .278 OBP in 31 at-bats in his freshman season at OSU, but the Beavers’ lineup is not exactly easy to crack into as a rookie. Oregon State went on to participate in the 2013 College World Series, finishing the season as the fourth-ranked NCAA team. Clark then won a West Coast League championship with the Corvallis Knights last summer, hitting .198 in 81 regular season at-bats with three homers and 14 RBI. He may end up winning the starting job at first base for OSU this season, and he could be a big run producer in the heart of the HarbourCats lineup.

Will Dennis
Sophomore Will Dennis is a lefty sidearm pitcher with the Seattle University Redhawks and a teammate of fellow HarbourCat Griffin Andreychuk. The 6-1, 190 lb. native of Saratoga, California (a small town near San Jose) had a very effective season out of the bullpen in his freshman year with Seattle U and it appears that he will become the team’s closer this season. Last year Dennis had a 2-0 record with a 2.78 ERA and one save in 32 ⅓ innings of relief. Although he walked 10 and struck out 15, he did not give up a single home run in his team-leading 31 appearances. He played for the Bellingham Bells last summer, compiling a 5.26 ERA in 13 ⅔ relief innings with seven walks and 12 strikeouts. Although Dennis amped up the strikeouts with the Bells, he paid for it with a loss of control -- not only did he walk seven batters in those 13 ⅔ innings, but he also hit another seven. If he can keep the strikeouts close to one per inning but improve on his control, look for Dennis to be very effective in the late innings out of the HarbourCats bullpen. He has actually pitched at RAP before, appearing for Bellingham in the last game of the 2013 season (he gave up a single in ⅔ of an inning).

Quintin Torres-Costa
Pitcher Quintin Torres-Costa (6-0, 190 lb.) is a former high-school phenom from Hilo, Hawaii and a redshirt freshman with the University of Hawaii Rainbows. Torres-Costa, a teammate of ex-HarbourCat Scott Kuzminsky, went 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in two 2013 starts with the Rainbows before being shut down with an ulnar collateral ligament tear in left elbow that was suffered while swinging the bat in early March. He eventually had Tommy John surgery in May 2013, and he may return to action with the Rainbows late in this season or he may get back on the hill in the summer with the HarbourCats. In his senior year of high school in 2012, Torres-Costa was named the Hawaii High School Athletic Association (HHSAA) State Pitcher of the Year and he led his high school to the state title in 2012, pitching six no-hit innings in the state final. In that game, he struck out 13 batters -- including 12 in a row -- pitching on one day’s rest. The only reason why he didn’t pitch a complete game in the state final was that he was removed from the game due to the HHSAA’s pitch-count limit. He was also named ESPN’s High School Player of the Week (West region) in May 15, 2012, and he led Hilo to the Senior Little League World Series title in 2011, posting a 0.75 ERA in the tournament.
Matt Susac

The first player from the University of Nevada Wolfpack to ever sign with the HarbourCats is pitcher Matt Susac from Roseville, California. The big right-hander has only made five appearances in the last two seasons and he missed all of last year due to elbow surgery. Susac transferred to the University of Nevada from Sacramento City College and spent his freshman season in 2011 hurling for American River College (ARC), where he went 1-2 with a 5.55 ERA in 35 ⅔ innings on the hill. Aside from staying healthy, control has been one of his biggest challenges over the last few years, as he walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in his senior year at Jesuit High School and 5.3 batters per nine with ARC. Susac did post a solid 5-1 record and 2.97 ERA in his final season of high school baseball, so he could surprise some people if he's fully recovered from his surgery.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

HarbourCats beef up roster with six player signings

Cameron Cotton
The HarbourCats announced six more player signings today, including a pair of Alex Real’s teammates at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and the fourth B.C. boy to join the team. All but one are in their freshman season of college.

Cameron Cotton is a 6-2, 205 lb. right-handed pitcher from Danville, California (a suburb of San Francisco/Oakland). He’s in his freshman season at Cal Poly and a new teammate of ex-HarbourCats John Schuknecht and Jordan Ellis. Cotton had an outstanding season in his senior year of high school, compiling a 7-2 record with a sparkling 0.80 ERA and holding opponents to a paltry .151 batting average. He also struck out an astounding 15.2 batters per nine innings while walking only 3.3 hitters per nine. This guy can also swing the bat, as he hit for a .434 average with 3 homers in only 53 at-bats.

Carson Schneider is a freshman pitcher from Albuquerque and one of the two (and counting!) UNM Lobos headed to Victoria this summer. The 6-2, 175 lb. southpaw registered a 10-1 record and a 1.92 ERA in his senior year at Sandia High School and was named to the All-State team. His underlying numbers are excellent: 64 strikeouts and 22 walks in 58 ⅓ innings pitched. He will likely pitch in relief for the Lobos this spring.

Brandon Feldman
The latest local boy to be signed, Brandon Feldman, led the Victoria Eagles to the provincial title last season. The 6-0, 185 lb. right-handed pitcher and corner infielder won both the MVP award and the PBL batting title -- by a whopping 54 points. Not only did he hit .439 and post a .715 slugging percentage with 3 homers and 35 RBI in 123 at-bats from the right side, but he was also the Eagle’s closer and finished the regular season with seven saves and a 2.04 ERA (although his control is a bit of a concern with 11 walks issued in his 13 ⅔ innings on the hill). Fans of the Eagles may remember that Feldman played third base and picked up the save against the Mariners in last May’s exhibition game at Royal Athletic Park. He is now a freshman at Otero Junior College (La Junta, Colorado), so he’ll pick up some valuable experience before coming back to Victoria to play in front of the hometown crowd. Since the junior colleges wrap up their season much earlier than the NCAA schools do, there’s a great chance that Feldman could see some early-season action at Royal Athletic Park in the June 5th exhibition game against his old squad and/or in the first regular-season home series that starts on June 10th.

John Grimsley
John Grimsley has committed to the University of San Diego for the 2015 season, but he’s currently in his senior year at Concordia Lutheran High School in Tomball, Texas. The talented centre fielder will surely be one of the youngest HarbourCats on the team this summer, but he will bring an impressive set of skills into his West Coast League debut. He’s an extremely speedy runner and a line-drive machine who can get on base and change the face of the game in an instant. As a junior in high school, Grimsley led his team in steals, runs scored and home runs and was named second-team All-State. In spite of his small stature -- perhaps no more than 5-8 and 160 lb. -- he’s described as a hard-nosed player with a strong and athletic body. He sounds like the kind of player who can get the (normally enthusiastic) RAP crowd really buzzing. He also has a very good arm and covers a lot of ground out in centre field.

Grimsley is also the son of former major-leaguer Jason Grimsley. The two-time World Series champion racked up a 4.77 ERA over 15 MLB seasons, but the senior Grimsley is perhaps best known for his off-field activities. Yes, he’s the guy who crawled through an air conditioning duct at Comiskey Park in 1994 to reach the locked umpire’s room containing Albert (don't call me "Joey") Belle's confiscated bat. Grimsley then replaced the corked bat with a normal one in one of the most bizarre capers in MLB history. On the darker side, he was also involved in a hard-to-believe PED drama in 2006 and 2007 that rivals the current Alex Rodriguez/Biogenesis scandal.

Jacob McAdams
Outfielder Danny Collier is the second member of the UNM Lobos to sign with the HarbourCats for the 2014 season. The 6-0, 175 lb. left-handed hitter is in his freshman season at UNM after attending Sandia High School in Albuquerque with his UNM teammate, Carson Schneider. Collier was twice named as an All-State outfielder, and he hit .515 with no homers, 24 RBI and 17 steals in 97 at-bats in his senior year of high school. At this point of his career he’s mainly a singles hitter, so he may fit in well at the top of the HarbourCats batting order.

Jacob McAdams is a freshman right-handed pitcher from the University of Arizona, the 24th-ranked NCAA baseball team. The 6-2, 195 lb. utility player graduated from Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can also play both corner infield and corner outfield positions as well as catch, so he’ll be a handy guy to have on the team. McAdams’ high school stats are not readily available, so we’ll have to wait for the Wildcats season to begin on February 14th before we can get a better read on him. In the meantime, you can always check out his promotional website.

Friday, January 10, 2014

HarbourCats to play Eagles and Mariners on June 5th

It looks like HarbourCats baseball will arrive in Victoria five days earlier than expected, as the team announced today that they will play an exhibition game against players from both the Victoria Mariners and Victoria Eagles of the PBL. The game will be played on the evening of Thursday June 5th at Royal Athletic Park, one day before the HarbourCats are scheduled to open the season in Kelowna against the Falcons.

Many fans will remember the game played between the Eagles and Mariners at RAP approximately one week prior to the HarbourCats’ 2013 Home Opener. The game served to raise funds for former Victoria Mariner Zack Downey and his ongoing battle with cancer. To the surprise of some, a solid crowd of 862 baseball fans braved a chilly night to witness the event.

Personally, I love the idea of having the HarbourCats face off against the Eagles and Mariners. It reminds me of the tradition that many MLB clubs have of playing their first spring training game against a college team. Not only will it help the new HarbourCats get used to playing at RAP, but it will also give coaches Dennis Rogers and Bob Miller a chance to take a look at some youngsters who might just end up suiting up for the HarbourCats in a year or two. I also like the idea of giving the PBL players a chance to measure themselves against college players, and for local fans to get a sense of the talent difference between a WCL and PBL squad.

There are now only 146 days until first pitch at Royal Athletic Park!!