Opening day is always something special for baseball teams, but this one is even more so.
The Vancouver Island University Mariners baseball club is about to take to the field for the Canadian College Baseball Conference season, and it’s been a long time coming after two straight spring seasons were lost to the pandemic. Coach Nick Salahub says he’s got third-year players who have never played a regular-season game of college baseball.
“It’ll be really good for them to get out there on the field and show how much improvement they’ve had,” he said. “About half our squad has been around [since before the pandemic] waiting and waiting and waiting and now they’re ready to take care of business.”
While players might be short on game reps, baseball never really stopped. Players trained, scrimmaged and played a full fall ball exhibition season in 2021.
“With the amount of work that we do, there’s no excuses to be made for our players not to be ready to go. I don’t think that COVID’s going to be an excuse for them not to be where they need to be,” Salahub said. “There are some guys who are in their third year with us, who, if we had had two seasons, they’d be in a different spot than they are now. So I guess there is a little bit of leeway to be given there, with players not quite where they should be developmentally, just because they haven’t had a chance to play.”
But as far as the mental side of the game, knowing where to be on the field, knowing where throws needs to go in different situations, for example, the Mariners will have high expectations.
The M’s think they have the makings to have a competitive club this year. Defence seems to be a team strength, the pitching staff has depth and experience and the offence has shown versatility.
Jordan Moffat is the ace of the staff and he said VIU’s pitchers are poised to cut down on walks and keep “pounding the zone.”
On offence, corner infielder Liam Ballance, outfielder Trent Lawson and freshman shortstop James Joyce are expected to be key contributors, and outfielder Keegan Chard-Hill is another player to watch.
VIU’s first games are against the Victoria Golden Tide, a new team in the CCBC and a natural Island rival for the Mariners.
“I think we’re all really excited,” said Moffat, who will get the opening day start. “We’ve gotten to just basically practise the last two years straight, so we’re ready to get into some meaningful games coming up here and we’re prepared.”
Moffat said in a short season, every game matters, so the M’s will be looking for a hot start.
“You don’t want to look too far ahead, you want to just take it one game at a time, but definitely, the early wins really matter in this league,” he said.
The opening day doubleheader will also mark the first CCBC games at Serauxmen Stadium since the City of Nanaimo’s improvements leading up to Nanaimo NightOwls’ inaugural West Coast League season this summer.
“We’re excited to get on the field with all the upgrades that have been done,” Salahub said. “The city’s put a bunch of money in there to help support baseball in the community as well as the NightOwls coming in, so we’re pretty excited about all the improvements there.”
GAME ON … The Mariners and Golden Tide play Saturday, April 2, at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., then play rematches the next day in Victoria. For more schedule information, click here.