HarbourCats a hit with Cowichan crowd

After Sunday’s game between the Victoria HarbourCats and Langley Blaze went off perfectly, both teams and the host Duncan Junior Baseball Association are hoping to make it an annual tradition.

Estimates had the crowd at the free game in Evans Park at between 1,000 and 1,200 spectators, who got to see the Blaze top the HarbourCats 10-5 in a hard-fought exhibition under sunny skies.

"All in all, everybody I talked to at the park thought it was wonderful," Duncan Junior Baseball president Kevin Olender said. "Both teams were in awe of the park and how good the conditions were. For that, I credit the North Cowichan parks crew. They did an unbelievable job."

The game was the highlight of the wrap-up of the spring season for Duncan baseball. The day also included wooden bat games and other celebrations for the local teams.

HarbourCats owner John McLean made the trip to Duncan on the team bus, and was

impressed with everything that was going on.

"The turnout is great," he said. "The organization is really well put together. To participate in their closing day is wonderful."

HarbourCats general manager Jim Swanson, who did double duty on the day as the Blaze’s third base coach, echoed McLean’s sentiments.

"We’ve been treated really, really well," he said. "It’s awesome."

The Blaze, a senior men’s team from the Pacific Metro Baseball League, made up of former college and pro players, got solo home runs from Scott Webster and Joe Germaine in the first two innings and never looked back. The HarbourCats made a game of it down the stretch as infielder Sean Watkins drove in two runs and Jacob McAdams made a strong relief appearance, giving up just one hit in two-and-a-third innings.

Third baseman Cole Kreuter went 2-for-2 at the plate, while first baseman Bryce Greager and outfielder Danny Collier were both 1-for-1. The West Coast League’s HarbourCats – a summer team for college players – include several Island players. Nanaimo’s Alex Rogers, who started the game on the mound, and shortstop Griffin Andreychuk were hits with the fans, as was catcher Kelly Norris-Jones, a Victoria product and former Toronto Blue Jays draft pick.

In just their second year of existence, the HarbourCats are starting to make a name for themselves, and their presence in Duncan will boost not only their own profile, but the profile of the sport as well, giving young players something to aspire to.

"We’re starting to build across the Island, and the potential in Duncan is wonderful," McLean said.

Sponsors who helped make the event free for spectators included Island Savings, Wilson’s Transportation, the Times Colonist, Tim Hortons, and CUPE local 358.

Olender was thrilled to bring high-calibre baseball to the Cowichan Valley at such an affordable price.

"A great bunch of people came out who wanted to see a level of baseball they hadn’t seen in the Valley in a long time," he said. "We did it for the kids. We did it to promote baseball in the Valley."