Royals take first outdoor swings of season
Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal
GUELPH – While the Guelph Royals had their scheduled opening game of the 100th Intercounty Baseball League season set for Saturday postponed, it didn’t prevent them from taking to the Hastings Stadium field and getting their first outdoor workout in this spring.
“I know everybody is chomping at the bit,” field manager Dave teBoekhorst said as the 15 or so players who attended took batting practice. “I know I have a bit of a different outlook at it from having to take care of fields and look at fields. The last thing you want is to get out there too early, whether it’s us or anybody else using the field, and putting footprints somewhere where it’s wet. It’s hard to get out the rest of the year. I just kind of bide my time and be patient. We play (Sunday) and then don’t play again until next Saturday and then don’t play again until the following Saturday.”
The Royals are to open their season Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Dominico Field at Christie Pits. Game time is 2 p.m. In fact, all eight teams in the league are to play Sunday afternoon.
While the traditional opening of the baseball diamonds in Guelph is May 1, this year’s weather prevented that from happening and the opening was pushed back 10 days. However, the league usually pencils in a minimum of games in May just to factor in the weather.
“It’s almost kind of like exhibition games until the season gets rolling,” teBoekhost said. “Yes, it’s nice to be outside and it feels good to be outside instead of indoors, but Mother Nature the way it was this year, it was hard to be out here for May 1st.”
But the Royals were glad to have a chance for a two-hour outdoor session Saturday. They did a little infield practice to go along with the batting practice.
“I’ve been in those situations before as a player,” teBoekhorst said. “I think one year when I played, my first game of the year was May 2nd so we went from hitting indoors and catching indoors right to a game. You want to talk about rust. It felt like everything was slow and totally different. It’ll be nice that we at least get one outdoor workout and maybe a couple more next week if the weather cooperates before we play Barrie, but I’m glad we at least had one workout before tomorrow’s game.”
“It’s not the fist time we’ve had to go show and go,” said reigning league MVP Sean Reilly. “I treat May like spring training anyway. You’ve just got to try to get your timing down and just get a feel for things. In this league everybody makes the playoffs so you’re going to have to go through the best team whether you finish second or last. You treat it like spring training and just try not to hurt yourself more than anything.”
While the Royals will be making their seasonal debut Sunday and their return from finishing last year on the shelf after shutting down operations in June, the game will be the second for the Leafs who defeated the London Majors 10-7 at Christie Pits last weekend.
“We’ll go to Toronto, hope for the best and see what happens,” Reilly said.
The shape of the Royals shouldn’t be judged by whatever happens Sunday. ’s game won’t be much of an indication of things to come.
None of the team’s five imports from the Dominican Republic are here as they’re delayed with the usual visa issues. The five are right-handed pitchers Edwin Adon Javier, Jorge Luis De La Cruz Paez, Yomar Flande Conception and Yunior Juan Yambatis and shortstop Narciso Avila Padilla.
“Waiting for imports to get here, waiting for some guys to get back from school, but everybody’s kind of in the same boat,” teBoekhorst said. “Pitchers aren’t up to 100 pitches yet. Hitters have had limited swings, even indoors with the allotted time that we’ve had. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to roll out and have a pitcher throw seven or eight innings right off the hop and have everyday guys play every day.
“If you’ve got some spots where people are fighting and trying to get a spot, it’s kind of hard to do that when you’ve got your everyday guy in there. Everyone’s got to get their swings and everyone’s got to get their work and their reps. I’ve never really paid too much attention, not only to our team but how other teams are doing in May. It’s kind of an easy way to roll into the season. That’s always been my approach.”
The indoor sessions don’t give a very accurate impression of the talent of the participants. Players who look like they’ll challenge for the home run title during the indoor workouts often disappear outdoors.
“I’ve always said everyone looks awesome indoors,” teBoekhorst said. “Pitchers look like they can throw 90 and hitters, every bomb looks like a H-bomb. It’s real hard for me to tell (what the team looks like). I’ll have a better kind of finger on the pulse with how the team is after six or seven games. I imagine we’re going to be rusty and we’ll be a tad shorthanded with certain guys not being here yet.”
Reilly, who has switched professions and is now a firefighter in Puslinch, did get to a few of the indoor sessions.
“Nothing compares to being outside – actually hitting in a cage and off a pitcher and trying to actually field in a position,” he said. “It’s going to take a while until we all start to get our timing down. The weather hasn’t cooperated at all, so it’s just nice to finally get outside into the sunshine.”
And how did his batting practice go?
“It’s about as good as you’d expect for a guy who hasn’t swung in about nine months,” he said. “About my third or fourth round, it kind of started getting back, but it’s more about trying to get your legs under you and meeting the new guys more than anything.”
Last year with the Kitchener Panthers, Reilly led the league in batting average (.448), home runs (19) and RBIs (56) as he won the MVP award for the fourth time in seven years. He also won in 2011 with the Barrie Baycats, 2013 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and 2015 with Kitchener.
“I always try to do better than the year before, but it’s getting to the point where age is starting to catch up to me and I’ve got to be a little realistic,” Reilly said. He’ll turn 41 in June. “With my firefighting commitment and my family commitment, I don’t know if I’m going to make as many games as I have in the past, but I’m still going to make the majority of them. I’ll just try to be a leader and try to help the other guys who hit around me, which I think is going to be huge.”
Reilly is one of four former Royals who are returning to Guelph this season after playing with Kitchener last season. The others are Josh Garton and Justin Interisano, who spent the entire season with the Panthers, and Jeff MacLeod who went to Kitchener after the Royals pulled the plug on their season.
“I think the veteran guys are going to improve the lineup and all the guys hitting around them,” Reilly said. “It’s just good to be part of a team, especially back in my hometown of Guelph.”
“Everyone’s ready to go and excited,” teBoekhorst said. “There’s a good little buzz about baseball back in the city, which is what we wanted.”
The Royals are scheduled to play the defending champion Baycats at Barrie’s Coates Stadium May 19 and host London in their home opener May 26 at 1 p.m. at Hastings Stadium.