The Nanaimo NightOwls got their first West Coast League experience last year, and now they’ll see what they can do for an encore.
The collegiate baseball team is about to step to the plate for its second season, and management, coaches and players are excited.
“I can’t wait, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Caleb Battye, NightOwls pitcher.
He was part of the team’s inaugural season last summer and said it was a great experience playing in a newly renovated stadium in front of supportive fans.
He said this year’s team will have a head start on chemistry with the mix of local guys and returnees, and that will be important in a short WCL season.
“It’s really just [about] coming together as a team as quick as possible,” Battye said.
Jim Swanson, the team’s general manager, said recruits last year had some idea of what to expect because of the reputation of the NightOwls’ sister franchise, the Victoria HarbourCats, and now the NightOwls have developed their own foundation.
“People know what kind of an organization we run at the collegiate summer level, so that was really good in helping us to get off the mark, but certainly now [we have] the experience and the word of mouth that’s going around on what it was like to play in Nanaimo and experience the beauty of living here,” he said.
This year’s NightOwls roster has a lot of changes, something that’s typical at the collegiate summer level, but there will be some key returnees. First-team all-star infielder Tim Holyk will be back, along will fellow infielders Aaron Marsh and Cody Hendricks. New additions to the infield include Brandon Nicoll, who is expected to be an immediate offensive contributor, and major league draft prospect Elijah Ickes.
In the outfield, Brandon Hupe is a key returnee, Justin Ramirez is his university’s all-time hits leader and Niko Diaz is a speedy contact hitter.
As far as the team’s pitching goes, hard-throwing right-hander Talon Mihalinac and left-hander Conner Gleissner are likely starters. Returning right-hander Cooper Littledike will be asked to be one of the bullpen leaders and and also coming out of the bullpen will be lefty Bear Pinedo, who brings an aggressive approach from the mound.
“We really focused on trying to upgrade the pitching,” Swanson said. “Last year our starters got us into the fourth, fifth inning quite often and had us with a chance, and it was just the depth of our bullpen. We needed a few more arms to keep guys a bit fresher.”
Swanson said the NightOwls’ home field is unique and a special place to play baseball and watch games.
“You play at Serauxmen Stadium, you’ll never forget that you played here,” Swanson said.
GAME ON … The NightOwls play an exhibition game against the Mid-Island Pirates on Wednesday, May 31, at 6:35 p.m. at Serauxmen Stadium. The home opener is Friday, June 2, versus the Walla Walla Sweets at 6:35 p.m. at Serauxmen. For ticket information, visit http://nanaimonightowls.com.Follow @nanaimobulletin