The last couple of seasons, the Nanaimo Pirates snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season. This summer, they want to avoid that drama – by going out and winning the pennant.
The Hub City Paving Pirates begin another B.C. Premier Baseball League season on Saturday (April 9) with a doubleheader on the road against the Victoria Eagles.
The Pirates are eyeing a sweep, since they go into the season brimming with confidence.
“We’ll be a good ball club,” said Kenton Schroter, Pirates ace. “We should be up there, top three; our goal is No. 1. So we shouldn’t have to fight for a playoff spot this time.”
The Pirates have improved their pitching depth, boast a veteran defence, and even the hitting is further along than one might expect for April.
So they’ve set a goal for themselves of no more than 10 losses during the 48-game season.
“They’re good heights to strive for. Whether it happens or not, we’ll see,” said Doug Rogers, Pirates manager. “It’s all about getting on a roll and if you get on a bad roll, to be able to stem that right away.”
The manager said a first-place season or a championship season is more of a realistic goal than it might have been in years past, and the players believe.
“Ultimately, I think we’re going to come out on top this year. We have a good young squad and everyone seems to mesh real well,” said Cody Andreychuk, Pirates first baseman. “This is probably the year that if we do have a chance, will be the year to win it.”
Here’s a look at the 2011 premier Pirates:
Schroter, a hard-throwing righty, was in the top three in the premier league last year in both wins and strikeouts. He said he expects to equal or better his 2010 season in 2011.
Following him in the rotation will be two newcomers from Edmonton: Mike Williams, a left-hander, and Nick Smiley, a righty.
The other potential starters to open the season are right-handers Justin Clarkson and Colby Morgan.
The bullpen will include righties Al Rogers and Luke Skingle and lefty Chris Faber.
Brady Rogers will be a leader of the defence at shortstop, with Clarkson and Nick Granton sharing time at second base and Joey Sabo returning to the hot corner.
At first base, Andreychuk is the starter but Faber is also in the mix and the Pirates want to get Brendan McCarthy some innings at first as they transition him to that position.
In the meantime, McCarthy will play right field, backed up by Ryan Smith and Crosby Rushton. Liam Goodall will play centre field with Al Rogers manning left field.
Ben Dunbar will catch most games, occasionally spelled off behind the plate by Smiley.
The Pirates will seek the right balance between stability and fair opportunity in the field.
“I don’t want to give guys the false impression that they’re going to be there no matter what,” said Doug Rogers. “But I also want them to be comfortable in the position knowing that if they do make a mistake I’m going to run them right back out there.”
Usually at the start of the year it takes awhile for the bats to catch up to the pitching, but the Pirates think they’re ready to find their rhythm at the plate. Andreychuk said players have been getting together after practice to take extra cuts.
The Pirates know there is more to offence than just hitting, and the manager said he wants to keep runners on the move and basically “cause havoc” on the basepaths.
“I want to play small ball,” he said. “[But] when our boppers get up there, I want to let them swing it.”
Dunbar and Morgan will be two top-of-the-order guys after finishing second and first on the team in batting average last year at .333 and .380, respectively.
The middle of the order features McCarthy, who hit .295 last season, as well as Goodall, Andreychuk and Brady Rogers.
“I will move guys around quite a bit,” the manager said. “Depending on how guys do, how comfortable they are in spots, that’s where I’m going to end up placing them.”
Die-hard Pirates fans might make the trip to Victoria this Saturday, but most fans will have to wait until April 24 when the team finally holds its home openers at Serauxmen Stadium. By then, the Pirates might have a bunch of wins already in the books.
“I’m hoping people come out to watch,” Doug Rogers said. “There’s no swearing, there’s no throwing bats. We want to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”