As spring begins to creep out of the shadows of an extended winter, so too does the ballplayer, ready and armed with bat and glove.
In Simcoe County, the big time, as per usual, are the Barrie Baycats, four-time defending Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) champs. They have eagerly circled May 6 on their calendars, when the Baycats begin their season, at home, against the Kitchener Panthers.
“It’s just that excitement feeling, when the weather starts to turn a bit and you see spring training games and opening day hits, so that means that our season is right around the corner,” said Baycats manager Angus Roy. “The excitement starts to build. You start hearing from guys you might not have heard from so much during the winter, because baseball is the connection in a lot of the relationships that I have. Baseball is all a passion of ours and it brings us together.”
The 2017 season couldn’t have gone any better for Barrie, which set a franchise best with a 33-3 record and swept both playoff series en route to the Dominico Trophy.
While the 2018 edition will be strong once again, Roy isn’t expecting to put up the gaudy numbers his squad did a season ago.
“I don’t think you can ever expect anyone to have a season like the one we had last year,” Roy said. “For me to sit here and say that we should go around 33-3 again, that’s absurd. Those are just unrealistic expectations to put on a group of guys that are getting older.
“Everything really did go right for us last year. We realistically only played one bad game and it was that day we got bombed in Toronto. Other than that, we played pretty good and pretty clean baseball for the majority of the season, and we just capitalized on every mistake.”
Roy expects to have a nearly identical lineup to the one that ran through the IBL a season ago.
“We haven’t had any major turnover,” Roy said. “The biggest piece right now is that it looks like (infielder) Conner Morro won’t be back. He went to Canisius this year and he let me know pretty early that his coach wanted him to play in a summer collegiate league, which is very common for a lot of kids. You’ve got to listen to your college coach when you’re at an (NCAA) Division-I program.
“We’re going to have to replace him and that will probably be our most glaring subtraction. He’ll be a huge loss for us through the regular season and playoffs.”
The team’s three-headed monster, their rotation of Emilis Guerrero, Claudio Custodio and Matthew St. Kitts are all expected back in 2018.
“If you look at the last 10 years, in this league especially, it’s come down to starting pitching,” said Roy, who also mentioned that the team was looking at bringing back Santos Arias, the team’s top right-handed pitcher from the 2015 season. “So we’re trying to add to that starting pitching and it looks pretty good for us.”
The Baycats have retained most of the same core for all four championships.
They’ve also come up with the hashtag #drivefor5, which some players feel isn’t really what they’re looking to accomplish.
“One good thing, as well, is our ability to clear the path,” Roy said. “It’s great talking about things in the past and we can reminisce, we have great memories and that, but once that season starts, the focus is on that current season and everything we’ve done in the past, nobody seems to care about anymore.
“We take them as learning experiences and we move on from that. This group is great at clearing the memory for a new season.”
Whether the Baycats look at this year as completely separate or the culmination of a half-decade of dominance, they have a strong internal desire to push for another title.
“They’re just competitive people to begin with and they’re competitive in their everyday lives,” Roy said. “If we go out and play pickup basketball, everyone’s competitive. If we’re in a fantasy baseball, basketball, or hockey league, everyone’s competitive with each other. It’s just incredible to have that many guys who are that competitive in their regular lives.”
Cat scratches: Roy was among the 10 Baycats, former and current, to be honoured as one of the IBL’s Top 100 players of all time at a ceremony in Kitchener in February. “You saw guys from different generations, and to hear them tell stories about the league and talk about how important it has been in their lives, it was great,” Roy said. “Bill Pegg of Kitchener was a major component in putting that together, and it was an awesome night.” Roy, who pitched for Barrie from 2002-09, was also part of a panel discussion on that evening…Including last year’s playoffs, the Baycats posted a .932 winning percentage over their 44 games in 2017. “There were situations where we were dead late in games and teams made errors and opened that door a crack and we ran through it,” Roy said. Barrie had lost only one game all year before the final weekend of the regular season…The Guelph Royals are back in the IBL after ceasing operations midway through the 2017 season. They’ve also added Sean Reilly, Justin Interisano and Josh Garton, all of whom had previously played for Guelph…Brantford has added Jose Bautista to their roster. No, not that one. This Bautista, a 26-year old left-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic, last played affiliated ball in 2014 in the Chicago White Sox system.