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Big steps for new NightOwls in Year Two — but just missed playoffs

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The Nanaimo NightOwls have landed, and the second year of WCL baseball in the Harbour City was full proof.

The big crowds in July, bursting with energy that rivals any other city in collegiate summer baseball for noise and entertainment, saw the NightOwls battle for a playoff spot until the season’s final days, elbowed out of post-season contention with just four days remaining in the 2023 schedule.

After a 22-32 mark in the debut season in 2022, the NightOwls improved to within a game of the .500 mark at 26-28, ending with two solid road wins in Kamloops. Under Head Coach Greg Frady, Pitching Coach Gorm Heimueller, and Assistant Coach Sean FitzGerald, Nanaimo saw improvements in offence, pitching and defence over the inaugural season.

We are happy with the strides the team made, on and off the field,” said Jim Swanson, GM of the NightOwls. “Of course, we all want to see what a playoff game is like at Serauxmen Stadium — the games this season had an electricity that was fun for everyone, and was certainly noted by visiting teams. Our guys fed off that excitement, no question.”
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The fan entertainment factor also went up in the second year, more action in the stands and on the field between innings.
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“That was a major focus this year, improvements in our press box and in the crowd,” said Swanson. “(Assistant GM Tina Cornett) and I worked very hard on changes to that area, and we have a base crew now we think will only bring more added entertainment in 2024 and beyond. Bringing on Darcy “Details” McBride and Geoff Linn, and improvements to the scoring and data side, with Ben Carter handling broadcasts and Keygan Hankins with baseball operations needs, moved us forward.
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“The new PA system and additional stands on the third base side were great additions, and going to a NightOwls game has become an event for Nanaimo and area residents. There are more improvements to come for 2024 and beyond, too.”

The team itself had notable performances, including the first-ever NightOwl to be drafted when infielder Elijah Ickes, who will head to the University of Hawaii in his home state this fall, was taken in the 19th round by the Texas Rangers. Ickes would have gone earlier in the draft but was unlikely to sign pro with a great scholarship package — and that’s how it played out as he declined the pro enticement and will be a collegiate player and re-enter the draft after his junior season.
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Ickes and Nanaimo-bred infielder Aaron Marsh, his double-play partner many nights, were named co-winners of the Player of the Year award — Marsh hit .287 with 24 runs driven in, and Ickes was the slickest with the glove, making so many spectacular plays at short while batting .277 with a team-high 49 hits and 11 stolen bases.
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Strong offensive seasons from catchers Mike Easter and Ethan Rivera (near league leaders in home runs with four), infielders Brandon Nicoll and Wylie Waters, and outfielders Riley Paulino and Brandon Hupe spurred the offense, which struggled due to some injury issues but still finished just above the middle of the pack in the league in average (.254) and home runs (18). Nicoll led the team with 12 doubles.

Co-pitchers of the year — one a starter, one a reliever — were two guys who came to the NightOwls from NAIA Arizona Christian, lefty Bear Pinedo and righty Payton Robertson. Pinedo was untouchable and should be a first-team WCL all-star, with a 0.96 ERA and just six hits allowed in 19.2 innings, while fanning 30 and notching a league-leading seven saves. Robertson, who made eight starts and posted a team-high 41.2 innings, was 4-3 with a 3.67 ERA, walking only 11 batters. Seth Gurr, Nathan Buchan (3-3, nine starts), Jacob Fleury (who was 5-0 as a reliever, with a save), Lucas Hines, Connor Gleissner and Cooper Littledike led a deep pitching staff that had Pinedo and Blake MacMillan ready to close things off. No pitcher was ever over-used due to strong numbers on that side of the diamond.
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Fleury was named the winner of the citizenship award, while Ickes, in a no-brainer, won the top prospect honours.

“We worked hard at getting a roster of committed, dedicated players, and so many proved that out over the pro-style season that is what the WCL offers,” said Swanson. “The warriors who battled to the end had this team on the cusp of a playoff spot, and fans noticed a notable improvement overall — this group battled, and took on a real Nanaimo-type lunchbucket mentality that was easy to cheer for.”

The work now starts to get the NightIOwls ready for the third season, starting in late May in 2024 at Serauxmen Stadium. Recruiting and season ticket renewals are already underway at the same time as plans are made to take down the 460 Realty Bathtub Bar fencing, other signage, and move the Owls Nest DoubleDecker Bus to storage for eight months.

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Three returning players, one a WCL all-star, and local infielder highlight eight NightOwls signings

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Those announced today:

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OF/LHP Riley Paulino, University of Pikeville, 5-11/180, Fife, WA (returning player)

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C Sammy Torres, University of Pikeville, 5-9/200, Yuaco, Puerto Rico (returning player)

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LHP Richtter Castillo, University of Pikeville, 6-0/215, Maracay, Venezuela

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IF Lucas Laukkanen, Cloud County commit, 6-0/190, Nanaimo

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LHP Carson Jones, St. Martins, 6-0/180, Walla Walla, WA (returning player)

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RHP Christian Lucero, Arizona Christian, 6-1/190, Sacramento

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OF Sammy Kahler, San Diego State, 6-0/185, Stockton, CA

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OF Drew Rutter, San Diego State, 6-1/190, Trabuco Canyon, CA

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Victoria HarbourCats – Manny’s hitting coach added to staff by Coach Haney

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2024 HarbourCats Coaching Staff – Front Row (L to R) Scott Anderson (Pitching Coach), Todd Haney (Head Coach), Trovin Valdez (Hitting Coach), Steve Sinclair (Bench Coach); Back Row (L to R): Ethan Fox (Bullpen Coach), Troy Birtwistle (First Base Coach).

For immediate release

April 16, 2024

VICTORIA, B.C. — An already strong coaching staff under WCL Coach of the Year Todd Haney just got stronger with the addition of Trovin Valdez, a former pro who made it to AAA in the Montreal Expos system.

Valdez, 50, was the personal hitting coach of Manny Ramirez during much of his record-setting MLB career and now works extensively with his sons Manny Jr. and Lucas, who have joined the HarbourCats for the 2024 WCL season. Valdez, who was once traded for lefthander David Wells, also works with a number of MLB players from his base in Florida, moving around the continent — and now will spend the summer exclusively in Victoria working with all HarbourCats hitters.

Haney, who has been with the HarbourCats since 2018 and Head Coach since 2019, is proud to unveil the entire staff for 2024:

  • Todd Haney, Head Coach (5th year, 4th as Head Coach)
  • Trovin Valdez, Hitting/Outfield Coach (First year)
  • Scott Anderson, Pitching Coach (Second year)
  • Troy Birtwistle, First Base Coach (Sixth year)
  • Steve Sinclair, Bench Coach (Second year)
  • Ethan Fox, Bullpen Coach (Third year, former HarbourCats player)

Under Haney, the HarbourCats led the WCL in hits, runs and stolen bases in 2023 and set a WCL record with an astounding 25-2 home record at Wilson’s Group Stadium at RAP, adding two more home wins in as many dates in the playoffs. The HarbourCats reached the WCL’s final game for the third time in five seasons.

Jaxon Williams (pictured right), part of the 2023 staff, is unable to return due to career reasons and the HarbourCats thank him and wish him all the best, he will always be a part of the HarbourCats family.

“This is a tremendous staff under incredible leadership from Todd — our players will be well served in their development,” said Christian Stewart, GM of the HarbourCats. “We couldn’t be happier with the makeup of this group, and we’re excited to see Trovin go to work. Our team set multiple team and league records on the offensive side of the game last year and that exciting style of play will be on display for our fans again.”

Valdez stole more than 250 bases as a pro, spanning nine seasons, and he joins former pro players Haney (five years MLB with Expos, Cubs and Mets), Anderson (also Expos system), Sinclair (MLB lefty with Blue Jays and Mariners), and Birtwistle (Australia). Fox played college ball and is the Head Coach of the Golden Tide CCBC team.

The HarbourCats open on the road May 31 in Kamloops, the start of back-to-back series in Kamloops and Kelowna, before returning for the June 7 home opener against Wenatchee. The HarbourCats will be on the road this summer in Kamloops, Kelowna, Edmonton, Wenatchee, Ridgefield, Port Angeles, Bellingham, and six games in Nanaimo against the Island-rival NightOwls at Serauxmen Stadium. Teams visiting Victoria this year are Wenatchee, Nanaimo, Bellingham, Port Angeles, Kelowna, Edmonton (two series), Kamloops and Corvallis, along with non-league games against the Redmond Dudes, Dub Sea Fishsticks, the SIBL All-Stars, and Victoria Mavericks All-Stars.

The regular season runs until August 7, with WCL playoffs running from August 10 to August 16.

Single game tickets are now available for the HarbourCats 2024 season including the home opener on Friday, June 7, 2024 at 6:35pm against the Kamloops NorthPaws. These can be purchased online through our one and only ticketing partner, Select Your Tickets, at www.harbourcats.com/tickets or at the HarbourCats office at 101-1814 Vancouver Street.

Season tickets and 10-game flex packs are also now on sale via the HarbourCats office or by calling 778-265-0327.

 

 

 

 

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Victoria HarbourCats – Manny Ramirez’s two sons sign with HarbourCats

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April 4 2024

VICTORIA, B.C. — Their father was once the most-feared hitter in the Major Leagues, a perennial all-star with a big personality who won a World Series, a batting title, and could change any game with one swing.

Manny Ramirez Jr., 21 (pictured above left), and Lucas Ramirez, 18 (pictured above right), carry the same potential — Manny Jr., a booming right-handed power hitter, with Lucas a lefty with a power stroke who has committed to the University of Tennessee for the fall.

Both outfielders who can DH, Manny Jr. and Lucas are excited to be coming to Victoria, to further develop under Head Coach Todd Haney, a former MLB player, and a coaching staff that also includes former pro player and coach Scott Anderson and former MLB pitcher Steve Sinclair.

“These are notable signings not just for us, but for the entire West Coast League — this will be exciting news for our fans and sponsors, no question,” said Jim Swanson of the HarbourCats. “They come highly recommended by our former pitching coach, Alec Adame, who is coaching Manny Jr. at ELAC (East LA College). It’s been a pleasure working with the family to set this all up, and we know Victoria will welcome them all with open arms — to the city rated the best city in the world. Alec was here in 2015 and knows how great the baseball environment is at Wilson’s Group Stadium at RAP.”

So far this spring Manny Jr. leads ELAC with three home runs and has 18 runs driven in over 20 games, adding nine doubles and walking 14 times. The 6-3/210 outfielder is a freshman who is a product of Calvary Christian high school in Clearwater, FL.

Lucas is a graduating high school senior at powerful American Heritage in Florida and is a possible high-round pick in the upcoming draft thanks to already developing power from the left side. He is already built like a pro at 6-3/200.

They have a tremendous baseball role model to aspire to. Manny Ramirez played 19 seasons and batted .312 with 555 home runs, the 15th highest total in MLB history — he starred for Cleveland, Boston, and the Dodgers, and finished with time for the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. He was a 12-time all-star, was MVP of the 2004 World Series when the Red Sox ended their long title drought, won the 2002 American League batting title, and was the Hank Aaron Award winner in 1999 and 2004. He was also part of a second Red Sox team to win the World Series in 2007, and hit more post-season home runs (29) than anyone else in the history of the game. He finished top-10 in MVP voting in the American League eight years in a row (1998-2005).

The HarbourCats open on the road May 31 in Kamloops, the start of back-to-back series in Kamloops and Kelowna, before returning for the June 7 home opener against Wenatchee. The HarbourCats will be on the road this summer in Kamloops, Kelowna, Edmonton, Wenatchee, Ridgefield, Port Angeles, Bellingham, and six games in Nanaimo against the Island-rival NightOwls at Serauxmen Stadium. Teams visiting Victoria this year are Wenatchee, Nanaimo, Bellingham, Port Angeles, Kelowna, Edmonton (two series), Kamloops and Corvallis, along with non-league games against the Redmond Dudes, Dub Sea Fishsticks, the SIBL All-Stars, and Victoria Mavericks All-Stars.

The regular season runs until August 7, with WCL playoffs running from August 10 to August 16.

Single game tickets are now available for the HarbourCats 2024 season including the home opener on Friday, June 7, 2024 at 6:35pm against the Kamloops NorthPaws. These can be purchased online at www.harbourcats.com/tickets or at the HarbourCats office at 101-1814 Vancouver Street.

Season tickets and 10-game flex packs are also now on sale via the HarbourCats office or by calling 778-265-0327.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you are a 2023 Season Ticket holder who has not yet renewed your seats for the 2024 season, please do so by April 15th, 2024 or your seats will be released and available to the public for sale. Please call Christian at 778-265-0327 ASAP to renew your seats.

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