The Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners can forget about their university’s strike and concentrate on just throwing strikes.
Nanaimo’s college ball team starts defence of its Canadian College Baseball Conference championship this Saturday (March 26) with its home opener against the Victoria Mavericks.
Last year’s championship season provided lessons, experience and memories for this year’s returnees, but other than that, it’s a new start in 2011.
“It’s a different group, it’s a different team, it’s a different year. They understand that,” said Jordan Blundell, VIBI manager. “There’s no pressure on the new guys to live up to last year’s team because we’re not last year’s team.”
Like any new season, there is a mix of veterans and rookies that will contribute.
“I have a pretty good overall feeling about our guys going into the season,” said Cody Phipps, M’s slugger. “We’ve had flashes of being a really good team, one of the best teams I’ve played on out here.”
The Mariners will be able to play with any team no matter what, Phipps said. But to beat any team, they need to execute the small things.
“That’s what we’re working on right now, is being more consistent with the little things,” Blundell said. “We think that the little things lead to the big things.”
That includes the approach at the plate, where the M’s have long recognized the importance of small ball.
“We try to move runners around and give ourselves the best opportunity to score a run,” said Blundell. “If good things come from that, maybe we’ll get two or three runs in that inning instead.”
Phipps and fellow veterans Evan Olsen and Blake Robson will be keys in the batting order along with rookies Thomas Bidzinski and Jordan Romine.
“We can get the ball out of here; that’ll come,” Phipps said. “Consistency first.”
One of the leaders of the defence is rookie catcher Jeremy Harasymchuk, who played every game for the M’s during the pre-season. Third baseman Aaron Tyacke has shown signs of stellar defence on the hot corner and Romine, at shortstop, will field more grounders than anyone.
The pitching staff is led by returning right-handers Adam Paulencu, a major league prospect, and Taylor MacDonell. Left-hander Matt Davis is ready to step into the starting rotation and veteran righty Jon Przybyl brings leadership. VIBI has added depth to the pitching staff this year, which it plans to utilize.
“A lot of guys are going to get some opportunity to help us,” Blundell said. “That know that. It’s good – it’s a challenge to be ready when the time comes.”
It all starts this weekend. The Mariners saw last year how a string of early season wins benefited them later on when they hit a bit of a slide. It’s motivation – winning now gives the VIBI Mariners a better chance at winning their last game of the playoffs.
“Anybody who’s won a championship of any kind, that feeling is motivation enough,” Phipps said. “For the new guys, it’s going to be a fun journey whatever the outcome is.”
GAME ON … The Mariners play the Mavs Saturday at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. at Serauxmen Stadium … The VIBI program is grateful for sponsorship from Nanaimo’s Lifestyle Health and Fitness, which has helped to minimize the inconvenience of the Vancouver Island University strike.