Let’s play ball!
That beloved refrain for all those who so enjoy the boys of summer is almost never heard, in these parts, until at least the Victoria Day weekend.
Thankfully, 2022 is different – yes, for more reasons that are challenging than are positive – but nevertheless, this run of great weather to start the month of May allowed the Sudbury Voyageurs to take to the field at the Terry Fox Sports Complex over the weekend, the 14U crew hosting the Ottawa Nepean Canadians in a four game set.
To be perfectly honest, pitchers A.J. Dubeau and Ben Gervais were as surprised as anyone to find out that they had tossed a combined no-hitter in a game two 11-1 victory, a triumph which kick-started three straights wins as the Sudbury lads finished the early season set with a record of 3-1.
To be fair, seven runners reaching base can throw a bit of a curve into a game assessment – pardon the diamond pun. But with five Ottawa batsmen reaching on a walk and two more plunked by Dubeau, it wasn’t even as though a generous scorer was needed to saddle the Canadians with a zero in the hit column.
In fact, at this age bracket, this type of game is not all that unusual. Of the 11 runners that came around to score for the home side, seven reached by way of base on balls. All of which made the efforts of the Sudbury hurlers to throw strikes all the more important.
“I like to try and find one little spot on the catcher’s glove, his gear, and focus on that as hard as I can,” explained Dubeau, a 15 year old grade 10 student at Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier and veteran of the local rep baseball program. “With the Voyageurs, we were always taught “aim small, miss small”.”
“If you look at just the glove or the catcher, you will miss (the strike zone) a lot more. If you focus on one very small thing, then if you miss, you’re still in the strike zone.”
The Voyageurs, who dropped the opener 5-3 despite a five-inning relief performance from Braiden Paul that saw the Sudbury pitcher fan seven and surrender just one hit, completed the Sunday sweep by scores of 6-4 and 7-5, their bats seemingly in mid-season form by the end of the weekend.
“In the first game, we were caught watching pitches,” said Dubeau, who also scored two runs and drove in three. “I think we had the yips a bit in that first game, we were all a bit nervous. I thought that we settled down a lot more in that second game, swung the bat a lot more and got out there and did what we had to do.”
In the case of the well-spoken returnee to the 14U team, this would mean splitting his time between the mound and the plate. “I try and forget that I’m a pitcher when I’m a batter,” he said. “I try and keep the jobs separate. When I’m a batter, I try and help the team offensively, try and drive in some runs and get on base.”
And as for his work on the hill, Dubeau was pretty darn pleased with that side of his game as well. “I think I did a pretty good job,” he said. “I tried pounding the zone as much as I could; a couple of balls got away from me, but you try and forget about your mistakes and clear your mind.”
Also chipping in nicely on the attack were Justin Dandeneau (five runs scored), as well as Gabriel Larocque and Ryan Spencer (four runs each).
It was a somewhat similar story in Ajax for the 16U Voyageurs, who started slowly, beaten 10-0 and 7-5 on Saturday but heading north on a happier note following a 14-8 beat-down of the Ontario Yankees on Sunday.
“This was our first time outside,” noted coach Joey Moher. “We hadn’t practiced outside yet, we hadn’t even been outside yet to play. Guys were seeing ground balls for the first time. We were catching up and getting our timing down for hitting.”
While the Baseball Academy is an absolute godsend for local youth who are serious about their ball, it simply cannot replicate the many facets of stepping out on the diamond against a worthy opponent.
“Especially with our group this year, we need game exposure,” suggested Moher. “We need to see the ball coming off the bat on defense, getting those live looks, learning cutoffs and learning relays.”
The 16U Voyageurs feature only four players back from the similar-aged squad one year ago, with five more youngsters making the jump up from 14U ball while five complete newcomers to the system (including two from North Bay and two more from Thunder Bay) round out their roster.
“We’re a younger team this year: young, raw and a bit inexperienced,” said Moher. “It’s a lot of learning for these guys.”
In that sense, very little of how opening weekend played out came as much of a surprise to either Moher or co-coach Kurtis Winrow. “Game one was like trying to start a fire when it’s wet,” opined Moher. “Overall, our pitching was good – though I would like to see a little higher percentage of pitches in the zone.”
“Our defense just needs to see more – and by game three, well, we had fifteen hits in seven innings.”
Newcomers to the team this year include Liam Norman, Ryan Kainola, Jet Bertrand, as well as the Thunder Bay tandem of Dominic Pugliese and Luke Foulds.
Rounding out the 14U roster are Owen Perron, Nicolas Dalcourt, Ethan Oliver, Colton Nowoselsky, Ethan Thompson, Max Arnold, Cavan Clarke, Brody Mabbott, Chris St Germain, Mathieu Lacasse and Hudson Fletcher.