New coach Ernie Hawkins might be wondering if he’s set the bar too high for the Fraser Valley Chiefs.
The B.C. Premier Baseball League (PBL) team plays the first two of 48 regular season games Sunday against the visiting Nanaimo Pirates at Whalley Stadium. And when league play concludes July 17, Hawkins is expecting the under-18 elite league squad to be among the top four in the 13-team league.
“I’m hoping we’ll host a playoff series,” he said. “Maybe I’m a little over-optimistic. But you have to have a goal. And with what I’ve seen in the preseason, I believe we can be in the top four.”
On paper, there’s little reason to think the Chiefs can’t attain that goal. Of the 10 players returning from a team which placed fourth last season with a 27-17 (won-loss) record, six are starters. And the new recruits for the 2011 season should be able to fill any holes.
Ernie’s son, Brody Hawkins, will be back behind the plate after a 2010 campaign that saw his bat .287 and earned PBL first all-star team honours. Also returning to wear the Chiefs black-and-orange are first baseman Mitch Dornblut (.267), and infielders Ryan Pidhaichuk (.304), Dale Mar and Braeden Alleman.
Jordan McComb is the returnee in the outfield, and will move to centre field. He batted .219 a year ago.
On the mound, the Chiefs have Justin Pilgrim (2.25 earned run average), Alex Dunbar (3.65) and left-hander Caleb Lefebvre (3.72) back for another season. The pitching staff will be bolstered by the addition of Dylan Rehmke, who spent last season with the Langley Blaze, and left-hander Ty Walker.
– The North Delta Blue Jays also begin their PBL season this weekend, after coming off a 32-12 season in which they place second in both league play and the playoff tournament.
The Jays host the Okanagan Athletics of Kelowna for a four-game set at Mackie Park in North Delta. Saturday’s double header gets under way at 1 p.m., while the first of Sunday’s two games is set for 11 a.m.
The Jays have lost much of their starting lineup from last year, as seven players have moved on to university baseball.
Among the returnees to the North Delta lineup are pitchers Quinn Allen (2.08 earned run average) and Jeff Bouchard (0.76).