Tuesday, May 5, 2015

2015 Preview part 1: What's on deck for the HarbourCats season!

It’s officially a month away - the start of the 2015 West Coast League season. The Victoria HarbourCats are about to do what no baseball team has been able to do in Victoria since the 1940s – open their third consecutive season. Not the Seals, or the Capitals, Blues, Mussels or Tyees. Not since the Victoria Athletics played here for 6 seasons from 1946-1951 has our town seen the same organization take the field for a third opening day in a row.

As expected, this is the biggest year yet for the HarbourCats. For most sports teams, year three is where the fan base decides if it’s going to stick with the team. Year one is all about the thrill of the new baby, the new car smell. Pretty much a free pass, people are just happy to be at a ball game. Year two is more objective, but is still full of anticipation of seeing something better than year one, and watching it grow. Lots of new fans who may have missed it the first time around, coming out to see what all the talk is about. Your first year fans are still interested, and you’re gaining momentum with sponsors and new fans who realize you’re not just a fad.  Year three? Well now there’s expectations. Fans have sat through a couple losing seasons, and seen some moves on and off the field that have left them frustrated and scratching their heads. They want more this year, they want the organization to give back as much as they have invested in the first two years.

So the HarbourCats set out to do what most teams try to do in year three - they alter the formula slightly, shuffle the pieces around a bit, and try and build on past success while introducing something new. Keep the old fans, bring in the new - the recipe for success in the Victoria sports scene. We go into this season knowing full well that some things will change, while some things will remain the same.

What can you expect will happen in 2015? Today we look at the first five of my "Top Ten" things I’m excited to see around the park this season...

New Ownership Group

Jim, call for you on... every line actually!
I can’t start the list without getting this one out of the way. Back in the fall it seemed like the 2015 HarbourCats season was in danger when it was announced that owner John MacLean had lost the team. The danger was never really there, but thanks to some sensational press at the time, it seemed like we would be back watching Game of Thrones reruns this summer instead of baseball. Such was not the case, and it’s gotten better since then. With last month’s announcement of another ownership change – this time to a local group, that cloud can be lifted for good.

I like the local flavour, and if nothing else it makes sure that everyone in the organization from top to bottom is rowing in the same direction: Keeping HarbourCat baseball in Victoria for the long term. This is further solidified by the fact that new part-owner Jim Swanson remains the VP and GM (and part-time announcer, program seller, chief cook and bottle washer, etc.).  The HarbourCats are pretty much Jim’s third child, and he’s making sure that everything that happens at the park and beyond is done to make the team successful. It’s a tall order for anyone, but if anyone can do it, it’s probably Jim Swanson.

New Coaching Staff

Being an IT guy, I appreciate the binary nature of life in general. On or off, black or white, good or bad. I think we are in for that with the coaching staff this year. Coach Merritt is one of those guys who will either knock it out of the park, or crash and burn. We’ll see which way it goes, but one thing is for certain – it will be entertaining. The past two years, you half-expected the coaching staff to pass out and fall over down the first base line, but I don’t expect that this year. I expect animation, volatility, a few choice words overheard by the first couple of rows, and even a couple ejections. The passion should play well with the 19-21 year old's holding the gloves, and should keep the fans entertained as well. I’m hoping it turns out a binary 1…

Quinn Keeler (and the rest of the game-day team)

Ms. Keeler running the show
Does anyone even realize what Quinn Keeler does each game for the HarbourCats? She runs the place. While the rest of the management team smiles and presses flesh with fans around the park, Quinn single-handedly moves the game from inning to inning, managing the on-field and off-field antics that keep the masses interested on those long winter-like evenings. Of course she has her trusty street-team with her in tow, but it’s her show. Quinn will have more to manage this year as well, given a couple significant…

…Game-day Presentation Changes

This year will see less happening on the field, and more happening in the seating areas – meaning more fan interaction. The on-field mic and personality has been (refreshingly) removed, and has been replaced with a more dynamic in-game announcer (Dan Salmon),  who will regularly move around the park interacting with fans and announcing from places other than the stuffy booth above home plate. Expect to see additional local faces (like the recently announced Mira Laurence) as well. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but it should be a welcome change. Old favourites like the dizzy bat and RC cars will remain, while some new additions (think RC cars on steroids) should bring some big laughs. I am looking forward to seeing what Quinn and crew come up with.

Earlier Game Time – 6:30!

Last year’s convenience store tie-in with the 7:11 start time didn't really add to the experience at the park, but it certainly made for conversation. The HarbourCats had a few late nights at RAP last year, which means a few things: It gets bitterly cold some nights (cold enough that the ice cold water coming out of the bathroom faucets is actually warmer than your hands are at the time); it gets well past bed time for many Victoria fans, especially those coming from areas outside the downtown core; and the city gets a bit silly if the lights are left on past a certain point. Moving the start time to 6:30 should help with all of those problems, meaning more people in the park later in the game, enjoying the odd comeback or dominating closer performance.

Check back tomorrow for the final five items on the top ten list, focused more on the fan experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment