With the pennant comes privileges.
The Nanaimo Pirates have positioned themselves better than any other B.C. Premier Baseball League team as playoffs get underway.
While other teams were concluding their regular-season schedules this week, the Hub City Paving Pirates (34-14), who clinched first place on Sunday, got to shift all their focus to the post-season.
The Pirates get home field for their best-of-three series against the Okanagan Athletics or White Rock Tritons, and a few days off to set up their pitching rotation just how they want it.
“It’s a great spot. You can’t ask for anything better than first,” said Joey Sabo, third baseman. “You can say, ‘well, if we came second we would have had a better matchup,’ but you want to come first, play that eighth-placed team knowing that you’re the first-placed team.”
Besides boosting their playoff chances, the pennant is also a feather in the ball cap of the 2011 Pirates. Winning the regular-season title for the first time since 2001 was a big deal for the players.
“We were all pretty excited,” said Liam Goodall, Pirates outfielder. “We knew we could at the beginning of the year, it was just a matter of doing it.”
The Pirates admit they were scoreboard watching Sunday evening on the mainland as they won their last regular-season game against the North Shore Twins.
“The guys were pretty even keel after the win, but then as soon as they heard the news that [second-place] Coquitlam lost, it was party central on the bus going back to the ferry,” said Doug Rogers, the team’s manager.
He said the Pirates are full-value pennant winners, even though the Langley Blaze were knocked out of the race after forfeiting 12 wins due to use of ineligible players.
“A whole bunch of teams gained from it, gained two or three games in their wins and two or three got taken off their losses as well. With us, we didn’t get anything. We beat Langley during those dates,” Rogers said. “So our record was legitimate.”
The Pirates played like a first-placed team most of the season, and the good news is, they think they can play even better in the playoffs.
“It’s been a great season. I’ve been frustrated at times because I know their potential and I know what they can accomplish,” said Doug Rogers. “Well, they accomplished something pretty special and I’m still not satisfied.”
The Pirates said they would work hard at practice this week to hone their game, but they might not be far off from peak form. Starting the season 18-2, Sabo said, set high standards.
“We have been playing well,” he said. “We’ve been playing better than we think we’ve been playing, we’ve just been putting a lot of pressure on ourselves.”
That pressure will only intensify now that the post-season is starting, but that can be a good thing at this time of year.
“In playoffs everyone’s up, everyone’s raring to go,” said Cody Andreychuk, Pirates first baseman. “It’s a whole new focus, a whole new atmosphere.”
GAME ON … The first two games of the series are slated for Sunday (July 24) at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at Serauxmen Stadium. Game 3, if necessary, will be Monday at noon at Serauxmen Stadium. Admission is $5 for a doubleheader or $3 for a single game … To read Part 2 of the News Bulletin’s Nanaimo Pirates playoff preview, please visit www.nanaimobulletin.com on Friday (July 22).