With the regular season winding down, the playoffs will soon be heating up. For the Barrie Baycats, that’s when the true competition begins.
The four-time defending Intercounty Baseball League champions will be looking to add another ring to their fingers as the excitement builds with August baseball.
“The energy picks up and then the focus picks up,” said Baycats manager Angus Roy. “We’ve seen the same pattern over the last few years. Everyone’s excited in May, because they haven’t played all winter and we haven’t seen each other in a while. And then, by about mid-June to early July, the nights get longer and things feel a lot longer. With everyone making the playoffs, it can be hard at times for the guys to get up for any kind of regular-season games.
“When the calendar turns to August, that’s realistically the fun part of the season. We all want to win championships. So, traditionally, the energy and focus picks up and the games get more exciting.”
While Barrie’s main group of players has remained the same for seasons, there were a couple of assets brought in to help the Baycats ahead of the post-season.
“The biggest acquisition around the (signing) deadline was (Dominican player) Starlin Rodriguez,” Roy said. “We needed Starlin. We weren’t getting the production we had hoped for out of the shortstop position early in the season, so we were actively pursuing a shortstop and he solidifies our lineup. It gave us a good defensive player and a good offensive player, which makes our lineup that much deeper and that much more dangerous. He hits gap-to-gap, and he’s a guy you can put at the top of your order and make things tough for the other team most nights.”
The Baycats also took on Tim Smith, a veteran with many ties to the current roster.
“We weren’t actively pursuing there, but he reached out, because he’s got a lot of contacts with our team, guys he played with growing up,” Roy said. “He was Steve Lewis’s roommate in their first year of college. Bringing him in has given us more depth. We were sitting at 13 position players and we’re going to lose two or three kids going back to school and could lose (Barrie native Ryan) Rijo if he signs (with the Philadelphia Phillies).
“We wanted to add depth, and if you can add depth with a player of his background and calibre, then that’s great depth to add,” added Roy, who feels he’s now got another option come playoff time to allow him to modify his batting order. “He’s another left-handed, middle-of-the-order bat that elongates the lineup.”
The biggest thing that the heavy roster has helped Roy out with in June and July contests is it has permitted him to rest a number of veterans in an attempt to keep them in the best shape possible for, hopefully, three rounds of playoffs.
“I talked to all of the vets and told them that, when the young guys are there and healthy, the young guys will play pretty much every day, (assuming) they keep playing at the high level they’ve been playing at,” Roy said. “They’re going to go back to school and I’d rather give our guys that have been around and are going through the grind for their 10th, or 12th, or 15th IBL season some rest, to just be at the yard and rest their legs. So, for me, it’s about getting our veteran guys as fresh as possible going into (the playoffs), which is really when we need our guys to be the most fresh.”
Barrie will enter the playoffs predominantly with a roster that has won it all before, but a few players that have not. Roy says it makes a big difference as far as pushing both the incumbents and the newbies.
“We’ve got our core, which has been there forever, so they all know what to expect,” he said. “I think the thing that really helps us, in terms of a motivational aspect, is that we’ve always brought in new guys every year that haven’t been with us and have that hunger to win a championship they haven’t won in a while, or possibly ever. So, you’ve got guys like (pitcher) Frank Garces, Starlin and Tim Smith who are going to be major factors for us. They haven’t been with us before, so those guys are hungry to win a championship.”
“That motivates the other guys as well,” he added. “This group is an extremely competitive group no matter what it is. They wouldn’t be coming out and giving up time in the summer and giving up time with their families if they weren’t focused on winning. We always think our best is as good as, or better than, everyone else’s. So, if we play the way we can play, we’ll be tough to beat.”
Photo: Kyle DeGrace has been one of the veterans that manager Angus Roy has been able to lean on to win four straight IBL titles. Brian Backland photo