Saturday, June 29, 2013

Road trip starts with a loss

After a long five day lay-off, the boys were back at it again today in the first of what will be a string of twelve consecutive games without a break. Playing in Longview WA, your 10-4 Harbourcats took on the 7-8 Cowlitz Black Bears at Story Field and were edged out in a 4-3 game which looked to be a pretty good one. Starter Robby Nesovic gave up two runs in the first on a couple of hits and a couple of errors, but got things settled down after that to keep the 'Cats within striking distance. Victoria closed the gap to one in the third, when Brandon Smith scored on a pass ball and the game stayed 2-1 until the teams traded homers in the seventh. Nesovic was replaced by Will Ballowe in the eighth but before that, he pinch hit to drive in the tying run, only to see it nullified by a Cowlitz run in the bottom half. Rumour has it that Robby also sold popcorn between innings, while delivering a set of twins.

All in all, a good ballgame but a tough loss on a warm night in the Evergreen state. The pitching and batting stats for both teams were almost dead even, and this was reflected in the tight scoreline. Alex Real and Brandon Smith both hammered out two hits a piece while Chris Lewis extended his hitting streak to eleven games.

The teams go at it again tomorrow as Bryan Conant puts his 2-0 record in the line against the prowling Bears. It's a key game in the sense that this next two weeks is a tough grind and the 'Cats need to get some positive momentum heading into this stretch of the season. Six games on the road could get ugly if they go down 0-2 to start. My prediction is that "The Barbarian" will baffle the Bears hitters and Victoria bats will come alive so by the time we talk again, the series will be knotted at a game apiece. The 'Cats should be able to get two out of three from the Bears before heading to Wenatchee to take on the AppleSox.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

HarbourCats ready to pounce

After taking two of three from the hard-hitting Bend Elks on the weekend, the HarbourCats have been kicking back and enjoying a rare five-day layoff. The extended time off is made possible by the fact that the West Coast League is operating once again with an odd number of teams, but there are few such days off for Victoria once they get back into action on Saturday night with a tilt against the Cowlitz Black Bears in Longview, Washington.

Brett Urabe (44) joins the dog pile after UCLA wins the CWS
The 'Cats have been practicing at Royal Athletic Park for the last three days in preparation for the next leg of their journey to the post-season -- a 12-games-in-12-days odyssey that will be yet another litmus test for the team. Up until this point in the season, the HarbourCats have been blessed with a significant number of off days, which has allowed them to limp by with (largely) an eight-man pitching staff. Ryan Keller from the University of San Diego and Cameron Cuneo from UC Santa Barbara have recently joined the team, so they'll head out on the road with at least 10 pitchers in tow. The 'Cats are currently sixth in ERA in the West Coast League with a 3.63 mark, but I would expect that number to come down a bit as the season progresses and the hurlers settle into their new roles.

Victoria still has the best record in the league with a 10-4 mark, but they remain only 1/2 game ahead of the second-place Bellingham Bells in the North Division standings. As if that wasn't enough of an accomplishment for an expansion team, this week the HarbourCats came in at #11 in Perfect Game's rankings of the top summer collegiate teams. It looks like the "new guy in town" has made quite a statement to everyone else in the West Coast League, including perennial powerhouses like Wenatchee and Corvallis.

The 'Cats will send "Mr. Utility", Robby Nesovic (0-1, 6.42 ERA), to the mound on Saturday in the first game of the Cowlitz series. He'll be followed by Bryan Conant (2-0, 1.54 ERA) and Ty Provencher (3-0, 2.14 ERA) on Sunday and Monday, respectively. Victoria then moves on to Wenatchee to play the AppleSauce (oops, I mean AppleSox) in a three-game set that starts on Tuesday night. The HarbourCats then return home for a six-game home stand against Kelowna and Walla Walla that begins on Friday July 5th.

HarbourCatNip
Brett Urabe (bottom left) has a chance to win two championships in one year
  • The UCLA Bruins won their first-ever College World Series on Tuesday night by upsetting Mississippi State in two straight games. Brett Urabe of the HarbourCats is a freshman utility player on the Bruins, and he'll hopefully be in uniform at RAP during Victoria's next home stand.
  • Scott Kuzminsky leads the league with a 0.00 ERA in 15 2/3 innings pitched. He also has an incredible 13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
  • Bryan Conant (1.54) and Connor Russell (1.61) are sixth and seventh in the league in ERA. Russell also ranks fifth with 21 strikeouts in spite of the fact that he has only had three starts.
  • Alex Real is second in the batting race with a .366 average.
  • Chris Lewis is fourth in the league with 14 RBI and he has quietly compiled a 10-game hitting streak. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Comments are welcome

As some of you may know, the founders of this blog are the same people who were behind the old Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (VSBB). One of the fun aspects of doing a blog is interacting with readers, and we certainly had some lively and fascinating exchanges back when the Seals were around.

Hack's favourite team
Now that the Victoria HarbourCats are well underway in their inaugural season, I'd like to invite you to leave a comment on this blog whenever something of interest crosses your mind. It could be a comment directly related to one of our blog posts, a remark about something you noticed during a game at Royal Athletic Park, or even praise and/or constructive criticism of a general nature.

While we have received a fair number of comments on our blog posts since we started up the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog, we're not (yet) where we want to be in terms of reader interaction. The number of readers has been growing steadily over the last few months, so that's a very good sign.

This past weekend we even recognized some of our loyal VSBB readers at Royal Athletic Park -- the highlight was our brief glimpse of "Hack", who looked resplendent in his usual St. Louis Cardinals attire. We're still on the lookout for the pair of fans who are known to get decked out in an old Victoria Bees uniform, however. We know that our other frequent commenters such as Annie, Tyler and Little Jackie Showers are lurking out there somewhere and that our new readers have plenty of interesting things to say. Next time you think of something, leave a comment on one of our blog posts. If possible, avoid commenting as "Anonymous" and use a consistent nickname / handle so we can get a better idea of who is commenting. Now let's hear it, people!!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Matinee mistakes-a-plenty leads to Cats win

WCL ERA leader Scott Kuzminsky
In the HarbourCats first matinee game of the season, mistakes were more the stars of the game than the plays themselves. The scoring line had some oddities you don't usually see - like Bend being up 1-0 after three without an earned run, or Victoria tying it up in the 4th, chasing the starting pitcher from the game, yet still without a hit in the game. Bend's run in the third looked like a softball play... a liner to the right field fence, bobbled and gunned back to the infield, then thrown wild trying to get the runner at third, the ball careening out of play while the runner trotted home. Error on the bobble, error on the throw, unearned run.

Errors helped the Cats as well - an error by Bend CF Chase Fields scored Jordan Ellis in the fourth, and a wild pitch in the sixth helped the Cats go ahead 3-2, scoring DH David Schuknecht.

All these errors lend to an excellent pitching line - Cats starter Scott Kuzminsky went five, and Bryan Conant went four in the win, scattering seven hits and two walks with no earned runs. Bend pitching was actually better, eight innings of three-hit ball in the loss.

Errors aside, in all it was an excellent weekend of ball in Victoria. The full roster makes a huge difference defensively, and the pitching is top notch - Kuzminsky leads the WCL in pitching totals, still sporting an ERA of 0.00 over 15.1 innings with 13 strikeouts. Connor Russell is fourth in the league with 21 strikeouts, and Ty Provencher is tied for the league lead in both appearances and complete games - a combo you don't see every day.

The Cats now have what seems like a crazy schedule break. In a two and a half month season, it's hard to imagine a five-day layoff, but that's what they have. Next weekend sees them travel to Cowlitz and Wenatchee, before returning home two weekends from now to start sets against Kelowna and Walla Walla.

So for the next week and a half, keep dreaming of those Saturday fireworks, and the boys will be back in no time.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fireworks over RAP

My family and I were lucky enough to be part of something special tonight. Part of an evening that we will all remember for years to come. True, this was the eighth time the HarbourCats have taken the field at RAP, but tonight this team truly became the Home Team. The recipe for the evening could not be any more extraordinary: Take the best baseball night of the year - clear skies, bright sun, and not a breath of wind - add a fantastic game - the Cats go ahead early and stay there for a decisive win - and add an after-party complete with a Cat-hosted base run for the kids, and a fabulous fireworks show to close off the evening.

Ty-Pro in the 1st Inning
The game was a masterpiece, pitched to near perfection by Ty Provencher - an early season reliever who pitched the entire night from the stretch striking out 3, while inducing 3 double plays. Dominating would be an understatement. Bend hitters had nothing going on against the mighty Ty-Pro, who chucked all nine innings mowing down Elks pitch after pitch. Not overpowering stuff, but he had Bend hitters hitting weak ground balls all night. The game also saw one of the most spectacular catches you will ever see at any level. Bend's Cullen ODwyer hit what seemed like a sure double to the gap in right center, only to have Cat center fielder Justin Burba run it down, laying flat out and flying through the air to snag it just before it hit turf. The crowd erupted as Burba did a somersault and raised his glove showing all the mighty catch had been made.

The Cats scored early on a 1st inning 3-run home run by Robby Nesovic. Um yeah, he was yesterday's starter, today's DH. He hit a ball hard off the scoreboard in center field, farther than most BP home runs. It was nice to see the Cats on the board early, and they cruised to a 6-1 victory.

As great as the game was though, what followed was even better. Quick games are becoming a trademark of this team, and with Ty-Pro wasting no time disposing of Bend hitters, the game clocked in at a speedy 2:06. Great for most nights, but not so on Firework night - which requires a significantly darker sky that what was available at 10 minutes after 9.

Get DOWN!
So queue the post-game entertainment. Onto the field came every size and shape of child under 10 for a customary run around the bases. Dozens of them lined up and started to run. Most of the 1640 announced crowd remained and waited for the fireworks to begin and watched the first few kids stroll around with tepid interest - but then it got good. 5 or 6 HarbourCat players strolled over to the third base line and began high-fiving the runners as they passed. Then as more players stowed their gear and came out of the dugout, they also joined the line. Then more and more came, until both sides of the third base line was surrounded by the entire team. Kids ran through the gauntlet of players high-fiving on each side.

And then someone on the Cats yelled "SLIDE!". The first young man hit the dirt, slid head-first into home plate, and a roar erupted from the stands. The next kid was encouraged by 2 or three Cats, and by the time the 5th or 6th kid went through, the entire team was yelling "SLIDE!!!" at the top of their lungs. Kids came from everywhere sliding into home, destroying pants and shoes in the process, but nobody cared. Each and every Cat stood with smiles on their faces, and the fans applauded and cheered on kid after kid. There will be clay rolling around washing machines all over the CRD tomorrow.

Ooooooooooh!
Finally the lights went off, the sky was dark enough, and a fabulous firework show - lit by hand by two energetic pyrotechnic masters - rained down on center field. Fans ooooh'ed and ahhhh'ed for about 20 minutes, along with the players - many of whom sprawled out on the grass in front of the dugout like kids at a summer BBQ.

It was as the fireworks were coming to an end that it suddenly seemed like this was more than a night at the park, more than just another game. As fans poured out of the park after the show had ended, there was nothing but positive comments, smiles and laughter, and a sense that this is now Victoria's team. This is where you need to be on a Saturday night in Victoria in the summer of 2013. Those were our guys out there tonight.

It seems the HarbourCats are home at last...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Elks trample 'Cats

Greg Fettes guns out Elks slugger Derek Dixon
A combination of good pitching and solid hitting did in the 'Cats tonight, as they dropped the series opener 5-1 to the South Division leading Bend Elk. Victoria never really looked dangerous, save for a two out rally in the fifth that was snuffed by aggressive base running that had Victoria runner, Justin Burba, thrown out at third for the third out on an Alex DeGoti base hit to the outfield. To make things worse, Brandon Smith - who was headed home - did not cross the plate until after the out was made at third - no run. Instead of it being 4-2 with two out and runners on first and second, it was 4-1 with the Elk coming up to bat. Normally I'd kick and scream about this, but I like the aggressive base running. I'm not sure if it was a coach decision or the runner went on his own, but in any case, it stifled the rally. That said, I don't believe it would have made a difference as Bend were the better ball club by far on this night. They were loose, hit the ball hard and were backed by a solid pitching performance, with the trio of Hunter Raley, Eric Melbostad and dominant closer Nick Highberger scattering five hits while striking out thirteen (to the 'Cats one K). At the plate, Derek "no socks under my stirrups" Dixon was two for three, bumping his now lead leading average up to a lofty .411.

On the Victoria side, Robby Nesovic got the start but was roughed up right away, giving up three runs in the first and eventually surrendering five runs while allowing eleven hits, three walks and collecting Victoria's lone strikeout. At the plate, the 'Cats only knocked out five hits and made a couple of base running gaffs (including Alex Real falling for the old ball-went-over-my-head trick on a stolen base), never really seeming to get any traction. The silver lining was catcher Greg Fettes, as he threw out Dixon trying to steal second and also picked off pinch runner Cory Mack who got a little too cocky with his lead on first.

In an baseball oddity, after being yanked from the mound, pitcher Robby Nesovic pinch hit in the ninth inning, grounding out to first but still showing he is one versatile player.

I also enjoyed the "elk" cheer after Bend lead-off hitter Seth Spivey hammered a double. The bench - who were vocal all night - put their thumbs to their ears and wiggled their "antlers" to cheer the hit.

So tonight, the HarbourCats lost to a good team, but take away the first inning and we would have had a heck of a ballgame. Now that the regulars are starting to show up, the pitching staff is like a magic pool of arms. At first, there were only eight arms to choose from but now you reach to the pool and...oooo, I got a a Conant...look now, I got a Moore...hey, how did this LaVelle get in here?? And tonight that arm was a Robby Nesovic.  While a towering presence on the mound, don't be surprised if you see Mr. Nesovic also in the lineup as a regular batter. He is very capable of a .300+ average, hitting .326 for UC Santa Barbara last year as a pretty regular designated hitter.

Any yes folks, tonight was "Ladies Night" at the old ball park. Members of the homogametic sex were given the opportunity for ticket discounts and enjoyed preferential treatment all night long with special giveaways. I am sure I saw Leon Phelps wandering around to take advantage of the higher than usual female quota. As the final out was made, I do remember seeing a flash of velour and  hearing "Yeah, that thounds pretty gooooooooooood"...but you can never be sure. Maybe we'll see Katy Perry tomorrow at the "Fireworks"...OK, OK...I'm leaving.


I thupport the HarbourCats, yeahhhh

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bend Elks - series preview

Heading into the season, many observers were hoping that the HarbourCats would just tread water in the first couple of weeks until most of their regular players reported. To the surprise of many, the team broke quickly out of the gates and Victoria is currently sitting in first place with a stellar 8-3 record. Although some of the credit for the team’s early success should go to the local players like Ty Russell who were signed to short-term contracts and performed admirably, the regulars who arrived by Opening Day such as Alex DeGoti, Chris Lewis, Connor Russell and Ty Provencher have been outstanding. It’s also worth mentioning that the coaching staff has done an exceptional job of managing what has at times been an eight-man pitching staff.

All but three of the regular HarbourCats have now reported, so we’re finally going to get an idea of just how good our team is. Victoria will take on the Bend Elks in a three-game set at Royal Athletic Park this weekend, and the series will feature the teams with the two best records in the league. Here’s our series preview to get you ready for the titanic struggle.

Tale of the Tape

Victoria HarbourCats: 8-3 (1st place in North), .260 team batting average (3rd), 4.08 team ERA (8th)
Bend Elks: 11-4 (1st place in South), .303 team batting average (2nd), 3.21 team ERA (2nd)

HarbourCats – Who’s Hot
  • Alex Real is leading the league in hitting with a .412 mark. He has the potential to win the batting championship and be a candidate for league MVP.
  • Although he is only hitting .245 on the season, Chris Lewis has an eight-game hitting streak and has eight RBI in that span. His 12 RBI on the year is second-best in the WCL – that’s amazing considering how many hard-luck outs he has hit into this season. Look for Lewis to hit over .300 and post monster RBI numbers this season.
  • Alex DeGoti has reached base safely in each of his 10 games played this season. He’s hitting .300 with a .511 on-base percentage.
  • Scott Kuzminsky hasn’t given up an earned run (or a walk!) in 10 2/3 innings pitched. He has also picked up a pair of victories.
  • Ty Russell leads the team with a slow-pitch style .636 on-base percentage.
Tim Richards
HarbourCats Players to Watch

Slick-fielding shortstop Tim Richards made his first appearance in a HarbourCats uniform on Wednesday, just days after being selected by the Miami Marlins in the 40th round of the MLB draft. All indications are that Richards will not sign with the Marlins and he’ll spend the summer in Victoria before joining Bryan Conant at Cal State Fullerton this Fall. You’ll want to keep an eye on Richards this weekend – he’s an electrifying player.

Speaking of electrifying, keep your eyes peeled for pitcher / DH Robby Nesovic this weekend. Not only was the freshman given a significant amount of time on the hill for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos this past season, but he also spent most of the year batting in the middle of the lineup as the team’s regular DH. In 187 at-bats, Nesovic hit .326 with four homers and 33 RBI. I have even heard rumblings that Nesovic might see some playing time as a middle infielder this summer. Is there anything this guy can’t do?!?!?

Elks – Who’s Hot
  • Clean-up hitter Derek Dixon leads the league with 20 RBI in only 15 games. Oh, and the first baseman is also hitting .396, good enough for a tie for second place in the batting race with teammate Seth Spivey.
  • Second baseman and leadoff hitter Seth Spivey is hitting .396 with 17 runs scored.
  • Pitcher / outfielder Adam Grantham has a 1.42 ERA and has struck out 10 batters in 6 1/3 innings pitched. He’s also a threat with the bat – he’s hitting .400 with a home run in 15 at-bats.
  • Pitcher / second baseman Tanner Ring is hitting .483 with a homer and five RBI in 29 at-bats. He’s had less success on the mound, but has still struck out an impressive 12 batters in 7 2/3 innings.
  • Closer Nick Highberger has three saves and has limited opponents to a .136 batting average.
Elks Player to Watch

Shortstop Keach Ballard is coming off a huge year for Murray State and he’ll be a teammate of HarbourCat Justin Burba at the University of Oklahoma this Fall. Ballard hit .352 with a .564 slugging percentage this past season, so don’t be surprised if he breaks out in a big way this weekend. 

Key to the Series

The Elks lead the league in homers (8), RBI (83), walks (63), slugging percentage (.412) and OPS (.812). The big question is: Can the HarbourCats pitching staff contain the big boppers in the Bend lineup? Victoria’s pitching has been up and down and they’ll be facing their toughest test of the young season in the Bend Elks. If the ‘Cats hurlers can minimize the extra-base hits then all will be good. If not, then it could be a long weekend for the hometown team. 

Prediction

The Elks are a formidable foe, but their numbers have been helped by the fact that everyone on the team except Oregon State’s Tyler Painton reported over a week ago and their schedule has been relatively easy. I’m giving a slight edge to the HarbourCats, who will likely be pumped up to be playing in front of the home crowd at Royal Athletic Park. The HarbourCats will take two out of three.

HarbourCatNip
  • You can expect to see some excellent defense played this weekend – much better than what was on display in the first home stand against Kelowna and Medford. The Elks have given up the fewest unearned runs in the league (six in 15 games) and the newly-bolstered HarbourCats lineup should be much improved in the field.
  • The Pitching Coach of the Elks is Alan Embree, the man who recorded the final out for the Red Sox against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS.
  • The Elks feature one of the smallest players in the league, Jordan Aboites of Arizona State. He’s listed (probably generously) at 5-6 and 135 lbs. Let's hope he doesn't go into an Eddie Gaedel like crouch at the plate.
  • The Bend catcher, Tyler Servais, was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 36th round of the 2011 MLB draft. He’s the son of former big-league catcher Scott Servais
  • The right fielder for the Elks, Cullen O'Dwyer, was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 39th round of the 2012 MLB draft.
  • Seven members of the HarbourCats have been selected in previous MLB drafts: Greg Fettes, Alex Real, David Schuknecht, Jack Graham, Dylan LaVelle, Tim Richards and Brandon Smith.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Newcomers contribute in 'Cats win



Conant the Barbarian (pitcher)
Conan the Barbarian (batter)
Just a quick one tonight to give some props to the newcomers who all shook off jet-lag and had a positive impact tonight in leading the HarbourCats to a 4-2 win over the Bellingham Bells. Jordan Ellis, Justin Burba, John Schucknecht all collected a hit with recent high school graduate Timmy Richards trading in his robes to collect a couple himself.

On the mound, Bryan Conant "The Barbarian" pitched a very solid seven and two thirds, giving up two runs and striking out four while walking only one. The towering lefthander looks to be a good addition to an already tough (and huge...these guys are giants) pitching staff. Hopefully this is just the start of good things to come.

The win puts Victoria in first place in the North, one game above the Bells with the rubber match tomorrow evening.

See you Friday boys!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Cats drop opener in Bellingham

The cavalry arrived - well a lot of them anyway - but it did not seem to help on this night as the HarboutCats lost what looked to be a good ballgame, 3-1 to the Bellingham Bells. The Bellingham pitching staff strutted their stuff, keeping the Victoria bats quiet for most of the night. Bells starter Jason Hager gave up only three hits in five innings, with great support from Aaron Sandefur who pitched two scoreless innings while racking up another four K's.

'Cats starter Joe Navilhon struggled a bit early but then found his groove, closing out six innings of work and giving up seven hits, three runs and striking out five, for a decent outing. The net tonight though, was the sleepy HarbourBats. There were a few new faces in the lineup, including that "other" Schucknecht (2B John), and while they didn't make a huge impact tonight (although Will Ballowe did pitch two hitless innings in relief), look for things to get better and better as they find their legs and start to gel with the team. This season will be built in defined steps so like a good meal, let's let the new ingredients simmer a bit before we get too excited. This is an important series and a nice step up the ladder of competition to see where we really stand, and with two more games still to play, I see the 'Cats winning at least one of them.

I liken the Victoria team to a potentially strong comic book hero, say Iron Man, when his resources have been tapped out and he is running on auxiliary power, but is still somehow managing to keep the bad guys away. Or if you are a trekkie, shields are up, but only operating at 20% power. While Iron Man saves lives and the Enterprise defends against Klingons, the 'Cats chalk up wins, standing at a very respectable 7-3 and they have been running in this "scramble" mode since the season began; especially the pitching staff. Some nice deep inning runs by the starters, a couple of long relief stints, players playing admirably out of their preferred position and a host of successful ten-day signings have the 'Cats in a good position as power is returned in the form of the regular 'Cats showing up in Bellingham. While there are still a few more to arrive, this next stretch of games is where we see if the 'Cats are a true contender for the WCL playoffs or just an expansion franchise that had a good start.

This series with the Bells is a good early test as they are now even with the HC's for bragging rights in the North, while the next series brings the current leaders in the land of Dixie (the South...of the NorthWest anyway!) to town in the Bend Elks. This string of games will not define their season/fate or anything like that, but will still be a good indication of what is to come as full power is restored. Will they be the studs of the North or just a pretty good team fighting for a playoff berth? Will they take a bit of a dive, and need to regroup in making a charge leading up to the All Star break? Whatever the case, it will be fun watching the drama unfold, so tune in tomorrow...same 'Cat time, same 'Cat channel!
Holy bats man, we need a win!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Victoria drops series finale

The brooms were out, but after a disastrous fourth inning, they were sheepishly put away as the Kelowna Falcons prevented the sweep and collected their first win of the season courtesy of the Victoria HarbourCats. In the series finale tonight, the 'Cats opened the scoring with a power surge in the top of the dreaded fourth inning when the Alex's - DeGoti and Real - combined for back to back round trippers. On the mound for Victoria, another "ten day tender" who was signed on Saturday, Danny Moore, was cruising until his half of the fourth where he ran into more trouble than Mel Gibson at open mic night, combining with Logan Lombana and two 'Cats errors to allow eight runs to cross the plate.

There were to be no late inning heroics on this Monday night, with the 'Cats whimpering to a 13-6 loss, unable to recover from the damage of that woeful inning. It was interesting to note that catcher Greg Fettes moved to first, presumably so that they could keep his bat in the lineup while slotting the white hot Alex Real behind the plate. To make room for Fettes, Chris Lewis shifted over to second with Jack Graham, who is only batting .100, the odd man out. Zach Storm - hitless entering the game until a dribbling infield hit in the eighth - filled in at DH, most likely in an attempt to get his bat going.

After three series against teams with a losing record, the HarbourCats now enter their first real challenge of the season in taking on the 6-3 Bellingham Bells in a three game road set against a team that is fresh off a series sweep of Wenatchee. Like Victoria, the Bells took two out of three against Medford but also managed to get a game off the South-leading Klamath Falls Gems. Statistically the two teams are pretty similar, but I would give the batting edge to Victoria as - heading into tonight's game - they lead in average by 20 points, as well as having a slight edge in slugging and OPS. As a team, Bellingham only has one home run and 14 extra base hits so far in nine games and 291 at bats, compared to Victoria which had three HR's (plus 2 more tonight!) and 15 extra base hits, but in only 218 at bats. I'd tip the Bells (but not by much) on the mound as they hold the opposition to a league leading .205 batting average. The two team WHIP's and ERA's are very close, with Victoria having only a slight edge so it should be very even there. All in all, it looks to be a very competitive and evenly matched series. The loss tonight to Kelowna may be a wake-up and just what the doctor ordered heading into a more meaningful and competitive series. But the good thing about baseball, is that it still only counts as one loss and tomorrow is a fresh sheet of paper - new day, new city, new game.

A couple of players to watch for on the Bells are new additions (in the Wenatchee series) Alex Calbick and Johnny Sewald (great baseball name!) who are both hitting over .400. Beware of RHP Aaron Sandefur who will most likely come on in long relief, but has 14 strikeouts in only nine innings of work, allowing three hits and seven walks in that time. As for starters, Luke Morrill comes in with a 1.00 WHIP and 2.45 ERA, while collecting seven strikeouts and giving up only four free passes.

Tune in tomorrow after the long bus ride from Kelowna has our lads waiting to stand up the Bell(e)s of the ball.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

HarbourCats "Russell" up another win

Alex DeGoti had his first multi-hit game of the year on Sunday
Victoria defeated the Kelowna Falcons 9-1 on Sunday night to raise their record to 7-1 on the season and all three Russells on the HarbourCats roster played a big part in the victory. Connor Russell picked up his first win of the season by limiting the Falcons to one earned run over 7 2/3 innings, but the outing was anything but smooth for the big right-hander. He gave up eight hits and five walks to go along with seven strikeouts and he also benefitted from some solid defense behind him.

The Russell brothers were a big part of offensive attack, as Austin went three-for-four with an RBI and Ty went one-for-three with a walk and two runs scored. Austin's batting average now sits at a impressive .375 on the season, good for second best on the team behind Alex Real's .429 mark. Alex DeGoti also chipped in with a pair of hits, two RBI and two runs scored on Sunday night.

The win gives the team the best record in the West Coast League and a 1 ½ game lead over the Bellingham Bells in the North Division standings. Victoria will attempt to go six-for-six against the Falcons this year when the two teams square off in the final game of the series on Monday night at 6:35 PM. Victoria then travels to Bellingham to take on the Bells in a big three-game showdown that begins on Tuesday night.

HarbourCatNip
  • Victoria has signed left-handed pitcher Cameron Cuneo from UC Santa Barbara. Cuneo went 1-1 with a 4.50 in 12 innings pitched with the Gauchos this season. He is the third southpaw on the pitching staff, along with Bryan Conant and Will Ballowe.
  • The HarbourCats have now scored 39 runs in their last four games. Murderers' Row, indeed!

'Cats take down Falcons again

Austin Russell photo by Brian Hayes
The HarbourCats continued their winning ways with a 7-2 victory over the hapless Kelowna Falcons on Saturday night, raising their record to 6-1 on the season. The win preserves Victoria’s one-game lead over the second-place Bellingham Bells in the North Division standings. Perhaps more importantly, since the top two teams in each division make the playoffs, the HarbourCats maintain a three-game lead over the third-place Walla Wall Sweets.

Scott Kuzminsky was the hero for Victoria in their first-ever road game, as he picked up the win by pitching seven scoreless innings. It was Kuzminsky's first start in over two years. The offense was led once again by Alex (“The Big Cat”) Real, who saw his average “drop” to a league-leading .563 after going two-for-five with three RBI. Austin Russell had a pair of hits and RBI to raise his average to .321, and every ‘Cat in the lineup with the exception of Jack Graham registered a hit.

Connor Russell (0-1, 1.88) takes to the mound this evening against Kelowna’s Caleb Olson (0-1, 4.76). First pitch is at 6:05 PM with the pre-game show on the internet broadcast starting at 5:45.

HarbourCatNip
  • Six more of Victoria's regulars will join the team on Tuesday in Bellingham.
  • The two HarbourCats from the UCSB Gauchos, Connor Baits and Robby Nesovic, will join the team on Wednesday. Both will be impact players for Victoria.
  • The HarbourCats released the following players on Saturday: Clark McKitrick, Ryan Adkins, Jackson McCuaig, Brendon Magee, Erik Phillips, Daniel Bednarski and Daryl Blaskovich. All with the exception of McKitrick were 10-day players.
  • Ty Russell and Chase Cuckovich were the only original 10-day players to remain with the team for the Kelowna trip. This humble blogger is hoping that Ty Russell remains with the team for the duration of the season -- he's currently second on the team with an incredible .588 on-base percentage. He'd be a valuable contributor off the bench, especially in late-inning situations when the HarbourCats are in a desperate need for base runners.
  • Pitchers Jornh Kaluzniak (Vancouver Island Baseball Institute) and Danny Moore (Thompson Rivers University) were signed to 10-day contracts yesterday.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

HarbourCats embark on inaugural road trip

Elks Stadium in Kelowna
After a wildly successful inaugural home stand, the first-place Victoria HarbourCats are embarking on the first road trip in team history. The Kardiac Kids were on the 7:00 AM ferry to the mainland this morning, and hopefully the bus ride to Kelowna is much less eventful than the Falcons' trip to RAP on Opening Day.

The team will play a three-game set in Kelowna before travelling to Bellingham to play a trio of games against the Bells. The pitching matchups for the Kelowna series are as follows:
  • Saturday 6:35 PM – Scott Kuzminsky (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Michael Frericks (0-1, 3.85 ERA)
  • Sunday 6:05 PM – Connor Russell (0-1, 1.88 ERA) vs. Caleb Olson (0-1, 4.76 ERA)
  • Monday 6:35 PM – TBD vs James Mouton (0-1, 10.80 ERA)
Ryan Rouillard will be doing the play-by-play for all games, with the live stream available on MixIr. All broadcasts start 20 minutes before first pitch. You can also follow the game using Pointstreak’s Game Live application.

For those of you who missed the stunning series finale against Medford, you can check out the audio highlights on SoundCloud. You can also listen to the latest episode of the ‘Cats Cast podcast for a review of the Medford series and a look ahead to the road trip.

The HarbourCats return to Royal Athletic Park on Friday night to start a big three-game showdown against the Bend Elks.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wild one wraps up homestand

Chris Lewis stretches for the out
That's why you stay until the bottom of the ninth! The HarbourCats ended their first homestand with a wildly improbable 12-11 victory over the Medford Rogues on a walk-off double by game hero Dylan LaVelle. After spotting the Rogues a 9-1 lead at the end of five, the 'Cats chipped away over the next three innings to make the score 9-7 heading into the ninth. They also missed a glorious opportunity as a bases loaded double play ended their threat in the eighth. In the top of the ninth, eventual winning pitcher Ty Provencher gave up two more runs making it a four run gap heading into the bottom half.

Now cue the heroics. The 'Cats were patient at the plate all night drawing a total of thirteen walks and did more of the same in the ninth. Sprinkle in a few clutch hits including an Alex Real infield single to go along with his homer earlier in the game and they sat at 11-10 with two out and Lavelle at the dish. The man of the moment promptly slammed a two run double to create the first of what I hope will be many magic moments at the RAP, and send what was left of the 1,015 fans home happy.

So heavy sigh Victoria, they came into town like a whirlwind, impressively taking five of a possible six games with their final dramatic win tonight over the Medford Rogues. Now they will leave town just as fast for their first road trip of the season, a six game bender where they will play three each against Kelowna and the Bellingham Bells. So take five sports fans, smoke 'em if you got 'em, the boys will be back next Friday.

The next challenge facing the HarbourCats after one day of "rest", is playing nine games on nine consecutive days. The six game roadie is followed by a brief three game homestand against the Bend Elks, who - after tonight's 8-2 win over the Cowlitz Black Bears - stand at a very respectable 5-3, good enough to be tied for second place in the competitive South division. This road trip should really help the team get to know each other as they will have no hometown distractions and just have each other for company on and off the field. I'm imagining mini-golfing or go-karts between games but whatever it is, it will help them get better acquainted. As well, this is the first "grind" of the season, playing nine days in a row, so there will most likely be some adversity which I see as a good thing, again, for team chemistry. Maybe a loss here or there, a bad break on the field or even fighting for the top bunk will advance the character building experience that Dennis Rogers and staff have already started. Other players will also potentially join the team on the road, which will strengthen the team further. I'm telling you fans, get in line early to see the product that jogs on to the field at RAP on Friday, June 21, I'm expecting it to be even better than the North division leaders that walked off the field tonight.

So after six games, what did I learn about the 'Cats, their opponents and WCL ball in general?
  • We won't have Nick Pivetta as he will sign with the Washington Nationals - bad for us, excellent news for Nick
  • Pitching is a bit up and down so the team will need some more consistency here - the HarbourCats' staff WHIP is an impressive 1.22 but that is still only second to last in the league and ERA has ballooned to 4.50, good for third last in the league with 53 strikeouts and only 17 walks (which is a nice spread!)
  • Doing a bit of stats hunting, the South is a pretty good division. The South teams are all above the North teams in terms of ERA but it's a little more balanced on the more meaningful WHIP statistic. Still, beware the South!
  • Hitting - which was helped by tonight's eleven hit affair - is pretty respectable and we sit at fourth in the league in the major offensive categories; OPS, average and slugging
  • We will see errors in the WCL - both from our boys (none tonight though!) and from our opponents. I know the Victoria coaching staff is high on defense so I'm already looking for improvement when we see the boys again on the solstice, but I feel it will be a fact of life.
  • The 'Cats will be a menace on the basepaths - lots of hit and runs, straight steals and overall aggressive base running will make for exciting baseball to watch.
  • The norm seems to be about 1,000 fans per game but I am optimistic that this is a WEEKDAY stat and that once we have a series over the weekend, we'll come closer to 1,500 or even 2,000
  • Harvey is a kid-friendly, prancing sort of mascot who did show a tiny bit more attitude tonight, but I think I'll have to wait a while for my own "Rocky"
  • There is very little attitude on the field as I have not seen any player hot dog it or try and show anyone up. All they do is hustle and stay positive. For the first time tonight I saw a coach (from Medford) race out on the field to vehemently argue a call. That said, I though the angry little coach was right!
  • Spinnakers beer is very good - even on cold nights. Pig's beef brisket also rocks my world.
  • Victoria will only get better as more of the regular roster shuffles in after getting knocked out of the College World Series
  • It is AWESOME having baseball back in town!!!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Le Gros Chat (The Big Cat)

Expos fans of a certain vintage will immediately spot the resemblance the first time they see Alex Real play first base or hit at Royal Athletic Park. Based on the way he moves around the diamond and his body type, he's a dead ringer for a young Andres Galarraga. It's downright spooky that they both have the jersey number 14 in common as well.

Appearances aside, Alex Real is an extremely gifted ballplayer. In his first two games with the HarbourCats, Real has gone five-for-seven with a pair of doubles and two walks -- that's a .714 batting average and a .778 on-base percentage. On Wednesday night, he was on both ends of a slick 3-6-3 double play and made a couple of fine catches in foul territory.

Baseball fans would be wise to come on down to RAP this summer as much as possible to watch "Le Gros Chat" prowl the field -- he just might be one of those guys you'll watch on TV in the big leagues in a few years, and you'll want to be able to say that you saw him play in Victoria when he was in college.

Alex Real photo by Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Club

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rogue wave

Well, it was bound to happen. The HarbourCats finally had to bat in the bottom of the ninth and there were no heroics in store as the hometown team went down for the first time this season, 4-1 to the Medford Rogues. While Connor Russell pitched well, striking out eight in his seven innings of work, the Rogues hit several balls pretty hard, including a two run home run in the second inning by Ryan Teel. The HarbourCat offence never looked dangerous in tallying five hits and never really generating much in the way of a threat to the Rogues staff. In the field, the defence can still tighten up a bit as they committed two more errors including a botched catcher-to-first pickoff attempt that actually caught the runner cheating off the bag, but ended with a run being scored and nobody put out. Again, it shows they still have a ways to grow and I believe it is a fact of life in the WCL as we watch these budding stars mature.

On the Medford side of things, starter Mike Bradshaw pitched very well in collecting his first win of the season, giving up 4 hits in his seven innings of work before handing over to his capable (this night, anyway) relief staff.

The announced crowd of 1,014 was nice and vocal, on what turned out to be a very pleasant Victoria evening. The 'Cats "tradition" of playing funny walkup songs for  opposing batters is a definite hit. I heard "Dude Looks Like a Lady", "Man, I feel Like a Woman" and "I'm a Barbie Girl" to name a few. The Imperial March (Darth Vader's theme) especially touched me. One thing that is not a hit with me, are the repetitive sound bites on what seems like every other strike - sometimes when the 'Cats are at bat! Also, the broken glass on a foul ball is good, but only if used sparingly. C'mon...these are important nuances of baseball!! In more mature news, fans also got their first look at a couple of "new" HarbourCats in Greg Fettes who came in for a pinch hit appearance, and Alex Real, who went two for three in his Victoria debut. From what I have heard, keep your eyes on this kid.

Tonight, I was sitting near the Medford dugout, and I'll tell you, it is hard not to like these guys. They hustle on and off the field, I like their logo, I like the colour of their uniforms and they were overly tolerant - even kind - to the swarm of kids begging for balls at every opportunity. Not only were they tolerant of these non-Medford fans, they offered up more than a few souvenirs, and picked up hats that were dropped into the field of play without any grumbling. Nice job Rogues, you could teach pro athletes a thing or two...now just be a little kinder to our hitters tomorrow night.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Medford Rogues - series preview

The Victoria HarbourCats open their second home series of the year at RAP tonight against their fellow expansion cousins, the Medford Rogues.
Fresh off a three-game sweep of Kelowna - the First ever opening series sweep by a WCL expansion team – the Cats look to keep the magic going against the Rogues. Medford comes to Victoria having played twice as many games, going 3-3 over their first six, losing two of the first three against Bellingham before taking two of three against Kitsap, including a 5-1 victory last night.
The Rogues are in a similar position to Victoria, and are carrying a bevy of 10-day contract players while they await the completion of the college season and the arrival of several key players. The Rogues fared excellent in last week’s MLB draft with three players being selected... RHP Keynan Middleton went 95th overall to Anaheim, SS Tyler Smith went 237th to Seattle, and OF Dane McFarland went 360th to Arizona. The three have not suited up in the first 6 games for Medford, not sure if we will see any of them this week – or ever if they end up signing.
Medford is led by lefty starting pitcher Bret DeRooy, who struck out 7 batters last night in Kitsap in the victory. He is currently second among WCL pitchers with 12 Ks. We won’t see DeRooy in this series, nor will we see the Rogues other top 2 starters Jake Lessel or Brandon Williams.
There will certainly be hometown bragging rights on the line Tuesday as Medford boy Mike Bradshaw gets the ball in his second start of the season after giving up a run on 2 hits over 5.1 innings in his first start. He will toss against Victoria boy Connor Russell, who had probably the best start of the season so far in last Thursday’s win. Game 2 of the series will see Mac Acker will go for Medford. Acker had an excellent first outing, throwing 5 no-hit shutout innings in his start against Bellingham. At this point, he’s scheduled to go against Victoria’s Nick Pivetta. Pivetta is still eligible pending his decision to sign with the Nationals who drafted him last week. Thursday Medford has Jamie Flynn scheduled for his first start, while Victoria counters with Friday’s game starter Joe Navilhon. Overall, the Rogues boast an excellent early-season rotation with a combined ERA of 2.06 over the first 6 starts. The bullpen hasn’t helped, boasting a combined 5.59 ERA over the same period.
On the offensive side, Medford is either feast or famine when it comes to manufacturing runs. While they are capable of putting up double-digit totals, they also struggle against top pitching to produce any runs at all. The key to this team seems to be speed, with 12 stolen bases over the first two series, including 5 from league leader Quentin Urban. Urban is batting a buck-five in 19 plate appearances though, so keeping him off the base paths will help keep that stat in check. Not a powerhouse team, Medford has only a single home run this season, courtesy of Caleb Palensky.
As will be the usual for the next while, Victoria will see new faces in this series as the top prospects arrive from late-finishing college seasons and take their place in the lineup. Watch for newcomers Alex Real (C/DH/1B), Brandon Smith (OF), and Clark McKitrick (P) to be in the lineup tonight. Look for all three to have a positive impact on the HarbourCats, both on offence and defence.
Let’s hope fan interest stays high at RAP despite the forecast for gloomy skies tonight and tomorrow. Victoria currently leads the league in attendance, as expected. Game start times are 7:05 Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Let’s hope Medford was able to figure out the ferry schedule!
I'll go out on a limb and predict another three game sweep for the Cats in this series. It's a risky prediction for sure, but given Victoria's top starters are in tact for the set, and Medford is running two new starters to the mound, Victoria's ability to produce offence should be able to dominate.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Observations from the inaugural series

Ty Provencher picked up a win and a save vs Kelowna
By any measure, the inaugural series in HarbourCats history was a resounding success. The games were highly entertaining, the crowds were large and boisterous, and the HarbourCats now sport a perfect 3-0 record atop the North Division standings. A total of 5,650 fans came out to the three games against Kelowna, enough to put Victoria firmly in the league lead in attendance with an average of 1,883 fans per game. Those attendance numbers will likely improve further once school lets out and the weather warms up, especially considering that two of the Kelowna games were mid-week and the Friday night game was played with a cold wind blowing out to right field at Royal Athletic Park. Since the HarbourCats lucked out with the schedule and have 14 of their last 21 home games on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Victoria finish significantly ahead of the rest of the league in attendance (Walla Walla is currently second in attendance with 1,352 fans per game).

One thing that jumps out at baseball fans who are seeing their first West Coast League game is the impressive pace of the game. The three opening games had an average duration of two hours and 23 minutes, almost a full hour below the average length of a Victoria Seals game. There are many reasons for the shorter games: the players run (instead of saunter) on and off the field, there is a better balance between pitching and hitting talent in the league, players aren’t constantly stepping out of the batter’s box and wandering away from home plate, umpires actually enforce the time limits between pitches and innings, and the energetic HarbourCats staff make sure that the between-inning promotions are completed by the time the pitcher has finished his warm-up tosses. Put it all together and the on-field product is far superior to anything found in the independent leagues. Sure, the indy league guys are professionals, but it’s tough to beat the desire shown by college athletes. Nothing illustrates these differences more than a relatively small detail that I noticed on Friday night. When the return throw from catcher David Schuknecht got away from the pitcher and rolled towards second base, both Jack Graham and Alex DeGoti ran to retrieve the ball. Even though it was clear that Graham would get there first, DeGoti continued to run towards the ball until Graham actually picked it up off the infield grass. It’s the little things like that race for the ball that fans notice and appreciate.

Although the HarbourCats have an impressive 3-0 record, one should tread carefully when jumping to any conclusions about where the team will finish this year. Kelowna’s record now stands at 0-5, and from what I have seen they are clearly a team that isn’t destined for the playoffs. On the other hand, all of their regular players had reported for Opening Day, while only 13 of the 27 HarbourCats signed to a full-season contract were available for the series. Once the majority of the other 14 players have reported, the HarbourCats will be a force to reckon with. However, I’m not making any predictions for a playoff appearance until I have seen how we perform against the stronger teams in the league like Wenatchee and Bellingham.

HarbourCatNip
  • Alex Real of the University of New Mexico Lobos has arrived in Victoria and is available for the Medford series, which begins on Tuesday night at Royal Athletic Park. Real is likely to bat fourth or fifth in the lineup and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take on the bulk of catching duties, with some starts at DH and first base mixed in.
  • Both the Cal State Fullerton Titans and the Oklahoma Sooners were eliminated from the Super Regionals this weekend, meaning that CSF’s Bryan Conant and Oklahoma’s Anthony Hermelyn and Justin Burba may soon be on their way to Victoria. Hermelyn may well be the HarbourCats’ best all-around player and he should see a significant amount of playing time at third base. Conant will likely be a key lefty out of Victoria’s bullpen, while Burba’s speed will be a boost to our outfielder corps.
  • Tim Richards, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton in the Fall, will likely be Victoria’s starting shortstop when he arrives in town (Alex DeGoti may slide over to second base). The slick-fielding infielder is finishing up his senior year at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, and the last day for final exams at the school is on Thursday.
  • The HarbourCats have only one player who will participate in the College World Series (June 15-26), UCLA’s Brett Urabe. The UCLA Bruins upset the 3rd-ranked Cal State Fullerton on Friday and Saturday night in the Titans’ home ballpark.
  • Even though the Battle of BC is only three games old, there appears to be a bit of animosity between the Kelowna Falcons and our Victoria squad. In the three-game series 10 batters were hit by pitches, including six HarbourCats. The two teams play again June 15-17 in Kelowna and then they square off for the final time of the season on July 5-7 at Royal Athletic Park. There won't be any fireworks at RAP on Canada Day, but don't be surprised to see some fireworks of a different variety when Kelowna rolls back into town a few days later.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A picture says 1,000 words


We now have a one game lead over the Wenatchee AppleSauce. Anyone know what the HarbourCats magic number is?!?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Pivetta drafted!!!

Nick Pivetta - National HarbourCat!
Nick Pivetta was just drafted by the Washington Nationals in the fourth Round - 136th overall. The following was posted as his scouting report:

At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Pivetta has an ideal pitcher's frame. He also has the stuff to back it up. Pivetta, a right-hander out of New Mexico JC, has a fastball that has touched the upper 90s in relief appearances but mostly sits in the low 90s when he starts. He has a solid curveball that could be above-average in the future and also throws an inconsistent changeup. The development of his changeup will the key to being a starter for Pivetta. He could also project as a late-inning power arm out of the bullpen.

Congratulations Nick!!!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Still batting 1.000

Alex DeGoti digs in
Night number two for the hometown HarbourCats was a different type of game, but yielded the same result - a 'Cats win. This time the final score was 4-2 in a game a bit more typical of what we were expecting. Connor Russell scattered four hits in his seven and a third innings, allowing two runs - only one earned - for a very solid outing. Scott Kuzminsky came in to mop up and did not allow a hit in collecting his first win of the season. Overall, between Nick Pivetta last night and Russell tonight, the starters did what they needed to do with a short staff (eight pitchers in total) and that is going deep into the game. Both went into the eighth leaving the rest of the staff ready to roll for tomorrow night's finale against the Falcons.

Victoria was, once again, very aggressive on the pads utilizing the hit and run and straight steal to advance runners, even manufacturing the go-ahead run in the eighth. With a man on first, there was a straight steal, sacrifice bunt to advance the runner to third and a sac fly to bring him in - all executed to perfection. This helped redeem the 'Cats for a botched run down in the seventh that eventually allowed Kelowna to tie it up. Sure there was what seemed to be a missed hit and run, and a throwout at the plate where the batter also did not advance to second as he should have, but I still like it. Go out and try and TAKE the win...don't wait for it to be given to you. I hope this strategy continues as it makes for exciting ball to watch.

At the plate, Chris Lewis led the way going two for three with two RBI and Alex DeGoti cranked one out Pembroke way for his first home run of the year. Overall there were only ten hits combined for both teams and this made for another very quick game. Elapsed time was pretty much right on two hours and that included a mid-inning pitching change for both teams. I also hope this continues.

The crowd was back to a more terrestrial number after last night's sellout  - 1,082 tickets sold - but the hearty group was vocal and braved a cool evening to watch the hometown win. I did not see any issues at all tonight, including the scoreboard which, from what I could see, was operated with the precision of a fine diamond cutter.

So whatever happens on Friday, the 'Cats have their first series win wrapped up and is time to get out the brooms. It would be easy to have a letdown game tomorrow after two big wins, but let's hope not. Well done so far lads!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Game on

First pitch in HarbourCat history
It was a banner night for baseball - warm (for June in Victoria!) summer evening, smell of hot dogs, cool beer on your throat and an eager sellout crowd of 3,026 on hand to watch the HarbourCats notch their first win in franchise history, an 8-6 triumph over the Kelowna Falcons. The fans didn't seem to mind the big walk-up lineups or the delayed start time as the mood remained positive all evening.

The night started out with a bit of logistical excitement as the visiting Kelowna Falcons missed their ferry due to a blown tire and some mechanical issues and the first pitch was delayed by almost sixty minutes. The novelty of traveling to Victoria will have more than a couple of players mumbling about an "island" team in the league but that said, they will have to adjust to this new wrinkle in the bus/ferry league that is the WCL.

Where did that sign go???
Things didn't get much better for the Falcons, as their bus pulled in to RAP and took out a seemingly needless street sign, leaving a nice dent in the side as a souvenir of their trip to Victoria. Then they had to deal with Nick Pivetta for eight innings in what was an exciting first game of the season. It was a back and forth affair with a lot of offense, and few long balls thrown in for good measure in this league of "small ball". Even though the 'Cats were down early, you could see they had a jump in their step, firing the ball around the infield and running out every ground ball.

Dennis Rogers preaches pitching and defense, but in the end it was his offense that won this one. He had the team running the bases aggressively, and catcher David Schuknecht had a great opening night, going three for four and jacking one of the aforementioned long balls in the fifth.

There were a few opening night glitches, which is to be expected, aside from the gong show that was the Kelowna bus ride, but nothing that can't be ironed out. There were a few ticket snafus and in the first inning or two, the scoreboard was flashing while players were batting, but both were corrected right away and can be put down to experience. As well, the scoreboard operator looked like they were wearing boxing gloves but again, with more practice, that too will be fine. There were also a lot of positives too - big crowd, big line-ups that seemed to be moving OK, nice selection of food (as in Pig!), great weather, nice cold local beer and a good mix of fun events for the youngsters in the crowd.

So there you have it...game 1 in HarbourCats history is in the books. Let's hope we see many more like that one in the days/weeks to come, starting with tomorrow night. At least the Falcons don't have to catch a ferry, so we should be good to go at the originally scheduled time of 7:05...UNLESS they are staying on Saltspring!

Great Scott!
And by the way, am I the only one who observed that the time clock above the scoreboard seemed stuck at just before 6:00? I was waiting for Doc to fill up his flux capacitor and race in to rescue Marty. The things we notice...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Kelowna Falcons - series preview

Well, it's GO time, baby! As Bob Knight wouldn't say, it's time to put on your game face as the Kelowna Falcons are coming to town for the first ever series against your Victoria HarbourCats! Given this is a new league, new home team and new visiting team, I'm not exactly sure what to expect, but hopefully this will whet your appetite. I mean, we haven't had baseball here for a couple of years so I expect the good people of Victown will be all over it like a starving man on a Christmas ham.

Last year, Kelowna finished third out of four teams in the East Division - this year called the North Division with the addition of Victoria - sporting a record of 28-26 and missed the playoffs by four games. If my detective skills are accurate, it looks like there are only two returnees from last year - RHP Preston Gray who was 0-2 with a 5.60 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, and a Canadian boy from North Delta, outfielder Reed Lavallee who hit a lofty .429 in 10 games (most of which were at the end of the year). In fact, Kelowna boasts a total of six Canucks (not the evil skating kind) on their roster with two being from the Island - Darren Kolk, an outfielder/LHP from Duncan, and Cody Andreychuk, a third baseman from Nanaimo. Both played this year at Vancouver Island University and hit well above .300. This will make for an interesting match-up on Thursday when our own VIU product - Connor Russell - takes to the hill and will be hurling at his former teammates.

So with such a new lineup, it is anyone's guess what we'll be seeing come out of the visiting dugout. The two teams have very different makeups, with the HarbourCats primarily pulling players from bigger Div I schools and the Falcons seemingly staffing up mostly from Div II schools and Community Colleges. I'd give a slight edge to the HarbourCats here, in that they may have a more seasoned roster to kick off the season even though many of them will still be with their respective NCAA teams.

The 'Cats will be missing the four players who are with teams that survived last weekend's Regionals in the College World Series - UCLA (infielder Brett Urabe), Oklahoma (infielder Anthony Hermelyn and outfielder Justin Burba), Cal State Fullerton (pitcher Bryan Conant). All will remain with their colleges in preparation for the Super Regionals this coming weekend. As well, the six players whose teams were just knocked out of the College World Series will also be absent - New Mexico (Alex Real), San Diego (Ryan Keller), Cal Poly (Jordan Ellis and John Schuknecht), UCSB (Robby Nesovic and Connor Baits). It's uncertain who else - if anyone - will be missing for other reasons, but the team will be initially handing out about nine(ish) ten-day contracts to plug the holes until the rest of the lads show up. Bodies will start trickling in throughout June with a full roster not really in the cards until the start of July.

Another edge that I see for the 'Cats in this series is the hulking (these are big boys) pitching staff. With soon-to-be (as in Thursday!) MLB draft pick Nick Pivetta throwing his 95 mph bee-bees on Wednesday, followed up by Connor Russell on Thursday, the Falcons will have to eat a back-to-back dose of Victoria home cooking. Given there are only eight pitchers for this three game series, the hope is that the starters will go deep (NOT the hitters!) to take it easy on relief arms. Friday's starter has not been set as it depends on how the staff is utilized in the first two games, but Cal State Fullerton product Joe Navilhon may get the nod. Aside from pitching, of course the big edge that the 'Cats will have for this series is the emotion of a hometown crowd that is starved for baseball. Come on Victoria, the Hawks are up 2-0 on the Kings so you can miss ONE playoff hockey game. And word has it that GM Holly Jones paid big dollars to order up this AWESOME weather, so get out and cheer on the local boys!

I predict a 2-1 split in favour of the HarbourCats. Falcons will be as young as the 'Cats, and they may not have anyone left in the College World Series, but the broader Div I experience and the hometown emotion make me tip our boys. That said, I really do not have a lot to go on so it's pretty much guesswork at this point. Whatever the case, baseball is baseball and I'll be loving it.

See you at the yard, meat.

HarbourCatNip
  • Monday marked the 125th anniversary of that legendary baseball poem written by Ernest Thayer, Casey at the Bat
  • The video part of the scoreboard has now been fixed so at the very least, fans will be able to see player profiles. Replays are coming, but it is uncertain if they will be ready for opening night. Nice work by the 'Cats techno-staff!
  • Given that this is the first baseball game in a long time at RAP, the field is still a work in progress. It is improving every day, but fans should not start throwing their beers at perceived errors, as the infield is still a little soft and may give up some funky late inning bounces.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The wait is over

On September 5th of 2010, the Victoria Seals dropped a 6-3 decision to the Edmonton Capitals at Royal Athletic Park on a bright, sunny afternoon. If you were one of the 3,751 in attendance, you may remember that day – Victoria’s own Charlie Strandlund played all nine positions for the Seals and fan favourite Josh (“Arrrrr”) Arhart clubbed a pair of homers. Little did we know that the afternoon would become significant for a much different reason. It was also the last game ever played by the Seals. That was 1,002 long days ago, but our wait is finally about to come to an end. Baseball is back!

On Wednesday an exciting new chapter in Victoria baseball history will begin when the Victoria HarbourCats take to the field to face the Kelowna Falcons. If you don’t already have your tickets, go to HarbourCats.com to purchase them now – fans who procrastinate and buy tickets at the door may end up sitting in the football stadium well away from the action. The team also offers a 5% discount for online purchases, so it's really a no-brainer.

There will be no shortage of drama at Royal Athletic Park in the home opener. On top of the excitement of finally returning to the old ball yard, you’ll get to witness starting pitcher Nick Pivetta’s triumphant return to the mound in his hometown. The very next day, Pivetta will likely be taken high in the MLB draft and if/once he signs his contract, he immediately loses his college eligibility. In that case, he would be assigned to a minor league team to begin his journey to the big leagues, so Wednesday night could be your only chance to see Pivetta pitch for the HarbourCats. You won’t want to miss it.

See you at the ballpark... and Go Cats Go!!

HarbourCatNip
  • If you can’t make it out to the ballpark, you can listen to the play-by-play online at HarbourCats.com. An outstanding broadcaster, Ryan Rouillard, will be calling the action for every HarbourCats game this summer. You can also follow the action on Pointstreak’s Game Live application
  • It will be interesting to see how well the HarbourCats draw in their inaugural game at RAP. The first-ever home game for the Victoria Seals, on May 29, 2009 versus the Long Beach Armada, drew 3,778 fans on a Friday night with good weather conditions.
  • The West Coast League’s single-game attendance record (4,156) was set by the Klamath Falls Gems on July 22, 2011.
  • Mayor Dean Fortin is certain to be involved in the pre-game ceremonies on Wednesday. Fans are encouraged to show their appreciation for the Mayor when he is introduced, because he has played a significant role in bringing baseball back to Royal Athletic Park.
  • The season record for WCL attendance is 50,513 by the Bend Elks in 2011 (1,820 fans per game). The Victoria Seals averaged 2,342 fans per game in 2009 and 2,597 in 2010. However, it’s worth noting that attendance figures in the defunct Golden Baseball League were frequently quite “optimistic”.
  • The days of seeing a 13-7 game at RAP that takes 4 1/2 hours are over. For a preview of the style of baseball we'll be treated to this summer, check out our blog post from last October.
  • On Opening Day every team is in first place – including our HarbourCats. With that in mind, here’s one of my favourite baseball tunes that's also the perfect song for Wednesday: All Future and No Past by The Baseball Project

Sunday, June 2, 2013

HarbourCats show the threads

Friday night at the Yates Street Tap House, the HarbourCats hosted a media event to roll out the complete set of jerseys for their inaugural season. Three jerseys in all - the home, the road, and the now obligatory "third" jersey that usually finds its way into the home rotation once or twice a home-stand.

Three Up...
Three Down!

The home jersey is a button-down bright white jersey, with a navy blue panel under the armpit on both the body and arm. The team name arcs across the front in a caps-locked Serif font proving one thing - the name Harbourcats has a lot more letters than you probably thought when it's on a jersey. Navy blue player numbers adorn the left front, and middle back of the jersey in a typical block jersey-number font. A crisp white pant with a thin blue stripe down the side of the leg complete the home look.

The road jersey is the same cut and style, with Navy as the main colour and grey under arm patches. The same number font is used, this time in white. A much more compact "Victoria" in a scripted font runs across the jersey on a slight angle towards the left shoulder. Away pants are a matching grey, with the same navy stripe down the side of the leg.

The third jersey, again made the same, uses the lighter blue found in the HarbourCats logo, with navy underarms. The logo sticks with the "Victoria" script, but this time - it goes straight across the jersey in a navy blue font with white outline. The numbers match both the outline style of the name, and the font of the other jersey numbers.

All items of clothing sport the well known Nike swoosh.

Headgear wise, there are two hats in play to start the season: A single block navy "V" outlined in white on a grey hat with navy blue brim complements the road uni, while one of the oddest design items in the set - the home hat is worn with both the standard home jersey and the third jersey. The home hat is a solid navy blue hat and brim with an overpowering H and C logo, the H placed over the C. Or is the C over the H. Or are they the same size? Isn't there a famous french hockey team that's done that? Or the NC Tar Heels? Or even the West Coast League logo? Is HarbourCats two words now? I'm so confused!

The hat seems to make no sense to this logo-happy blogger. In fact, I'm a bit taken aback by the sheer variety and mismatch of all the pieces together. I count six different fonts in play now:
  • Original HarbourCat logo text
  • "Harbourcats" jersey name
  • "Victoria" jersey name
  • "V" hat logo
  • "HC" hat logo
  • Jersey numbers (expected)
And that's not counting the scripted font being used twice - once with border and once without, once on an angle, and once straight across! It's as if a design team created a bunch of samples, and someone said "I'll take one of each".

What does it all matter? This isn't fashion corner, this is a baseball blog! Will it cost us runs, lose us games... probably not. I just think that for a team looking to build an identity and make an entity recognizable in the community, the KISS principle may have been a better way to go. And use the cat logo for god sake... If the internet teaches us nothing else, it confirms that everyone likes an angry / grumpy cat!