With 15 wins in 54 games, the 2014 season didn’t go quite as planned for Sam Murphy and his Kelowna Falcons’ teammates.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to deter the 21-year-old left-handed pitcher from returning to the Okanagan for another summer of West Coast League baseball.
Between the eye-catching surroundings, a dedicated returning coaching staff and the prospects of a new season with a familiar organization, Murphy didn’t pause for thought when he was asked to return.
“The town, the people, it’s a gorgeous setting and you get to play some summer ball in a scenic area, so to me it was a no-brainer,” said Murphy, a junior at University of Nebraska-Omaha, who was Kelowna’s pitcher of the year last season. “Especially with (coaches) Billy (Clontz) and Dylan (Jones) coming back, kind of the core of the team, they’re two young guys who are hungry to win and develop young players.
“I definitely see that,” added Murphy, “and I hope these other guys do this year, too.”
Murphy is one of four returning players who will play under the guidance of head coach Billy Clontz for the second straight summer.
A native of Corvallis, Ore., Clontz has plenty of WCL experience and success having won three league championships as a player or coach with the Corvallis Knights.
That’s why last season’s struggles in Kelowna came as a bit of a shock to the system for Clontz, whose 2014 team was riddled with injuries and player departures almost from opening week.
With a roller coaster year under his belt, Clontz feels better prepared for his second tour of duty with the Falcons.
“There’s more of a sense of calm this year, just knowing more of what to expect,” said Clontz, 29. “It’s nice to be back, very excited and just a chance to reboot, you know off the season we had last year.
“We ended last year with only 13 guys on roster, and no one likes winning 15 games. That’s issue No.1, getting better.”
With that in mind, Clontz and Falcons’ GM Mark Nonis took a different approach in putting together this season’s roster, recruiting a generally older club, with a solid compliment of experienced, fourth-year players.
Clontz is particularly optimistic about the pitching staff which will feature a trio of Canadian-born UBC Thunderbirds—Alex Webb, Curtis Taylor and Tyler Gillies.
“That’s what this league is really about is how well you can pitch, because you can score nine runs a game but give up 10, it doesn’t do anyone any good,” Clontz said. “So we’re going to lean heavily on our arms, and it’ll also be nice to see these bats that produced all year for their spring clubs.”
From team management’s perspective, putting a winning and entertaining club on the field for the fans remains the primary goal.
Based on last couple of seasons, GM Mark Nonis knows the best-laid plans don’t always come to fruition.
But it won’t stop the Falcons from doing everything they can to deliver a quality product.
“Our focus again was to go after quality players and it seems on paper we’ve done that,” Nonis said. “After my last two seasons, I’ve learned not to have too many expectations, not to get too high or too low. You bring guys together from all over North America and hope they can mesh as a team and have a good summer of baseball.”
The Falcons open their 2015 West Coast League season this weekend in Victoria with a three-game series beginning tonight against the Harbourcats.
The team’s traditional free home opener goes next Tuesday night at Elks Stadium against the Yakima Valley Pippins. First pitch is 6:35 p.m.
For more details on Falcons’ promotions and special events this season, visit kelownafalcons.com