Intercounty Baseball League players don’t have much of a spring training to work with. Given the way the weather was this year, preseason practice went from little to none.
Even though the first true action for the Barrie Baycats came during their home opener, it’s not that different from how the month of May usually pans out for the players.
“It’s about getting our whole team together,” said Baycats catcher Kyle DeGrace. “I think what we’re going to find out in May is where guys fit and what their roles will be for the season. That’s one thing, every year we’ve had someone different that’s stepped up.
“This year, we have Anderson Green from the Dominican Republic in here to be our shortstop and he’s replacing Conner Morro, who was arguably one of our top defensive players over the last two seasons. He was a real reason why we went 41-3 last year. Having him playing shortstop was huge for us, but Anderson comes in with a pretty good defensive background in his few years of pro ball.”
That being said, it’s not often that the Baycats don’t pick up a bat on the field until they’ve reached the on-deck circle in a regular-season game.
“You just have to trust your abilities and realize that you’re playing the same game you’ve been playing for your entire life,” DeGrace said. “Obviously, timing and whatnot is a bit of a concern offensively, but if you trust in your ability and get your mind right, you can do things that you don’t necessarily think you could do.”
For DeGrace, there’s the added task of going over what every pitcher on his team is throwing and getting an idea of where opposing hitters hold their strengths and weaknesses.
“With May, it’s just kind of getting used to our staff,” said the Baycats catcher. “Obviously, we have a pretty similar staff to the one we’ve had over the past couple of years, so it’s just a matter of getting back on track. For me, it’s a feeling-out process behind the plate and trying to get a beat on some of the other hitters in the league and mentally taking notes to move forward. Like I’ve said many times before, I think the biggest attribute I add to this team is calling a game and defensively, so May is like my spring training to mentally and physically get myself prepared behind the plate.”
While it’s a competitive group as per usual for Barrie, it doesn’t hurt knowing that they’ve already qualified for the playoffs by virtue of stepping onto the field for their season opener against Kitchener.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s an exhibition season until the playoffs,” said DeGrace of the IBL’s eight-team format, which sees every squad automatically reach the post-season. “We don’t really care what we do in the regular season. Maybe if the league changed things up and eliminated some teams from playoff contention, that would change a little bit, but we just want to be healthy and ready to go come August, whether we finish first or eighth.”
“I think we know what we’re capable of doing when it actually means something,” DeGrace added. “Don’t get me wrong, we still show up and play, and I think we proved that last year, since we’re all competitive athletes and we want to play and win, but the ultimate goal is getting to August healthy.”
Trying to stay fit in the cooler spring conditions with less games being played can be tough, but again, the veterans have an idea of what they need to do before the schedule ramps up in early June.
“We work out during the week whenever we get the chance to,” DeGrace said. “I know a lot of us have busy work schedules, so it’s tough, but just staying active, moving around when we can, helps. For myself, my job doesn’t really allow me to sit around, I’m always on the go. So being able to do that and work out as often as we can to keep us in somewhat decent shape. May is the slow month, and then June and July it feels like we have three or four games every week.”
One of the things that typically takes the longest to get back to mid-season form is being at the plate, although DeGrace surprised himself by hitting a home run in just his fourth time facing a pitcher this year.
“I would say hitting, but I hit a couple of balls pretty hard (in the home opener) and I was shocked,” DeGrace said. “It’s usually hitting, timing, and getting used to seeing some live pitching. It used to be a little easier for me, being in baseball, getting to sneak in some at-bats against our 18-year olds with the Ontario Blue Jays, but I don’t really have that luxury anymore, so our first game was the first time I had live at-bats. But we’ve all been doing this for so long and have had so many at-bats in our lives that the mindset is like riding a bike, essentially.”
In the photo, Kyle DeGrace circles the bases after hitting a home run against the Kitchener Panthers. Brian Backland photo