Swinging for the fences

NANAIMO – VIBI Mariners third baseman Cody Andreychuk finds home run stroke at college level.

Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners player Cody Andreychuk watches the flight of a baseball during batting practice Tuesday at Serauxmen Stadium.

Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners player Cody Andreychuk watches the flight of a baseball during batting practice Tuesday at Serauxmen Stadium.

After VIBI Mariners batting practice, players have to go gather any baseballs they might have hit out of Serauxmen Stadium.

“Go collect your souvenirs,” said Jordan Blundell, club manager, to freshman Cody Andreychuk on Tuesday.

“How many were there?” asked the slugger.

“As if you didn’t keep track,” Blundell replied.

In truth, it’s getting harder to keep count of Andreychuk’s home runs these days.

The Vancouver Island Baseball Institute third baseman swatted three homers in four games last weekend in Kamloops and is now tied for the league lead in the Canadian College Baseball Conference with four dingers.

“I have a pitch,” Andreychuk said. “If they’re going to throw it inside I’m going to definitely try to hit it over the fence.”

Home runs turn heads, but Andreychuk is also hitting .385 this season, second best in the league, and his 11 extra-base hits are tops in the CCBC.

“We’ve worked with him since Day 1 in the fall about his balance and how his bat gets into the hitting zone and he’s really taken that to heart and worked hard and has made adjustments,” Blundell said.

Andreychuk explained that he’s added structure to his swing. He can now adapt it better to curveballs and changeups, which is useful since pitchers around the league are becoming hesitant to throw him fastballs.

“I’m just seeing the ball a lot better right now, getting the ball in front and spraying it to all fields,” he said.

Andreychuk’s success at the college level is coming quicker than he might have expected. As a freshman he wasn’t sure how much playing time he would get, but he got the job at third base partly because of an injury to a teammate.

“I got the opportunity to play and just made everything that I could out of it,” he said.

Off-season work improved his speed and agility, he said, which has helped him transition from the first base position he played most of his premier-league career.

He’s handled that move across the infield, he’s handled the jump from high school baseball to college ball, and pretty soon he’ll be thinking about what’s next in his playing career. U.S. colleges, it seems, like home runs, too.

“There’s definitely options on the table. It’s all kind of happened really fast because it’s a short season. I haven’t really thought too much about it it; I’ve just been busy with finals, with school,” Andreychuk said. “But it’s definitely opening doors that weren’t there before.”

VIBI will play series against Okanagan

The final home games of the season shape up as good old-fashioned baseball.

Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners host the Okanagan Coyotes this Saturday and Sunday (April 21-22) for a four-game series at Serauxmen Stadium.

Blundell said series baseball helps him learn about each of his individual players as he sees their approach facing the same team, over and over. He said it takes a bit of time to settle into the first game, and then the adjustments begin.

“And then it’s a chess match and a battle between the programs and hopefully we’re ready to take on that challenge,” he said.

Fans at the ballpark will see a vastly different VIBI team than they saw earlier in the spring. After some frustrating early season losses, the Mariners’ bats have heated up and sparked a turnaround.

“We’re definitely having a lot more fun and guys seem to be enjoying the game a lot more now,” said Andreychuk.

GAME ON … The VIBI Mariners face Okanagan on Saturday and Sunday (April 21-22)at Serauxmen Stadium. Game times Saturday are 2:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.; Sunday’s action is at noon and 3 p.m.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com