The Sudbury 16U Voyageurs are still trying to feel at home within the Elite Baseball League of Ontario (EBLO). Though they've come a long way, they're not quite there, at least not just yet.
Mind you, it hasn't helped that coach Brodie Jeffery and company really haven't enjoyed home field advantage for much of the season to date, and only partially so this past weekend, with the Mississauga Majors in town for a three game set.
Expecting to open their new digs at the Terry Fox Sports Complex over this Canada Day weekend, an upgraded venue complete with an infield turf that once called the Rogers Centre home, the Voyageurs were dispatched to the Confederation diamond in Val Caron, with work still remaining on the site they were hoping to use as early as June 1st this year.
As far as the games themselves, the combined EBLO entry that merged talent from both Sudbury and Barrie is clearly well ahead of the 2018 crew, even as a tough 48-hour stretch with the Majors dropped their league record to 5-9.
Still, optimism reins supreme, in the mind of coach Jeffery.
“This year has been fun because we've been more competitive,” he stated late Saturday night. After dropping the opener 8-2, the Voyageurs battled the Majors in a dandy later that evening, with Mississauga prevailing 9-7.
And just when it appeared the Sudbury/Barrie lads would salvage at least one more win before closing out the month, leading 8-1 after seven innings in the Sunday morning finale, the Majors would storm back, scoring three in the eighth, four more in the ninth and a final dagger to the heart in the tenth, completing the sweep with a 9-8 triumph.
Jeffery remained undeterred. “We have a good group of kids who are willing to work hard and have bought into my system,” he said. “It hasn't clicked yet, where we've hit, pitched, played defence, all in the same game. I'm looking forward to that, but it hasn't happened yet.”
Progress, however, is the name of the game, and Jeffery sees these hard to swallow setbacks as a necessary evil, stepping stones along the path of where his team needs to be. “The kids just have to be in these situations more often,” he said. “They're young, they get antsy, they grip the ball tighter, they want to make the all-star play when really all we need is for them to relax and slow the game down.”
An imposing presence on the mound, Barrie native Zach Christie certainly slowed things down in game two, entering the contest with his team trailing 5-0 in the top of the first and holding the fort through four and a third innings of shutout ball, allowing his team to claw their way back into the contest.
The outing is just the latest positive sign for an outgoing young man who feels his development has been well served by joining his new northern friends. “I've been a pitcher for a while, always been kind of decent at it,” said Christie, who joked that the major leaguer he most emulates is Bartolo Colon (for non major league fans, google a picture of the rotund veteran on the mound).
“I just have to place my pitches better. Last year, we played in a league where if you threw over 70 (MPH), you were striking everyone out.” Not the case against the tougher competition of the EBLO, though the game plan that Christie executed against Mississauga was certainly a solid one.
“If you can work ahead in the count, take your time and then give them a high fastball, they're probably going to swing, probably going to get jumpy.” And if the opponents do put the ball in play, there are few who play defence in support of the Voyageur pitchers who can flash the leather better than shortstop Gavin Roy, a grade 11 student, next year, at Ecole secondaire catholique l'Horizon.
A competitive ball player on the local scene for several years now, Roy acknowledged that there is little doubt his game is different, even from the skills that he displayed when he first entered high school two years ago. “I think offensively, my game has changed a lot. Before, I would hit balls hard, but they would get caught. Now, I have a little more pop, I can burn all fielders.”
“Working out during the off-season helps out a lot, obviously,” added Roy. “And just staying with it. Some games, you'll go 0 for 4, but you've got to stick with it, trust your swing.” Roy reached base on all four of his plate appearances in game two, scoring a pair of runs, as did teammate Jackson Burek of Barrie.
While the look of his team has changed in 2019, Gavin Roy has no problem with the new split team approach. “I think it's cool to get some new teammates and change the vibe, I guess, around the clubhouse,” he said. And even if the bounces are not yet going their way, the 15 year old bulldog of a player (in the words of coach Jeffery) can easily take away plenty of positives.
“Honestly, we have kind of been going back and forth, winning a game by ten, then losing a game by a lot, so it actually feels nice to have a close game like this,” said Roy. “It's kind of exciting, even though we lost. It's fun to play in that kind of a game.”
Almost makes one feel at home.Game 2 highlights: battling their way back from a 5-0 deficit, the Voyageurs tied the game on a RBI single from Yanick Loiselle that played Wyatt Slocum, who doubled ahead of him. Surrendering three more in the top of the eighth, the Sudbury/Barrie tandem countered with a walk and three hits, with both Jackson Burek and Justin Fenn coming around the score
Game 3 highlights: the middle of the order did most of the damage for the home team on Sunday, as Josh McBride (Barrie) singled and walked twice, scoring three times, while Sudburian Braeden Pakkala walked and doubled, scoring twice and driving in one, after going 2/3 with a walk in game two
The team leaves this Wednesday to attend the 31st Annual Beast of the East tournament in Wheeling, West Virginia. The Voyageurs will play a minimum of seven games in a four day event that will features games played in three different states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia).
The 2019 Sudbury 16U Voyageurs team roster includes Gavin Roy, Tucker Belanger, Justin Fenn, Braeden Pakkala, Yanick Loiselle, Dylan Anctil, Anthony Signorile, Jackson Burek, Jacob Lariviere, Dylan Paine, Josh McBride, Jaxen Lehr, Reese Irvin, Zachary Christie, Wyatt Slocum and C.J. Wendelgass.