SURREY â€” Spring is in the air and at ballparks all over the city, the overwhelming scent is that of hope as B.C. Premier Baseball League teams embark on a new season.
The 2014 BCPBL campaign kicks off this weekend and local teams in Whalley, South Surrey and North Delta are eager to reap the benefits of the hard work they invested in the winter months.
White Rock Tritons
Tritons coach Russ Smithson loves it when a plan comes together.
When Smithson took over the reins of the South Surrey club, he drew up a plan for developing the program over a five-year period. This is now year five and so far, everything is falling into place for the Smithson and the Tritons.
â€œOur boys are really excited this year,â€ the Tritons head coach said. â€œWe start off every year excited about the new season, but this year our guys really see an opportunity. Theyâ€™ve seen the way their teammates worked in the off-season and it wasnâ€™t just 10 or 11 guys putting in the effort, everybody did. They really pushed each other and theyâ€™ve come along way from when they started three years ago. Theyâ€™re ready to win â€” theyâ€™re hungry.â€
White Rock lost just four players from last season, only one of which was a starter. That leaves the 2014 edition of the Tritons loaded with veterans, with the remaining holes in the lineup being capably filled by junior guys moving up to the senior team.
The Tritons spent a week this spring training and playing exhibition games in Arizona before returning home where they played an ambitious exhibition schedule. In total, White Rock has played 15 exhibition games and now the players are eager to start playing for real.
â€œWeâ€™ve been fairly lucky so far,â€ Smithson said. â€œWe managed to get a lot of games in this spring and now weâ€™re ready to play games that matter. Weâ€™re so sick of playing games for nothing right now. Weâ€™ve been winning quite a bit so far even though nobody is officially keeping score. Itâ€™s still nice to know weâ€™ve been winning some ball games.â€
The Tritons pitching staff is led by Scott Doucet, a lefthander who led the team with eight wins last season and pitched well enough to earn a Division 1 NCAA scholarship to Niagara University. He will be pushed for team ace status by righty Jake Gill, the hardest thrower on the staff.
At the plate, Dylan Yeager returns after hitting .320 as a Grade 11 in 2013, while James Pavelick has showed plenty of power this spring.
â€œBoth of those guys have been crushing the ball this spring,â€ Smithson said. â€œI canâ€™t wait â€” I hope it carries over to the regular season.â€
Defensively, Daniel Cassino is looking good at shortstop with Liam Rihela covering second base to give the Tritons solid defence up the middle. Yeager will call the shots behind the plate.
The Tritons open the season with a weekend trip to Kelowna to take on Okanagan.
North Delta Blue Jays
Head coach Michael Caleb is presiding over a near-complete rebuild of the Jays nest with only five players returning from 2013.
Despite the youth movement, Caleb is optimistic about his teamâ€™s chances.
â€œWeâ€™re excited about the new season and I think we have a lot of potential this year,â€ he said. â€œHopefully the guys can carry the momentum from the fall into the spring now. Weâ€™ve played a lot of games this spring and thatâ€™s given us an opportunity to try guys out in different positions and give other guys a chance to secure starting roles on our team. Itâ€™s definitely good to be able to give our pitchers a lot of innings and our hitters a lot of good at-bats before the Premier League season starts.â€
The Jays spent 10 days in Florida during spring break where they played exhibition games against local college teams. Last weekend they headed to Kamloops for the Best of the West tourney where they won one of four games against teams from B.C. and Alberta.
The Kamloops results were disappointing, but Caleb and the Jays coaches have an extra week to make corrections before North Delta plays their first game on April 17.
â€œOur strengths this year would be our offence and our starting pitching,â€ he said. â€œWe actually have a fairly strong group of pitchers, which Iâ€™m excited about, and our hitters, well, theyâ€™re something to get excited about too. Itâ€™s one of those situations where, if we give up nine, then hopefully we can score 10. Our strengths are definitely offence and pitching. Weâ€™re working on our defence, but right now thatâ€™s one of our weak points.â€
Dylan MacAhonic, Ryo Takenaka and Evan Rogers will head up the pitching staff for the Jays this season.
At the plate, Malcolm Boehm has been the Jays top hitter throughout the spring and will start the season hitting leadoff.
Boehmâ€™s bat will be bolstered by the middle of the lineup with Brock Morgan, Rogers and Kevin Sengara.
Catchers Morgan and Michael Smith will anchor the defence from behind the plate. Outfielders Dryden Rossiter and Curtis Hildenbrandt have looked sharp this spring, giving the Jays solid work in the outfield.
Another bright spot for North Delta is Tyler Hoefer. The Grade 10 student can do it all, helping the Jays on the mound, at the plate and at shortstop.
Another team undergoing an overhaul this spring is the Whalley Chiefs where former stars Drew Parker, Cole Armstrong and Ryan Pilgrim have come home to coach after concluding their college and pro careers.
The new coaches embarked on a vigorous off-season training program and when play begins this weekend, they will finally get to see if all the hard work has paid off.
â€œWeâ€™ve done a lot of work in the batting cage over the winter and now that the weather is better, itâ€™s great to be outside again,â€ Parker said. â€œThe guys have worked really hard in the off-season and itâ€™s great to get them outside where they can show their improvement. Itâ€™s early obviously, but the goal is to constantly improve as the season goes on. The guys have come a long way this spring and now we want to keep improving.â€
The Chiefs spent spring break in Phoenix training and playing exhibition games before returning to B.C. to close out the preseason. They earned a split of a Sunday doubleheader against the Tritons at South Surrey Athletic Park and now are focused on the regular season.
â€œI think weâ€™re going to be good,â€ Parker said. â€œWe have really good pitching and our hitting is coming along pretty well. Defence is the key for us. If we play defensive baseball and do the little things well, then weâ€™ll have a successful team.â€
Pitchers Jordan Dray, Max Williams and Cole Hunt will handle most of the pitching duties while Grade 11 lefty Nick Vellios will have a chance to make his mark.
Colton Wright, Dray and Mitch Williams top the list of Whalley batters.
The Chiefs open the season Saturday with a doubleheader against the Vancouver Cannons. First pitch is noon at Whalley Athletic Park.