Whalley Chiefs general manager Paul Hargreaves in the stands at the club’s diamond at Whalley Athletic Park. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Whalley Chiefs general manager Paul Hargreaves in the stands at the club’s diamond at Whalley Athletic Park. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey baseball clubs prep for spring games as COVID threatens another season

‘I’m really excited about this year, because we have the troops in place,’ Whalley Chiefs GM says

It’s soon time to play ball on Surrey’s diamonds, but will actual games be played?

The question is on the minds of many in the local baseball world as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to balk another baseball season.

“We’re ready to go,” said Whalley Chiefs general manager Paul Hargreaves, “but we’re at the mercy of (Doctor) Bonnie Henry and the provincial health people, like everyone else.”

Hargreaves, boss of the B.C. Premier Baseball League club for more than two decades, says the current uncertainty is tough on everyone involved in the Chiefs’ five teams in different divisions and age groups, including players, coaches and parents.

“It’s making everyone goofy,” he said. “They’ve had two years of this now – or two seasons, really. I don’t know what’s going to happen if we’re told that we can’t play for another month, quite honestly. It’s getting to be tough on the mental side of it. The kids can practice only so much.”

Baseball organizations across Surrey are planning for some sort of spring season, according to a “Countdown to Baseball Season in Surrey” notice posted to surrey.ca.

“This year things will look different,” the web post confirms. “Baseball is currently in Phase 2 of the Return to Play (RTP) Guidelines as outlined in both the viaSport and Baseball BC Guidelines. Team training and development are permitted; however, games/tournaments and programming for those over the age of 22 are not permitted.”

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Right now, parks crews are busy cutting ballpark grass as part of pre-season maintenance.

To get more kids playing the game, Newton Canadian Baseball Association is welcoming children under the age of nine to register for free, for Blast-ball (those born in 2016/17), Tee-ball (born 2014/15) and Tadpole (2012/13). The association’s catchment area is between 86 A Avenue and Colebrook Road, from 120th Street to 152nd. Details are posted to newtonbaseball.com.

Meantime, Whalley Little League’s southern-boundary catchment area has been expanded to 16th Avenue.

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Elsewhere, Cloverdale Minor Baseball registration is underway online for Tadpole to Midget division, with spring-break clinics planned with coach John Parker, from March 15-19.

Fastpitch association Surrey Storm is also busy with pre-season registration and planned clinics this month, with all the details posted to surreystorm.com.

The Whalley Chiefs players have been in winter training for the past few months, and Hargreaves says they’re ready to hit the diamond on University Drive, where the grass was cut Feb. 26 for the first time this year.

• RELATED STORY, from August 2020: Whalley homecoming for baseball pro Kevin Nicholson.

Last summer, the Chiefs added former pro Kevin Nicholson to the coaching ranks, as Director of Baseball Operations, 23 years after being picked in the first round, 27th overall, by the San Diego Padres in the 1997 Major League Baseball draft.

“Kevin has really brought this (club) a lot of interest from players and even coaches,” Hargreaves said. “They want to be here and learn from him, know more about the game. He’s all about developing the players for that next step.

“I’m really excited about this year, because we have the troops in place,” he added.

For now, Hargreaves says the BCPBL’s plan is the play a schedule in two halves, in geographic cohorts of no more than 100.

“It’s four teams of 25, or five teams of 20, which most of the teams have,” Hargreaves explained. “It’s a 24-game schedule to start, from April to the end of May, have a two-week quarantine, then play the other cohort, fingers crossed, for the second part of the schedule, the second 24 games.

“Right now,” he added, “we’re not planning to have any carrot at the end — no provincial championships or anything, nothing like that planned, but that could change too, if the vaccinations happen and things are more under control (with COVID). But that’s out of our hands, we just hope we can get some games played.”

As Hargreaves talked, players with the Douglas College baseball team filed in for afternoon batting practice, as users of the indoor facility at Whalley Athletic Park.

“Those guys are over 21, and they can’t play at all because of their age,” Hargreaves noted. “How crazy is that?”

He said the Chiefs “didn’t miss a beat” during winter training indoors, and even found some outdoor practice times on the turf at Tom Binnie Park, located across the street.

“This is different for everyone,” Hargreaves said. “Every time (Dr. Henry) said something, we had to change things around, all the time. With 3,100 square feet in that (indoor) facility, you had to do some math to know how many people to put in there. When you have 22 on a roster, 19 on another and 20 on another, plus three or four coaches, you can do the math and logistics.

“It’s time to get outside now.”


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