It’s been a familiar finish for the Barrie Baycats through the past half-decade. But, it’s not something they have taken for granted.
The Baycats defeated the Kitchener Panthers in six games to win their fifth straight Intercounty Baseball League championship. It’s the longest consecutive title streak by any team other than the Brantford Red Sox, who won the Dominico Cup from 2008-13.
“This (feels) the same as it was the first time we were able to do it,” said Baycats manager Angus Roy. “It’s pure joy, the culmination of a bunch of hard work from tons of different people, and it’s that excitement that you’ve climbed the mountain and reached the pinnacle again with your family.”
Each of these past five championships has been reached in a different way.
In 2017, the Baycats lost just three of their 44 regular season and playoff games combined en route to the championship. But, this year, Barrie had already lost more contests than it had a year ago just nine games into the season.
“We struggled at the start of the year,” Roy said. “People forget that, early in the year, we were 5-6, and we weren’t playing really well. We lost four games in a row. Not me personally, but I think a lot of people outside of our group had questions as to whether or not we could reach that pinnacle again.
“We made a couple of changes and some kids came home from school, guys like Carson Burns, who was huge for us for a bit there until he went back to school, and Parker Walker, who was a big help behind the plate when (Kyle) DeGrace was a little banged up.”
After righting the ship, the Baycats went out and got three guys that would help to anchor this group.
“Frank (Garces) came in, Starlin (Rodriguez) came in and Tim Smith came in, and we put it all together,” Roy said. “We started playing good baseball, our core group got hot again and went on a bit of a run. Once we got to the playoffs, we knew what it takes and the kind of effort you’ve got to put in to win a championship and we got it done again.”
Following a pair of sweeps over the Burlington Herd and Hamilton Cardinals, the Baycats took on the Kitchener Panthers in the finals and fell behind early, dropping a 1-0, 11-inning, game one.
“You’ve got to tip your cap to (Panthers starter Noelvis) Entenza,” Roy said. “He was incredible in game one and game four.”
“I think you saw the pride kick in in game two,” he added. “Kitchener’s pitching was tremendous in game one, as it was all series, really. They pitched really well in game one and found a way to score and steal a game from us (in Barrie), and then, they were up on us in game two as well. These guys have played a lot of baseball together, they know how to win, and you saw our pride kick in. The at-bats started getting better in game two and that carried over to game three.”
After struggling to put up enough offence against Entenza again in game four, the Baycats found another gear ahead of the championship’s penultimate contest.
“To me, it really changed in game five,” Roy said. “When we showed up to go to work in pregame, you could just see it. No one said anything, there was no speeches or anything, but you could see the work kick in. They went back and were doing what they did when they played the game at an extremely high level. The focus was there. The way they went about things, you could tell that they were going to get to that next level.”
Following a big victory in game five, Barrie went to Kitchener for game six and was trailing late, until a home run by Glenn Jackson tied things up and reversed the momentum. Two batters later, Rodriguez went deep as well to put Barrie ahead for good.
Jackson was named the playoff MVP after posting a .432 batting average and 10 RBI in 14 games, despite hitting ninth for much of the post-season.
“Glenny’s incredible, man,” Roy said of his centre fielder. “I don’t care who you are or what league you’re in, if you hit .430 for an extended period of time, that’s great. He had some huge hits for us. His home run in game six changed the momentum extremely for us. Every time he came up, he had a big hit. He made a big play. He brought a lot of energy to us.”
“That whole bottom of the order, with Glenny, and (Jeff) Cowan and Branfy (Infante), it seemed like, whenever they got on base, they scored,” Roy added. “Glenny’s been in this league forever, he’s had his ups and downs, like everyone else, but he absolutely put it all together towards the end of the season and it carried over into the playoffs. He’s a very well-liked guy around the league and everyone was just ecstatic for him.”
Jackson, who turns 35 in November, is one of a number of Baycats regulars getting up there in age by baseball standards.
“We’d be lying if we said we didn’t know that we were getting close to the end of the road here,” Roy said. “I’ll be 40 next year and guys are already into their mid and late-30’s here. Family time is getting more important to the guys, which it absolutely should, and their kids are getting older and involved in more things. I think we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought that this was going to go on forever.”
“There are those reflection times that we spend a little more time on than we did before,” he added. “We took time after the game to re-hash some of our fondest memories of the season and what has happened. We did it again on the bus and then again at a few different houses over (that weekend). We’re a veteran group and we really appreciate this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime group and you’re not going to be able to replicate this again.”
Roy won a title in 2005 as a pitcher with Barrie before earning the last five as manager.
“You’ve got guys being around the same age, our wives getting along, being accountable to one another and respecting each other enough to say your piece and move on,” he said. “It’s a special group and we’re appreciative of it. We do reflect and we’re thankful that we can continually get together and play at a high level.”
The Barrie Baycats celebrate their fifth straight IBL title after defeating the Kitchener Panthers in six games. Photo courtesy of the Intercounty Baseball League