Tuesday, December 18, 2012

HarbourCats announce first six player signings

The baseball season seems a lot closer now that the HarbourCats have started to unveil their roster. On Tuesday morning at Lambrick Park Secondary School, the team announced the signing of six players, three of whom are from Victoria. I must say that Lambrick Park was an excellent choice as a site for the press conference, since it's the home of the highly successful Diamond for Excellence Program.

(L-R) Austin Russell, Nick Pivetta and Connor Russell sign their contracts
The three local players signed by the HarbourCats are Nick Pivetta, Austin Russell and Connor Russell (no relation). All three played premier baseball in the city: Austin and Connor Russell were teammates on the Victoria Mariners and Pivetta played for the Victoria Eagles. These guys are not token local content either -- they can all play the game.

Pivetta is a flame-throwing right-hander who will pitch for New Mexico Junior College this season. He was recently awarded a full scholarship at the University of New Mexico, so he'll suit up for that NCAA Division I school beginning in September of 2013. According to the scouting service Perfect Game USA, Pivetta's fastball was 88-92 MPH last season but recently jumped into the 95-97 MPH range. If that's the case, he could have a monster 2012-13 season and be a high draft pick in next June's MLB draft.

Austin Russell is a speedy outfielder who played two seasons at Colby Community College (Kansas) before recently transferring to Southern Polytechnical State University (NAIA Division I). He hit .402 last season at Colby CC and received first-team all conference and first-team all region honours. You may see Austin hitting near the top of the HarbourCats batting order and stealing more than his share of bases at RAP next June.

Connor Russell is a right-handed starting pitcher in his third season with the Vancouver Island Baseball Institute (VIBI) Mariners, a team that plays in the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC). Last season, Connor broke school records for innings pitched (77), strikeouts (76) and ERA (0.90). He pitched for the Okotoks Dawgs in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) during the last couple of summers, registering a 1.88 ERA in 2011 and a 5.25 ERA in 2012. Fans of the defunct Victoria Seals may remember that Jeff Duda also played for the Okotoks Dawgs just prior to becoming a solid pitcher with the Seals.

The HarbourCats also announced the signing of three American players who were recently drafted by MLB clubs out of high school. In all three cases, the players did not sign a professional contract and chose to play college baseball instead. However, they will be eligible to re-enter the draft in the future.

David Schuknecht is a left-handed hitting catcher who was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the 12th round of the 2011 draft. The Rockies offered Schuknecht $500,000 to sign with them, but he chose to attend the University of Arizona instead (the Arizona Wildcats are the fourth-ranked Division I team in the country). Unfortunately, Schuknecht tore his labrum early in his freshman year and had to shut it down for the season. He now attends Riverside City College and will be coached by Dennis Rogers, head coach of the HarbourCats.
Casey Schroeder

Casey Schroeder, a switch-hitting catcher from Ohio, was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft. Schroeder is a freshman at the University of Kentucky, a solid Division I school that is currently ranked 18th in the country.

Connor Baits is a freshman right-handed pitcher at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), another NCAA Division I school. Baits was taken by the New York Mets in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft after being named as a Rawlings 2nd Team All-American. He was one of the top-ranked high school pitchers in California and he can throw in the low to mid 90's.

I would expect that we'll learn of additional signings periodically over the next few months, but for now it's good to know at least some of the players who will be wearing a HarbourCats uniform in the team's inaugural season. The college baseball season begins in February, so we'll be able to post updates on the progress of our HarbourCats as we get closer to opening day. Only one hundred and sixty-eight more days...

For additional information on the signings, check out the official HarbourCats site.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

HarbourCats ticket policies are the cat's meow

Lost in the shuffle in the last couple of weeks of HarbourCats news was the release of the team's ticket policies. I recently went through the details listed on the HarbourCats web site and as a long-time sports fan and a current Victoria Royals Season Ticket holder, my reaction was very positive. Check out some of these gems:
  • "Season Ticket holders will be able to manage their tickets online, including e-mailing tickets to friends or donating them to charity."  As a Royals Season Ticket holder, it’s a real pain to schlep paper tickets across town when I want to give away or swap tickets. This online ticket management feature will definitely save HarbourCats Season Ticket holders a fair bit of time. On top of that, charities will receive more tickets than they would otherwise. As a volunteer Big Brother, I really appreciate this option.
  • “The Flex Pass can be managed online or at the box office to select your seats and send tickets to friends or charity.”  I’m impressed that Flex Pass holders are also granted this feature. That's a nice touch.
  • Yellow Reserved Flex Pass holders will be able to, subject to availability, upgrade their seats to Blue Reserved for $2, or Grandstand for $4 per ticket, per game.  In my opinion, the Yellow Reserved Flex Pass is a steal of a deal. For only $99 (all in) you get 10 person-games of entertainment (e.g. a pair of tickets for five games) and the ability to upgrade your seats for a nominal fee. This is a great entry point for fans new to Royal Athletic Park who aren't sure where they want to sit. Insiders Tip: The Yellow Reserved seats along the first base line are the sunniest reserved seats in the park, so if you're going on a cool June evening make sure to sit in section 6, 7 or 8 (the further away from home plate you sit, the longer you bask in the sun).    
  • “A ‘No Ticket Left Behind’ policy means an unused ticket can be exchanged for a future game ticket of the same level subject to availability.”  This straightforward statement sounds like common sense, but it’s actually a step up from the convoluted exchange policy of the Victoria Royals.
The HarbourCats front-office is in the process of getting their ticketing system up and running and they hope to have it operational by early in the New Year. The system will not be run by Select Your Tickets -- a successful company with a solid background in minor-league baseball will have that responsibility instead.  On top of a whack of extra features, the new ticketing system is rumoured to have lower service charges than Select Your Tickets. For instance, I recently paid $8 in service charges to buy a pair of Royals tickets valued at $16.50 each – the equivalent of a 24.2% surcharge.
The Victoria Royals and the folks at Select Your Tickets will have some serious catching up to do once sports fans in Victoria get used to buying (and managing) HarbourCats tickets on a state-of-the-art ticketing system.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Top 5 HarbourCats home dates to circle on your calendar

The return of elite baseball to Royal Athletic Park seems a lot closer to reality now that the HarbourCats regular-season schedule has been released.

Overall, the schedule for the Victoria squad looks quite good. Local fans will get to see a wide variety of teams and there are plenty of weekend games. The 27-game home schedule sees every team in the league other than the Kitsap BlueJackets and the Cowlitz Black Bears pay a visit to RAP, and 15 out of 27 home games are on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Fans of the defunct Victoria Seals will remember a seemingly endless number of home games against the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Capitals, but the West Coast League can almost play a balanced schedule thanks to the close proximity of its teams. My only quibble with the schedule -- and it's a minor one -- is that the HarbourCats aren't playing at home on either Canada Day or BC Day.

There are less than six months to opening day, so it's time to start planning your trips to the ballpark. With that in mind, we present our Top 5 Home Dates to Circle on the HarbourCats Schedule:
  1. Wednesday June 5th vs Kelowna Falcons
    This one is a no-brainer. The HarbourCats play their inaugural game on June 5th and you won't want to miss it. Come on out and celebrate baseball's return to Royal Athletic Park and witness the West Coast League's first-ever "Battle of British Columbia".
  2. Tuesday July 23 - West Coast League All Star Game
    This is a great chance to see the top prospects in the WCL in action. A few years from now, you'll likely see a number of players from this game playing in the big leagues. Then you can turn to your buddy and say "I remember seeing him play at Royal Athletic when he was in college..."
  3. Friday July 19 vs Wenatchee AppleSox
    The AppleSox are the New York Yankees of the West Coast League. The defending WCL champions make their first visit to Victoria on July 19th and they will likely be near the top of the standings once again. Wenatchee has won five championships in the league's eight-year history and have only failed to appear in the Championship Series on two occasions. Have I mentioned how much I hate the New York Yankees?
  4. Sunday August 11 vs Bellingham Bells
    This is the last regular-season home game of the year and possibly the last HarbourCats game of 2013. Unless of course Dennis Rogers works some magic and takes an expansion team to the playoffs...
  5. Friday June 21 vs Bend Elks
    What better way to celebrate the Summer Solstice than by coming out to RAP and watching the HarbourCats and Elks square off? With the sun setting at 9:19 that night, there's even a chance that the last out could be made before sundown. If the HarbourCats decide to start night games at 6:30 instead of 7:00 then you're almost guaranteed to be leaving the park in sunshine.
If you're a hardcore fan, our top pick for making a road trip to watch the HarbourCats in 2013 is the June 28-30 weekend series against the Cowlitz Black Bears in Longview, Washington. Not only is it the Canada Day long weekend, but the drive to Longview is less than 3 1/2 hours once you get off the Coho Ferry in Port Angeles. Story Field, home of the Black Bears, looks like a very cute ballpark and I'd love to spend an evening sitting in the Party Deck or Home Plate Club. Who's in?!?

HarbourCatNip
  • Six games is the length of both the longest homestand and the longest road trip for the HarbourCats.
  • With an odd number of teams in the league, the HarbourCats have consecutive off days on three separate occasions (excluding the two-day All Star break). The team does not currently have any scheduled games from June 8-10, June 24-27 or July 11-12. I wouldn't be surprised to see exhibition game(s) scheduled during the season to keep the players in game shape, especially during the four-day layoff in late June.
  • The divisional alignment for the 2013 season is as follows:
North Division
  • Bellingham Bells
  • Kelowna Falcons
  • Victoria HarbourCats
  • Wenatchee AppleSox
  • Walla Walla Sweets
South Division
  • Bend Elks
  • Corvallis Knights
  • Cowlitz Black Bears
  • Kitsap BlueJackets
  • Klamath Falls Gems
  • Medford Rogues

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

HarbourCats roster likely to have Canadian flavour

Here's a trivia question for you: True or False? There are more Canadians playing college baseball in the United States than there are playing college hockey.

If you said "False" you are... wrong! According to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, there were over 700 Canadians playing American college baseball in the 2011-12 season, but fewer than 500 Canucks were lacing up their skates south of the 49th to play college hockey. Those 700 Canadian ballplayers are spread across schools that are part of the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA and all of these institutions are potentially a supplier of talent for our HarbourCats. Given those numbers, we can expect a number of Canadians on the HarbourCats roster and likely a few local boys.

Kelly Norris-Jones
The HarbourCats have not announced any player signings so far, but I'm guessing that the roster is pretty close to being finalized. Rumour has it that we'll be learning of at least some of the player signings before the end of the month, but it's not too early to speculate on who we might see donning a HarbourCats jersey in June.

So who are some of the Canadians that might appear on our roster? A quick scan of Bob Elliot's list of Canadians playing U.S. college baseball yields a slew of possibilities. Much to my amazement, there are 24 ballplayers from Victoria on the list. The Garden City has been considered a Canadian baseball mecca for some time now, but that number puts it all in perspective.

One name that that immediately jumps out at you is Kelly Norris-Jones, a Victoria native who is the starting catcher for the University of Illinois. He was selected by the Blue Jays in the 50th round of the 2010 draft, but opted to go the NCAA route and did not sign with Toronto. Norris-Jones is a Victoria Mariners alumnus who suited up for the WCL's Kelowna Falcons in 2011 in preparation for his debut with the Fighting Illini. He hit .266 with no homers and 14 RBI in 46 games last season and was solid defensively. Incidentally, his father Brad is the owner of M.V.P. Sports Collectibles on Douglas Street.

Chase Cuckovich
Another possible local boy for the HarbourCats is Chase Cuckovich, an outfielder who used to play for the Victoria Eagles. He now attends Riverside City College (RCC) and is coached by -- you guessed it -- HarbourCats head coach Dennis Rogers. As a freshman at RCC last year, Cuckovich saw minimal playing time and went 3-for-12 with 4 RBI. Chase's older brother Nic also played at RCC and he was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 17th round of the 2011 draft.

Cuckovich won't be the only Canadian under the tutelage of Dennis Rogers this season. Toronto-native Bryan Saucedo is a redshirt freshman who is also attending Riverside City College. He was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 29th round of the 2012 draft, but chose to play for Rogers instead of signing with the Brew Crew. The first baseman / outfielder has impressive power and a very high ceiling.

Below is a list of the 24 Victorians playing college baseball in the United States. I'm sure there are a few errors and omissions, but it's a pretty impressive list nonetheless -- and I didn't even attempt to compile a list of other Vancouver Islanders playing down south.

Level
Position
Name
School
NCAA Division I
C
Kelly Norris-Jones
University of Illinois (IL)

LHP
Jason Gibson
McNeese State University (LA)

INF
Jagit Gordaya
Texas Southern University (TX)
NCAA Division II
C
Connor Moughtin
Minot State University (ND)

RHP
Dustin Robirtis
Colorado Mesa State University (CO)

C
Connor McDougall
Concordia University-St. Paul (MN)

3B-SS
Duncan Blades
Abilene Christian University (TX)
NCAA Division III
RHP-1B
Dallen Russell
Principia College (IL)

CF
Mike Turcotte
Minot State University (ND)

INF
Ryan Adkins
Jamestown College ND
NAIA
RHP
Nick Kearley
Dickinson State College (ND)

OF
Brendan Magee
Jamestown College (ND)

INF
Dustin Sandberg
Clarke University (IA)

RHP
Adam Wilson
University of Science and Art of Oklahoma (OK)

1B
Ricky Alvernaz
Mayville State University (ND)

1B
Sam Lawless
Jamestown College (ND)
Junior/CC Division I
OF
Chase Cuckovich
Riverside City Community College (CA)

RHP
Cole Holt
Colby Comunity College (KS)

RHP
Colton Lindsay
Volunteer State Community College (TN)

C
Daniel Peakman
Trinidad State Junior College (CO)

RHP
Nick Pivetta
New Mexico Jr. College (NM)

RHP-INF
Cooper Skjeie
Cloud County Community College (KS)

C-INF
Scott Jones
Colby Community College (KS)

INF
Austin Russell
Colby Community College (KS)

With that big of a pipeline, I doubt we'll be lacking local talent on the HarbourCats anytime soon.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Victoria to host 2013 WCL All Star Game!

The good news for the Victoria HarbourCats just keeps on coming. This morning, the team announced that they will be hosting the West Coast League’s All Star Game in July 2013.

Owner John McLean, GM Holly Jones and SportHost's Hugh MacDonald
The game will give local fans a great chance to view the league's best players, many of whom will go on to be drafted by big-league clubs. In last June’s MLB draft, 55 former or current WCL players were selected. Given the talent level in the league, we are assured of seeing some outstanding baseball in the All Star Game. It’s possible that this might turn out to be the greatest collection of baseball prospects to take to the field in the history of Royal Athletic Park.

The game will also feature a Home-Run Derby, which is always a hit with the fans. Last year when Walla Walla hosted the event, the Home-Run Derby took place roughly two hours prior to the 7:35 PM start time.

Unlike the MLB All Star Game, the position players selected for the game get to stick around for more than one at-bat. That's because there are only about 20 players on each squad, a factor that adds to the realism of the game. Another important difference between the two All Star Games is that WCL fans cannot stuff the ballot box for their home team. Although fan voting will be taking place, fans are only responsible for selecting a representative for their team. All other players are selected by scouts, coaches and owners.

The fact that the West Coast League chose to award the game to Victoria speaks volumes about how the city and franchise are viewed by the league’s Board of Directors. Given that the team is entering its inaugural season and not a single WCL game has been played in Victoria as yet, it’s incredible that such a prestigious game would be awarded to the HarbourCats. There are seven other teams in the league that have never hosted an All Star Game (inaugural season shown in parentheses): Bend (2005), Kelowna (2005), Kitsap (2005), Wenatchee (2005), Cowlitz (2010), Klamath Falls (2011) and Medford (2013). WCL President Ken Wilson was quoted as saying "... Victoria is now the largest market city in the league, a city with a rich baseball tradition, a great fan base and a strong minor baseball and softball community." Clearly, Victoria is already considered one of the premiere franchises in the West Coast League.

Now the hard work to organize such a high-profile event begins. The challenges for the HarbourCats front-office are fairly significant, but we’re confident that the team will host a first-class event. One of the measures of success will obviously be the attendance. It’s worth noting that the league record for attendance at an All Star Game was set by Corvallis in 2011, when 2,517 fans took in the mid-season classic. We’re putting the odds at greater than 50-50 that the baseball fans of Victoria will come out in droves and smash that attendance record.

HarbourCatNip
  • Former Blue Jay Marc Rzepczynski, Tommy Milone and Eric Sogard of the Oakland A's and Jeremy Hefner of the NY Mets played in the West Coast League's inaugural All Star Game in 2006. Rzepczynski, nicknamed "Scrabble", went on to win the 2011 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • Tickets to the All Star Game will be available in the New Year. Season Ticket Holders will have tickets to the All Star Game included in their package for free.
  • Season Tickets and 10-Game Flex Packs go on sale on Monday December 3rd at 10 AM. For ticket information, go to the HarbourCats web site.
  • The exact date for the All Star Game will be announced in the near future, likely when the 2013 WCL schedule is released. Last year's All Star Game in Walla Walla took place on a Tuesday, so there is good chance the game will be played on July 23, 2012.
  • With the addition of expansion franchises in Medford and Victoria, the league will operate with 11 teams in 2013. Victoria will likely be placed in a five-team division with the Bellingham Bells, Kelowna Falcons, Walla Walla Sweets and the perennial powerhouse Wenatchee AppleSox.
  • The club has opened a new office at 103-1814 Vancouver Street (between Caledonia and North Park). Some merchandise is available for purchase (e.g. hoodies and caps). Office hours are 10-3 Monday to Friday and 10-3 Saturdays until Christmas.
  • Victoria's Mayor Dean Fortin was his usual supportive self at today's press conference. It's not always easy to find good things to say about politicians, but Fortin is an exception to the rule. His role in bringing elite baseball back to Victoria is commendable.
UPDATE: The All Star Game will indeed be played on Tuesday July 23rd.

Friday, November 23, 2012

HarbourCats to make major announcement next week

The Victoria HarbourCats have informed the media that a press conference will be held on Friday November 30th to make a major announcement. The team is being tight-lipped about the subject of the "presser", but it is clear that this is bigger than a run-of-the-mill press conference to unveil new team jerseys.

Rumours have started circulating about what the news might be, so I might as well join the fun and add to the speculation. Verifiable facts are hard to come by at this point, but I have a few educated guesses that are worth throwing out there. In no particular order, here is what I have come up with:
  1. The team will announce a high-profile addition to the coaching staff to help out Dennis Rogers and Bob Miller. Perhaps an MLB legend like Maple Ridge's Larry Walker or ex-Victoria Seal Josh Arhart will spend their summer in the Garden City helping out the HarbourCats.
    Chances of panning out: ** out of five baseballs. 
  2. The City of Victoria will announce they are making major renovations to Royal Athletic Park. Given the recent budget issues at City Hall, this one is highly unlikely. A guy can dream, can't he? Don't the great baseball fans of Victoria deserve a palace like the residents of Hillsboro, Oregon?
    Chances of panning out: Zero out of five baseballs.
  3. The team will announce the signing of a mega-prospect. Perhaps a player who will go high in the MLB draft will be wearing a HarbourCats jersey next season -- someone like slugger Michael Conforto of Oregon State. How cool would that be? And does it get any more Canadian than having a Beaver on your team?
    Chances of panning out: *** out of five baseballs.
  4. The West Coast League will award the All Star Game to Victoria. Earlier this year, 55 West Coast League players were taken in the MLB draft. Can you imagine having two teams full of bona fide prospects roaming the friendly confines of RAP? If Victoria were to get the All Star Game then the city would be crawling with hordes of big-league scouts. An event of this magnitude might energize this city's baseball fans like the Eri Yoshida game in 2010. Realistically, I can't see the league giving the All Star Game to an expansion team. Yet.
    Chances of panning out: * out of five baseballs.
  5. The HarbourCats are being purchased by the Toronto Blue Jays / Rogers Communications. Why not? The Jays have purchased just about everything else this off-season, so maybe HarbourCats owner John McLean will flip the team for a tidy profit. The Jays have added $166 million to their payroll recently. What's an extra few bucks?
    Chances of panning out: ** out of five baseballs.
But seriously -- after racking my brain I have to admit that I have no idea what the announcement will be. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment on this blog post. It's going to be a torturous wait to find out.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hello HarbourCats; Goodbye 3 1/2 hour games

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the differences in the style of play of the West Coast League versus the Victoria Seals' old circuit, the Golden Baseball League. As I outlined in the post, we'll be seeing a lot of low-scoring games featuring "small ball" at Royal Athletic Park next summer. An alert reader left a comment on the blog reminding me of the three-to-four-hour Seals games that we regularly suffered through -- a fact that had started to fade from my memory.

The anonymous reader also mentioned that he/she hoped that shorter games would be the norm in the West Coast League. Although neither league publishes the average length of their games, I decided to collect some stats to find out if that would indeed be the case when the HarbourCats come to town. For the WCL, I looked at the last 25 league games played in 2012. For the Victoria Seals, I reviewed the last 25 games that they played in 2010 (excluding 7-inning games played as part of a doubleheader).

According to my calculations, the average length of a Victoria Seals game was a whopping 3 hours and 19 minutes. The average length of a West Coast League game? A much more reasonable 2 hours and 49 minutes -- a full half-hour less than what we saw in 2009-10 and a hair shorter than the MLB average. Shorter, fast-paced games featuring strong fundamentals makes for awfully exciting baseball. Personally, I think that's a winning combination.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Home plate collisions not part of the WCL game

The West Coast League uses the NCAA's baseball rule book, so there are a number of differences compared to the professional game. Many of the changes are related to player safety and conduct, but perhaps none are as significant as rule 8-7 ("Collision Rule"). This rule is intended to encourage both base runners and defenders to avoid collisions and help reduce injuries. The rule states:
The runner may not attempt to dislodge the ball from the fielder. Contact above the waist shall be judged by the umpire as an attempt by the runner to dislodge the ball.
If the runner attempts to dislodge the ball or initiates an avoidable collision, the runner shall be declared out, even if the fielder loses possession of the ball. The ball is dead and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the interference.
If the contact is flagrant or malicious before the runner touches the plate, the runner shall be declared out and also ejected from the contest.
You may remember the infamous home plate collision last May in which Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants suffered a horrific season-ending injury. At the time, there was a huge outcry for MLB to adopt a rule similar to the NCAA's collision rule. As you can see, Scott Cousins of the Marlins makes an obvious attempt to dislodge the ball and also makes violent contact with Posey above the waist. In the big leagues, the runner is simply called safe in this situation.



Now here is an example from the NCAA in which the base runner clearly is attempting to dislodge the ball, but runs into the catcher with much less force than Cousins used to bowl over Posey. The result? The NCAA base runner is called out AND is ejected from the game.



In both situations, the umpires made the correct call according to their respective rule books. The bottom line for HarbourCats fans is that we can expect a radically different call from the umpire should an "old school" collision at the plate happen at Royal Athletic Park next season.

HarbourCatNip
  • You may remember that the end of our blog posts on the old Victoria Seals Baseball Blog periodically had a section for miscellaneous notes called "Seal Blubber Bits". We have decided to rename this section "HarbourCatNip". Yes, it's a bit of a "groaner", but at least it's in CamelCase.
  • Groundskeepers began working on the infield at Royal Athletic Park this week. As an added bonus, home plate is being moved ten feet closer to the grandstand. You can see a picture of the new layout on the team's Facebook page.
  • For anyone who might be considering billeting a HarbourCat for the summer, check out this cool story about Pablo Sandoval's old host family and their reaction to his three home runs in a World Series game last night.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Get ready for West Coast League small ball!

Fans of the old Victoria Seals are in for quite surprise when they come out to see the HarbourCats for the first time next season. The former Golden Baseball League had an excess of offense and a scarcity of quality pitching and the end result was far too many football-like scores. Next year when the West Coast League (WCL) comes to town, we'll be seeing a completely different style of baseball and if you are a fan of "small ball" then you are in for a treat.

The first thing you'll notice is that the WCL uses the designated hitter -- and for good reason. Hitting with a wood bat is a huge adjustment for collegiate players and power numbers typically take a big hit. Last year's home run champion, Taylor Sparks of the Wenatchee AppleSox, hit 9 homers in his 134 at bats and only seven players in the entire league hit more than four homers during the summer.

In an attempt to get a better idea of the differences between the WCL and the old GBL, I spent a bit of time calculating league-wide stats. I took last year's numbers from the WCL and compared them to the GBL in 2010, the last year the Seals were in town. I also threw in this year's MLB numbers for further context. Here are the results:

Statistic
GBL (2010)
WCL (2012)
MLB (2012)
Batting average
.289
.265
.255
Runs per game
11.6
9.2
8.6
Hits per game
19.4
17.4
17.3
Home runs per game
1.5
0.6
2.0

Even with the DH, the league-wide batting average in the WCL is 24 points lower than in the old GBL. In terms of runs per game, we'll be seeing roughly 2.4 fewer runs than when the Seals were in town. But compared to the MLB averages, these WCL numbers are actually much more balanced than the GBL, which was excessively tilted on the offensive side.

As you can see, the big difference is in the power numbers: 1.5 homers per game in the GBL, but only 0.6 homers per game in the WCL. That's a huge drop-off, especially when compared to the MLB average of 2.0 homers per game. Clearly, the days of seeing game-breakers like Josh Arhart and Jamar Hill slam multi-homer games aren't likely to return and we won't be throwing around the term "Pembroke Poke" quite as often as in 2009-10. It might even be safe to park your car on Pembroke Street during a ballgame.

So what will we see in place of the extra base hits? A quick glance at the numbers below tell us that we'll be seeing enough small ball to make John McGraw proud:

Statistic
GBL (2010)
WCL (2012)
MLB (2012)
Stolen bases per game
2.3
2.5
1.3
Stolen base percentage
75%
68%
74%
Sacrifice bunts per game
0.7
1.9
0.6


Marc Gallegos of Corvallis led the WCL with 21 steals in 2012
It's pretty obvious that WCL head coaches turn to stolen bases and bunts to help manufacture runs. In fact, there were almost twice as many stolen bases in the WCL as in the big leagues this season and three times as many bunts. But when only one team in the league manages a slugging percentage above .378, waiting around for a three-run home run isn't an option sometimes.

Of course, some head coaches can take this strategy to the extreme. The Kitsap BlueJackets finished with the worst record in the league last year (14-40), in large part due to a team slugging percentage of .319. Rookie head coach Ryan Parker kept the green light on all summer in spite of a terrible 57% stolen base percentage. Anytime a team's stolen base percentage is below the 70-75% range, the potential reward of moving up a base is outweighed by the risk of getting thrown out and turning on the red light becomes the better option in most situations.

I for one am excited about the brand of baseball that we'll see in the WCL. Solid pitching, good defense and agressive baserunning makes for exciting baseball and I can certainly live without all of those 12-9 and 11-7 games that we use to see in the GBL. Besides, WCL players all have their amateur status to protect, so we couldn't pass the hat for a homer anyway.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Welcome to the HarbourCats blog

Back in May of 2009, I started the Victoria Seals Baseball Blog. Shortly thereafter, longtime friends Bubba and Darth jumped on board and all of a sudden we had a team of seasoned baseball fans pumping out blog posts. At the time we had no idea if the concept would go anywhere, but we were pleasantly surprised at the results.

Not only did the blog exceed our expectations, but so did the Victoria Seals. The city of Victoria embraced the team and over 200,000 Seals tickets were sold in 2009 and 2010. The grand old dame, Royal Athletic Park, received much-needed upgrades and it returned to its glory days of the 1950's. New heroes like Josh Arhart and Jamar Hill energized the city and it became fashionable to head out to the ballpark on a summer evening.

HarbourCats V logo
Sadly, out of nowhere, it all fell apart. The Seals folded in November 2010 and Victoria baseball fans were both saddened and angry that their team could be taken away in the blink of an eye. The city of Victoria was blamed by some, but others believed the real culprits were many miles away in the league office in Northern California. Two other well-run franchises in the league, the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Capitals, would eventually cease operations following the 2011 season.

Immediately after the demise of the Seals, rumours swirled about other leagues that might setup shop in Victoria. Our hopes were realized in June of this year when the official announcement came: Baseball is coming back! Frankly, we couldn't be happier. The West Coast League is a stable outfit, team ownership is first class, local government is much more supportive and the front-office is staffed by experienced professionals. The last two summers have been quiet at Royal Athletic Park, but I firmly believe local baseball fans are in a better position now than they were back in 2010.

Of course, we'll be doing another baseball blog. We're reinventing ourselves as the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog and we're very excited about the future. We hope that our loyal followers will remain with us and that new fans will come on board. However, our approach will be much the same: we'll bring you analysis, opinions and coverage that you won't find anywhere else. We'll give you a heads up on who to watch when you come to the ballpark, tell you why we think the team is playing so well (or poorly) and throw in some irreverent commentary that will hopefully make you chuckle. We can hardly wait for opening day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What's in a name?


There you have it - Victoria HarbourCats. I like it. I give it a solid "A". There is a "u" in HarbourCats making it uniquely Canadian, which I also like. The logo is pretty cool too - my first thought was that it looked like the Carolina Panther (mother) and Jacksonville Jaguar (father) mated and had a little HarbourKitty of their own - awww look, he has his mom's colours and his dad's whiskers! Yes, this is the type of insightful blogging you can look forward to all year as we rev ourselves up to a frenzy until opening day! 



This new team name and logo were introduced in an open team news conference today at the Shark Club by the team's GM, Holly "HoJo" Jones. John McLean (owner) and Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin were also on hand with their comments. There were over 600 names suggested by the public with the first 250 entries getting a pair of tickets to a HarbourCats' game next year. As has always been the case, community spirit was stressed with the logo being fierce enough for the players/fans, and soft enough for a non-kid-threatening mascot. And as a member of our community, I really do hope we get behind this new team so their tenancy is a long and fruitful one here in Vic-town.

Today's announcement was brief and to the point, with team logo T-shirts being handed out to a lucky few via a random draw. Rumours that Mayor Fortin will be on the bump for the season opener had the crowd on the edge of their seats, that is, until someone called out that he may not be NCAA eligible.

As we now convert our Seals blog site to a new HarbourCats one (goodbye Seymour, hello..."Kitty" - sorry, couldn't resist!), we look forward to more announcements in the future as the team formalizes its roster and also comes up with a new uniform design.

The more I hear about the league, the more I look forward to the youthful excitement to which I think we will be treated. Without having seen a game, I liken it to the WHL of the amateur baseball world and that fires me up.


No one has called "play ball" in Victoria just yet, but as Ed Grimley would say, "I'm so excited already, I must say".

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Name and logo of Victoria's WCL team to be released Friday!

After much anticipation, we'll soon know the name and logo of our new West Coast League baseball franchise. The team is set to make the official announcement at 11:30 AM at the Shark Club. Our group of intrepid bloggers will be on hand to cover the event and you'll find news and commentary on this site afterwards. Members of the public are welcome to attend the unveiling, so feel free to come on down to the Shark Club and experience it yourself.

The team has been tight-lipped about their decision, but GM Holly Jones has been releasing names periodically on Twitter that were not selected. So far, the following have been ruled out:
  • Muffins. No shocker that it didn't make the cut, but if you're going to submit that name wouldn't you go with Stud Muffins instead?
  • Rogers. There are some obvious promotional opportunities with the chocolate company, but it didn't quite make the cut.
  • Vikings. Uh, that one's taken.
  • Cupcakes. Wow, there were a lot of food suggestions... and they all suffered the same fate.
  • Capital City Surf. Of course, we'd need the Capital City Goofball as our mascot.
  • Orcas. One of the most commonly suggested names, but this one fell short too. It would have been a good one though.
  • Brewers. Also taken.
  • Tide. Another one of the most common suggestions, but it's already used by a AAA team.
  • Mini Goldendoodles. Holly Jones sure has a cute dog, but there's not enough room on the front of a uniform for that one.
  • Smokies. Nope -- already used by a AA team.
  • Fighting Marmots. That was a great suggestion... OK, maybe I may have put it forward it in a previous blog post, but it was a good suggestion nonetheless. Of course, the Marmots haven't been ruled out yet, so there is always hope.
It's a bit of a long-shot to predict what name might be chosen, but given owner John McLean's knowledge and respect of Victoria's baseball tradition, I wouldn't be surprised to see a throwback name selected. Either that or the Stud Muffins.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rogers and Miller to coach Victoria's WCL baseball team

Dennis Rogers
The owners of Victoria's yet-to-be-named West Coast League baseball team continue to show the Midas Touch. Two weeks after naming marketing whiz Holly Jones as the franchise's inaugural GM, John McLean and Dwight Willett tapped a pair of veteran baseball men to be the field managers of the team. Dennis Rogers was named the head coach and Bob Miller will serve as the "co-head" coach.

Both men are currently head coaches for college baseball teams in California and both have managed at a variety of levels. Dennis Rogers coaches at Riverside Community College, a junior college with an impressive list of alumni who have been drafted by MLB teams (including former Victoria Seal Brian Rios!). He has also managed teams in the affiliated minor leagues for seven seasons, compiling an impressive career winning percentage of .562. Rogers is also familiar with the Pacific Northwest, having managed both the Medford A's and the Vancouver Canadians in the Northwest League (Short Season "A" ball).  His new coaching partner, Bob Miller, has been the head coach at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo for the past nine seasons. You can read more about Rogers and Miller in the official press release on the team's web site.

I would expect there to be number of Victoria baseball fans who will initially respond to the hiring of Rogers and Miller with a shrug. After seeing three high-profile managers of the Victoria Seals in 2009-10 (Darrell Evans, Bret Boone and arguably even Kip Gross), some local fans may have expected another ex-big leaguer with a household name to be hired to coach our squad. That didn't happen, but that's a good thing. It merely highlights some of the key differences between the independent leagues and college wood bat leagues. Independent league teams use big-name managers to help sell tickets and lend credibility to teams made up of players in their late 20's and early 30's who may have their best days behind them. Teams in college wood bat leagues hire head coaches who can recruit top talent and then teach their young players how to play the game at the next level. Rogers and Miller clearly have the credentials to do just that.

At the press conference this morning, Rogers said that recruiting efforts are well underway and that about 10 players are committed to playing in Victoria in 2013 (eventually 25-35 players will be signed). More importantly, he has a verbal commitment from eight baseball programs to supply players to our team. He also mentioned that the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, a Division 1 NCAA team that plays in the Big West Conference, will be a key supplier of talent. Initially at least, it sounds like it will be a bit of an uphill battle to convince some programs to send us their top talent. Rogers said that a number of programs have told him they have already committed players to the Cape Cod League for 2013, but they will happily send us elite players in future years. I'd also expect that word about Victoria -- both the city and the baseball environment -- will get out by the end of the 2013 season and that recruiting will be much easier by this time next year.

Rogers intends to build a "diverse roster" of both well-known and unheralded players. He also hopes to have a number of Canadian players on the team. One obvious potential player is Toronto's Bryan Saucedo, a first baseman on the Canadian National Junior Team who will play for Rogers at Riverside Community College this season. Saucedo was drafted in June (but not signed) by the Milwaukee Brewers and he intends to re-enter the draft. He was recently quoted as saying "I’m going to Riverside City College in southern California. My goal is to play in the big leagues, and not (just) get drafted. RCC coach Dennis Rogers spent 10 years coaching pro ball. He is proven at preparing guys like the Atlanta Braves’ Tommy Hanson and the New York Yankees Chris Stewart." If that's not a ringing endorsement then I don't know what is. If players like Saucedo are lining up to play for Dennis Rogers, the Victoria "Watchamacallits" will give us plenty of reasons to cheer during our summer nights at Royal Athletic Park.

Watchamacallit Wedges (formerly "Seal Blubber Bits")
  • More than 500 submissions have been made by fans to the Name The Team Contest. The team name and logo could be announced as early as late September or early October. However, it's also possible  that a short-list of potential names could be released at that time.
  • The team will also be looking to add one or two assistant coaches prior to the start of the 2013 season.
  • In his only season playing professional baseball, Dennis Rogers played every infield position for the San Francisco Giants' Rookie League team and displayed a keen eye at the plate.  
  • Rogers warned fans not to expect too much of the team out of the gate next year, but he hopes the team can still finish the season at the .500 level.
  • Steve Garvey's son Ryan played for Dennis Rogers at Riverside Community College and was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in this year's amateur draft.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More WCL news from the press conference...

Apart from introducing Holly Jones to Victoria baseball fans, John McLean took a few minutes to talk about the last couple of months worth of work he and his ownership team have been doing.

First off, he once again praised the city and Mayor Fortin for the efforts being put forth from Victoria's side to make this work.It seems like the WCL's relationship with the city is already in much better shape than the Seals were able to get to.

Talk centered around the naming of Victoria's team, and the naming of the on-field boss.

The team has started a contest on their website where the first 250 people to offer suggestions receive tickets to an upcoming game. No word on what the selection process entails past collecting the 250 entries... Check out the fledgling site here: http://www.victoriabaseballclub.com/

On the Manager position, McLean was tight lipped. He made a point of stressing that the key to a good Manager at this level, is one with good communication skills, teaching skills, and superb recruiting skills. You need someone who can pick up the phone and talk to NCAA schools and convince them to send players to Victoria. He's a mentor, but also a marketer for the on-field team. McLean was quick to say he isn't  a recently retired major league player, and when asked if it was a name from baseball that we would know, his answer was a mysterious "It depends on how well you know your baseball history".

Look for an announcement within the next couple of weeks on the Manager, and by the end of September on the team name.

Jones touched on the player makeup of the team, stating that they were trying to find BC boys for the roster to give the team a more local feel. With similar timelines, the team should start to take shape in the September time frame.

On the state of Royal Athletic, McLean spoke of improvements in the works for opening day, and mentioned ideas in flight like moving home plate closer to the backstop to create a more intimate feel. He also spoke of moving the corporate BBQ area up onto the concrete deck just past the stands along the third base line (it used to live beyond the bag down third base), again to keep people closer to the game.

Jones also talked about how integral the scoreboard would be to the fan experience at the ball park. The scoreboard is still privately owned by the Parker Family, but it is on her radar to secure.

So lots going on under the covers! Lets hope the goodwill between the team and the city continues, and RAP starts to look like a ball yard again!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Victoria's WCL team names its first GM

Sometimes you can tell right away that a good decision has been made. You don’t need to wait to see what happens, hear what others have to say about it... you just get that feeling. Tuesday morning at RAP was one of those moments. John McLean stood before the Victoria sports scene and announced that the position of General Manager for Victoria’s new WCL team has be filled by... Holly Jones.

Who?

Not a big-name sports celebrity, not a famous washed-out ex-jock with a taste for the social scene, but a marketing professional. A proven successful veteran of not only the WCL where she was instrumental in establishing the Corvallis Knights - a team near the top of the league in both skill and attendance, but with a resume that includes the likes of the NBA front office, and JetBlue Airways.

Ho Jo, Victoria. Victoria, Ho Jo.
She lists volleyball and tennis as her favourite sports growing up, not baseball. And really, does it matter? On most minor league teams, and absolutely in the WCL, the on-field management is done by the bench boss, not the front office. Holly’s job here in Victoria is not managing players, but it's her sweet spot. It’s marketing. It’s community attachment. It’s promotions and getting fans in the door. It’s getting the team out into the community and making them part of the city. It's growing a team from the ground up, building solid relationships with the business and fan base of Victoria, and establishing a brand name.

And that brings me back to that feeling of it just being right.  She’s not Holly Jones - big city marketing suit from New York, landed here to sell fridges to the northerners. She’s Ho Jo. She’s an Oregon Duck. She’s a West Coast girl you would swear you grew up with. She’s down home, has family in Langford, bought a house in Oak Bay. She's already made Victoria her home and she's here to stay.

She has a bubbly personality that makes you smile, makes you want to be part of the team. Listening to her go through the media scrum, she’s practiced, she knows her stuff, but she presents herself as someone you want to see succeed because she’s one of us. She doesn’t have to fit in, it's like she’s already here.

And that my friends, is what sells here in Victoria. It’s clear that the ownership team of John McLean and Dwight Willett have done their homework again, and my guess is Victoria is going to fall in love with Holly Jones faster than you can say “Play Ball”!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Victoria's WCL team needs a name

With just under a year to go before Victoria sees the return of baseball to RAP, there is bound to be a flurry of activity surrounding the new WCL team as it builds itself a head office, on-field staff, and the rest of a baseball operations team.

It shouldn’t be too long before we start to see some fan-building activities as well, as a promotions team comes on board and starts to build interest. The first order of business is likely a team naming activity, with input from Victoria baseball fans to help pick the name. As Gus mentioned in his post, not sure if that means fans will be invited to submit their ideas, or if we will only get to vote on a shortlist.

We here at the blog are never ones to wait for instructions, we like to jump the gun and make our own path and this time is no exception! Come along with us and submit your own opinions on team names. 

There have been a few suggestions made on Gus’s post. Marmots, Islanders, Tide, Thunder, and more. Those are perfectly fine suggestions, they just aren’t mine. Here’s my take on the team name: Please welcome to town, the Victoria Gulls!

Yes the Gulls! What better to represent our city that the water fowl that is everywhere. You can’t spend a day in Victoria without at least once looking upward fearing the gull’s wrath (even if it’s good luck to be targeted). Yes the mighty gull is a force to be reckoned with.

The Gulls name in baseball is fairly unique. There was once a PCL team in Salt Lake City called the Gulls, it’s been defunct since 1984. There are the Newport, RI Gulls who do play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Still, Victoria’s Gulls would be the only Gulls team within 4000km.

So the Gulls in my world follow the colour scheme of the ChiSox. White, black, and grey – just like a Gull. Check out their uni below:


You see – the "V" in Victoria is a Gull in flight! Nice tie-in, I know. And for the team logo, incorporate a sight seen on the top of every light post and telephone pole in town. The mighty gull at rest:


So that’s my take on it. I can see the souvenir t-shirts and hats already - the ones with the fake poop on the brim and sleeve... The game-day posters with the visitor’s logos plastered with a white mess... The on-field promotions where two lucky fans toss eggs back and forth until someone gets plastered with one... Yes, the Victoria Gulls are a full on and off field experience!

Okay so it’s not like we need more suggestions after all that, but what the heck - take your best shot! Add your comments. Team names, jersey ideas, mascots, promo ideas... Let’s have them all! Who knows, maybe one will be so good, we can make choosing the name only a formality...