Sunday, May 31, 2015

HarbourCats first win of the season was a beauty, eh?

Matt Bryan had an auspicious debut with the 'Cats
This afternoon the HarbourCats opened their three-game preseason with a convincing 8-3 victory over the Langley Sr. Blaze, the defending Canadian senior men’s champions. The Blaze, a blend of former college and professional players, are normally tough competition for the regular HarbourCats roster, but today’s starting lineup featured six ‘Cats who were signed to 10-day contracts and seven Canadians in total.

The game was incredibly well played for an exhibition contest, as the two teams only committed a single error apiece and the game was completed in under three hours. In fact, I’d say that the game was more entertaining than an average regular-season game, so today’s $5 admission price was the best deal in town.

Centre fielder Matt Bryan of McPherson (Kansas) College gets my vote for player of the game. Bryan was signed to a 10-day contract last spring, but he rode the pine for one exhibition game and the first seven regular-season games before being released without ever entering a ballgame. Well, “Matty” made the most of his opportunity today, as the former Victoria Mariner went two-for-four with four runs batted in and a walk in his long-awaited HarbourCats debut. He also made an outstanding running catch in the top of the first inning to set the tone for the afternoon.

Shortstop Brady Rogers also looked impressive for the ‘Cats. The Nanaimo native doubled to lead off the bottom of the first and scored a pair of runs on the day. Although he only had one hit, every ball he put in play was struck sharply and he could have been credited with a single on a play that was ruled an error on the Blaze second baseman (it was one of those borderline plays that could have been called either way). Rogers also looked very good defensively, especially on a ball that was hit hard to his left in the bottom of the fifth. If he keeps it up, Brady should be around well past the end of his 10-day contract.

Chris Fougner
Chris Fougner, one of only two Canadians in uniform today who has been signed to a full-season contract, also looked good in his first game as a HarbourCat. Fougner went two-for-four with an RBI, three runs scored and a pair of stolen bases. He’s a dynamic player who will be a lot of fun to watch this summer.

Jackson Thoreson may have been held to only a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch in five plate appearances, but it’s clear that this young man can play the game. His reputation with the bat is well established, as is his excellent work behind the plate, but it’s always reassuring to confirm these things with your own eyes. I was especially impressed with the way he moved behind the plate and blocked balls in the dirt. He has a very good arm as well, and he may well be the best catcher we’ve seen in a HarbourCats uniform since Minnesota Twins farmhand Alex Real donned the tools of ignorance for the ‘Cats.

Victoria’s pitching was also very good on this day. Mikey Wright got his first start in close to a year, so he has a bit of rust to scrape off in the early going this season. His initial outing was as good as one could expect: one earned run on a hit and two walks in two innings of work. His big mistake was hanging a curve ball to Joe Germaine in the top of the second, but the solo shot did minimal damage on scoreboard.

Alex Rogers earned the victory by pitching three solid innings of shutout baseball. He struck out three batters on the afternoon and it seemed to me that A-Rog has a bit more pop on his fastball than he did last summer, but it’s tough the tell for sure without a radar gun.

Josh Walker of Grand Canyon University had one good inning and one not-so-good inning, but he has loads of potential. Bonus points for wearing your socks the right way, young Mr. Walker. Sean O’Toole of St. Mary’s College and Pitt Panthers lefty Josh Mitchell each pitched a scoreless inning to close out the victory.

"Anyone know when the shipment of
HarbourCats caps is due to arrive?"
When all was said and done, it was the 10-day players who carried the day for the HarbourCats. Not only did the fill-ins contribute with solid offense and defense, but they hustled at all times. Take for example Zane Takhar busting his butt down the line in the bottom of the sixth to avoid hitting into an inning-ending double play. He may have earned an RBI for himself on the play, but more importantly he helped extend the HarbourCats lead to three runs.

Only 8 of the 33 HarbourCats signed to full-season contracts managed to report in time for today’s preseason game, with most of the the remaining 25 players trickling into town over the next week or so. Now I realize that many of those 25 late arrivals have valid reasons for not getting into town by May 31st, but here’s a bit of unsolicited advice to the rest of the team: Don’t delay getting here any longer than you really have to and when you get here you better be ready to go, because those scrappy Canadian ballplayers are gunning to take your job.

  • Kudos to full-season players Jackson Thoreson, Alex Rogers, Josh Mitchell, Chris Fougner, Mikey Wright, Josh Walker, Sean O'Toole and Connor Suing for arriving in time for the start of the preseason, along with all of the 10-day players who allowed us to field a team on such an early start date.
  • Brady and Alex Rogers were on the field together for three innings this afternoon, marking the first time twin brothers have suited up together in HarbourCats history. Two other brothers have played together for the team: Austin and Ty Russell and David and John Schuknecht, both in 2013.
  • Those 25 full-season players aren’t the only ones who haven’t arrived in time for the start of preseason games. The entire coaching staff wasn’t in uniform today and head coach Graig Merritt is still in Ontario finishing his commitment to the reality TV show Big Brother Canada. Harbourcats General Manager / Co-owner / VP Baseball / Media Relations Director / PA Announcer / On-field Host / Ticket Taker / Program Seller Jim Swanson added another line to his baseball resume by taking over the coaching reins today. He now has a 1.000 winning percentage in his collegiate coaching career.
  • Former CTV Vancouver Island sports anchor Mira Laurence did an excellent job filling in for the regular PA Announcer in today’s game. Hopefully she’ll get more opportunities to handle those duties in the future.
  • I had the pleasure of trying the burger from the Floyd’s Diner food truck down the third-base line today. Many fans were disappointed to find out that Bin 4 Burger Lounge is unable to return to Royal Athletic Park this season, but all is not lost. While I’m not going to compare Floyd’s burger to Bin 4’s -- let’s be serious, B4BL is in a class by themselves -- I’m happy to report that burger fans are in for a treat once again at HarbourCats games. I ordered the regular burger and it was a nice mix of old-school and new-school style. The patty was high-quality beef, the bun was tasty and the fixings were simple and tasty. I give it 4 ½ out of 5 stars on the demanding Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog’s gastronomic scale.
  • I had a quick look at the plate of ribs available at Fat Daddy’s Catering, which is located on the first-base side of the park. It looked and smelled pretty darn good and the $10 price tag seemed reasonable given the portion size. It’s on my list of food items to try next.
  • I didn’t hear the official attendance announced and it’s not listed in the box score, but the crowd for today’s game was surprisingly good considering the overcast weather and the fact that it was “just” an exhibition game. The 50-50 pot was $497.00, so there were definitely more than just a few hundred fans in attendance.
  • The exhibition season wraps up with games on Tuesday and Wednesday evening. Tickets are only five bucks for these games, so come on down!
  • The regular season begins on Friday night when the HarbourCats take on the Kelowna Falcons at Royal Athletic Park. Game time is 6:35 p.m.

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