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COLUMN: Barrie's boys of summer back in the swing of things

'Whatever curveballs get thrown this season, the Baycats and Jackfish should be the favourites,' says columnist
Barrie Baycats pitcher Juan Benitez is shown in this file photo.

The sights and sounds of spring are upon us.

And, with the birds chirping and trees in full bloom, the unmistakable clatter of bats has also returned to Vintage Throne Stadium in Midhurst. The Barrie Baycats conducted their media event last week and hosted the Thornhill Reds at the same venue a few days later in an exhibition encounter.

The Baycats open their regular-season schedule Thursday, May 16 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and then will travel to Welland on Saturday, May 18 to play the Jackfish, a game that will be a rematch of last year’s Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) final series.

If you interpret the events of last year a certain way, it can be fairly argued the Baycats were a pitch away from winning the franchise’s eighth league championship. 

Up two games to one and playing at home, the Baycats had the Jackfish down to their final strike to take a choke hold on the series. To their great credit, the Jackfish found a way to win Game 4 in Barrie and then won their club its first league title.

“We were really close, and it hurt,” said Baycats manager Josh Matlow, “but I said it when (the loss in the finals) happened and I still stick to it — it’s one of the best things that could happen to our regime because (our players) are now super hungry.

“These boys are ready.”

The Baycats, of course, already know a thing or two about winning IBL crowns. Although only a few players remain from the team that won six consecutive IBL titles, the club established itself as the pre-eminent team in the league during that glorious stretch.

The Baycats also made it to the final but lost in two previous seasons to their title run. If you add it up, the Baycats have been involved in nine of the past 11 league final series and won six of them. Not too shabby. In fact, when Welland won last year’s championship series in six games, it was the first time in a decade a team other than the Baycats or the London Majors were IBL champions.

Getting so close and letting another league title slip from their collective grasp leaves a sour taste. But while acknowledging the unfinished business, Matlow is pleased with how his squad looks at the cusp of the new campaign.

“We have a lot of good athletes and filled a few spots,” he said. “We’ve bolstered our pitching and we’re very happy with our squad.”

This year’s team will have a mix of returning players and new additions. Slugger Ryan Rijo returns and looks in fighting trim. Franchise stalwart Frank Garces, who now qualifies as a home-grown player and does not require one of the team’s four import tags, also returns and will be a key hurler.

The four import players will be Dominicans Cesar Rosado and Carlos Sano, who are both new and will join returning compatriot Juan Benitez on the mound. American Ricky Phillips, fresh off a successful season in the Independent League, will be the club’s right fielder and rounds out the imports.

The Baycats are also expecting outfielder/first baseman Nolan Machibroda to be a key addition. A 2022 Minnesota Twins signee from Saskatchewan, Machibroda had a monster season at the plate two years ago in U.S. college. Another outfielder, Zach Orchard, has travelled up the highway to join the Baycats from the Leafs.

The club is waiting to hear about outfielder Noel McGarry-Doyle, who could be taken in the Major League Draft in July. If he does hear his name, he will be sent elsewhere by the MLB team that selects him; if not, he will return to the Baycats.

Predicting anything in baseball can be like trying to fight off an 0-2 slider. Add in other factors such as almost all players having job/family commitments and a short-ish schedule heavily influenced by weather, and handicapping teams becomes, well, unpredictable.

Whatever curveballs get thrown this season, the Baycats and Jackfish should be the favourites.

The IBL could take on a dramatically new look next season. Chatham, the Baycats’ lone overnight trip, has joined the league to make it a nine-team loop. With hopes to add another club on the eastern side of the Greater Toronto Area, two five-team divisions could be created. Oshawa has been floated as a potential city to return to the fold after an absence now approaching two decades. If that happens, it should reduce travel and the ebb and flow of both the regular-season standings and the playoff picture.

“This is a working man’s league,” Matlow said while explaining the IBL’s hopes and the advantages of creating two divisions.

First pitch on Thursday at Vintage Throne is 7:35 p.m. Though paper money is heading the way of the Montreal Expos, fans going to any game at the sprawling sports facility just outside of town will do well to have cash. The Wi-Fi signal in the area can be shaky, creating difficulty getting in and at the concessions.

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Peter Robinson

About the Author: Peter Robinson

Barrie's Peter Robinson is a sports columnist for BarrieToday. He is the author of Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto, his take on living with the disease of being a Leafs fan.
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