“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” –Rogers Hornsby
It is finally spring now friends, I promise. The Ottawa Champions are returning to RCGT Park for their fifth season this long weekend, which means that the warmer weather is on its way, and summer is just around the corner.
Even if that isn’t true, baseball is back to stay. Some of us have been counting down the days until the first poutine under the lights in 2019. The New Jersey Jackals are in town all weekend, beginning tonight with the first $5 Budweiser Friday of the season, and Mayor Jim Watson throwing out the first pitch at 7:05.
Saturday night is the first fireworks game of 2019, so stay afterwards for some May 2-4 fireworks and a $5 Big Rig brew. Sunday and Monday are both day games and first pitch is at 1:35.
Sunday is the first ever Seniors Day, with $5 tickets for seniors.
Holiday Monday will be the last game of this homestand. Don’t forget to dress warmly for the evening games, we Canadian sports fans aren’t afraid of a little chill.
Something for Everyone
This season Baseball Bingo is back every Tuesday night sponsored by Grace O’Malleys, and everyone’s favourite $1 hot dogs are served on Thursdays. $1 hotdogs. Every Thursday. Come on. What more could you ask for? New partnerships with Budweiser and Big Rig will bring both variety and local craft beer back to the ballpark. Fridays are $5 Budweiser nights, and Saturdays are for $5 Big Rig brews, which feels like a very fair compromise.
The team has already announced special upcoming dates, bust out your calendar. Bark in the Park is back for two dates, so bring your dog to the yard on Sunday June 2nd, and August 18th to make new friends and enjoy the fresh air. The Cuban National Team is back touring the CanAm league this year, and will be visiting RCGT Park June 14-16, which also falls on Father’s Day for your convenience. Plan on spending Canada Day with the team for an afternoon game timed just perfectly to enjoy a poutine and pogo brunch away from the downtown crowds.
Put me in Coach
World Series winner and Independent baseball legend manager Hal Lanier retired during the off season in a planned hand-off to local hero and former Champions outfielder, Sebastien Boucher. Boucher has played the last four seasons under Lanier’s tutelage, and finished his playing career with an impressive list of offensive records. Over his eight seasons in the CanAm League with the Québec Capitales and Ottawa Champions, Boucher set the career record for Hits (981), Runs (597) RBIs (545) and an all time season record for Walks (87). His career batting average of .317 holds up as one of the best in the league.
Jared Lemieux is back as hitting coach / president of high fives. The former Ottawa Rapidz outfielder has been with the Champions since the inaugural 2015 season, and has become a gum-throwing, silly dancing fixture at the park. It will be interesting to see how he and Boucher manage the young squad without Lanier.
The Boys of Summer
An impressive cohort of pitchers are returning from previous seasons, including 2017 season standout Phillippe Aumont. The Gatineau native is rejoining the team after pitching in the Detroit Tigers system last season. Aumont pitched the only Ottawa Champions no-hitter in history, and is serving double duty as the team’s pitching coach. He will be the opening game starter this Friday. Don’t blink. You won’t see a single one of his pitches.
2018 CanAm Pitcher of the Year Jordan Kurokawa is back on the mound for us this season, despite announcing in the fall that he would pursue opportunities elsewhere this year. This is a major coup for the Champions. Kurokawa lead the team with an incredible ERA of 2.21 last year.
Fellow starter Austin Chrismon is back for his fourth season, and hopefully will continue to be a consistent and reliable presence on the mound. If Chrismon continues to pitch complete games, and keep his ERA low we will have a dy-na-mite starting rotation.
There are some new faces in the dugout this season, and there will inevitably be some more changes as the season progresses, but there are already some standouts to look for. Andy Mocahbee is the only player we’ve added with previous CanAm experience, with a batting average of .250, eight homeruns and fielding average of .987 in 2018 for the New Jersey Jackals. The 24-year old catcher is sharing duties behind the plate with another newcomer, Matt Foley, who spent the last three seasons playing in the Miami Marlins farm system. It’s not clear yet if we are going to see a 50/50 platoon strategy in the catching position, but it may come down to their bats, and chemistry with the veteran pitching lineup.
This is the second year in a row that we had to replace a fan favourite outfielder, after much beloved and supernaturally talented Chase Harris was traded to our league rival and perennial jerks the Rockland Boulders. (It’s entirely possible that I am the only person calling it a rivalry and not a personal grudge.)
Returning veteran right fielder Steve Brown is joined by former Phillies prospect Jiandido Tromp, St. Louis Cardinals prospect, Canadian Malik Collymore and Venezuelan Eduard Pinto for a powerful outfield. Pinto has been playing affiliated ball for the past seven years with a career batting average of .299, and we will be needing that kind of consistency at the plate this season. We may see Brown DH-ing a fair bit as well, so expect a shifting outfield staff.
1B Vinny Guglietti and 3B Jordan Caillouet are back this summer, guaranteeing some hustle and badassery on the corners. The middle infield is new this season, with veteran shortstop Daniel Bick inexplicably absent from the Champions roster, much to my personal distress. The Champions haven’t staffed an infield without Bick since the first month of our inaugural season in 2015.
Leonardo Reginatto and Maikol Gonzalez are the projected middle infield, both of them with impressive playing careers in affiliated and independent baseball. Gonzalez will be one of the oldest players on the team, but is also a known base stealer which is a skill we’ve come to expect from a speedy middle infield. We will be watching (and judging) closely.
Baseball is back, summer is here, and life begins anew! See you at the yard, I’ll be the one with all the snacks and opinions.
The Ottawa Champions play home games at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton 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 @ottawachampions on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.