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Baseball is back: 2018 Ottawa Champions season preview

By Kiersten Vuorimaki on May 16, 2018

“Well, beat the drum and hold the phone. The sun came out today, we’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.” —John Fogerty

The Ottawa Champions’ two-week spring training camp lasted about as long as spring did in Ottawa this year. The boys of summer are opening their season at home in RCGT Park this long weekend. Ottawa’s largest outdoor patio will see the Champions open the 2018 season with a six-game home stand against the Trois-Rivières Aigles and the New Jersey Jackals.

Opening Weekend

The home opener begins Friday May 18 at 7:05pm. Mayor Jim Watson will throw out the first pitch, and probably shake a lot of hands. If you have any election questions for him, this is your shot. Friday is going to be the first $5 beer Friday of the season. Saturday evening will be the first fireworks night of 2018, with an excellent display over centre field directly after the game. The evening games can be a little bit chilly in May, so bring layers or look for Ottawa Champion mittens at the merch stand.

L to R: Former Ottawa Champions President David Gourlay with Head Coach Hal Lanier. Photo: Marc Lafleur.

Sunday May 20 is going to be David Gourlay appreciation day. Gourlay resigned in January as Champions President, public face, hype man, fixer, emcee, mascot, official greeter, ambassador and baseball evangelist, in order to pursue public office. He was instrumental in bringing a team to Ottawa, working behind the scenes for four years before there were any cleats on the grass, or beers in the fridge. He represented the team all over the city, and was welcoming and enthusiastic to every fan he met. The team and fan base owe him a great deal of gratitude, so this will be a day to celebrate what great things can be done in our city when you have the passion.

First pitch is at 1:35pm on both Sunday and holiday Monday. Monday is also Superhero Day at the Park, so if you are still experiencing a Comic Con hangover, consider coming in costume.

Ottawa’s largest outdoor patio

With seating for 10,332 fans, plus a grassy kid-friendly knoll overlooking left-field, RCGT Park is the best place to catch some sunshine during the summer. Serving up Lois ‘N’ Frima’s ice cream, Ottawa favourite Gabriel Pizza, and cold beers, the stadium has you covered for eats. On particularly sunny afternoons, the ushers offer sunscreen and bug spray if you forgot yours at home. Some of us always do. So thank you to those kind people.

The ‘Poutine Batter’ promo is back this season. Before each game, an opposing player is chosen as the designated nemesis. When he strikes out, every ticket holder wins a free poutine from Hintonburger. Rival teams are demoralised, and we all get poutine. Win/win.

Hintonburger poutines. Photo: Kiersten Vuorimaki/Apt613.

Tuesday night Baseball Bingo is back, and everyone’s favourite $1 hot dogs runs on Thursdays. Come hungry, and glory in this ballpark classic. A new partnership with Molson this summer may mean an end to local craft brews at the park, but it does mean $5 Coors Light every Friday night, beginning this weekend. Select Saturday games will end with fireworks, including games this weekend and Canada Day weekend.

Back in Blue

Hal Lanier has returned as skipper, and is supported by hitting coach, designated hitter and local hero Seb Boucher, and resident ham and third base coach Jared Lemieux.

Eleven players are returning from 2017. Right handers Austin Chrismon and Steve Borkowski had similar stats last year, both playing 20 games with eight and nine wins respectively. Chrismon pitched four complete games last season, and his stamina is a huge part of the Champions defensive strategy.

Noah Gapp was a silent killer on the mound last year with an ERA of 1.89 and the team’s lowest WHIP of .920. For the new ball fans among us, WHIP is a fancy sabermetrics Moneyball-esque stat which measures the pitchers average base runners. What this means for us, is that Gapp is keeping batters on the bench, and unable to score.

Shortstop Daniel Bick is back for his fourth season with the team, and posted a CanAm record .981 fielding percentage at his position in 2017. He was also among the league leaders in stolen bases.Sebastien Boucher is transitioning from the outfield to a dedicated designated hitter position. His ability to get on base in clutch situations is unmatched in the league.

New pitcher Jake Hale. Photo: Craig Moseley/Houston Chronicle.

The new guys

RHP Jake Hale has joined the club as an experienced starting pitcher, and the team’s pitching coach. He has played both affiliated and independent ball over the last eight years, so brings a great deal of maturity to the bullpen. 6’7” with an ERA last year of 3.24 in 153 innings pitched, this guy’s size alone will scare batters off the plate.

2017 CanAm All Star catcher Danny Grauer is missing from the active roster, due to an off-season surgery that may find him back behind the plate later in the summer. Until then, the versatile Tyler Nordgren is back, and is joined by Adam Martin, newly acquired from the New Jersey Jackals. Last season, Nordgren played only 30 games as catcher, and Martin played half of his season as part of a two-man catching rotation. That seems to be Lanier’s plan this year, and will be the first season where the Champions use the 50/50 platoon system to staff a position.

The Champions have struggled to find an energetic third baseman in the last three seasons, with a new face at the hot corner every year. This year, only second baseman Steve Nyistor and shortstop Bick are returning to the infield, so hopefully the corners will be sufficiently manned to keep up with their hustle.

Fan favourite Matt Helms requested a trade in the off season, so left-field will be patrolled by Coco Johnson. It has been promised that Johnson will fill the enormous shoes left by Helms with a powerful arm and impressive bat. I’m reserving judgement until after this weekend.

2018 Season Highlights

June 8–10 the Salina Stockade from Kansas will be in town for the first time. They are previously of the American Association Independent League and are the former club of Champions infielder Jordan Caillouet.

The Dominican Republic National Team is back for three games June 19–21. These games are always energetic, with the local DR community coming out in droves to dance, drum, and cheer loudly for the visitors regardless of the score. There is usually a fun assortment of Caribbean food and drink promotions during this series as well so come ready to party.

After taking in the tulips this weekend, join us for a slice and a brew and welcome summer back to the city with gusto.

L to R: First base coach Jared Lemieux, 613TV host Josh Lemoine, Hitting Coach Sebastien Boucher. Photo: Greggory Clark/Apt613.

Every spring, the Ottawa Champions host open tryouts to find hidden talent and fill gaps in the spring roster. This spring, Apt613 contributor and 613TV host Josh Lemoine spent the day at RCGT Park impressing Hal Lanier, and kibitzing with coach Jared Lemieux. Three players were invited to Spring Training from the tryout. (Josh was not one of them, but he’ll tell you it was close!) Subscribe to 613TV on YouTube to be the first to see footage from Josh’s baseball tryout.

The Ottawa Champions play home games at RCGT Park (300 Coventry Road) directly off the 417 with access to the Max Keeping pedestrian bridge. Tickets are $14 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, and $5 for youth. Parking is $5, making it the most affordable professional sports event in town. For more, follow the @ottawachampions on Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram.