The boys of summer are getting ready to hit the field, and after losing the Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League final to Sydney, the senior Wildcats will be looking for a little redemption.
Head coach Ian Mosher believes this year’s Kentville Wildcats will be an exciting team to watch on the field.
“I feel we gave the fans a good product last season, and I don‘t expect too much of a drop off,” Mosher said.
The 2013 Wildcats made it to the NSSBL final, and held a three-games-to-two lead before Sydney staged a dramatic comeback to win the series and their first league title since 1989. Kentville last won the championship in 2000.
However, the long season was a double-edged sword.
“Last season, and particularly the way it ended, took a toll,” said Mosher, who will have some major holes to fill on the bench before Kentville can even take the field. The team is scheduled to play its first game on the road against Truro May 20 and will host Halifax for the home opener May 21 at 7:30 p.m., weather permitting.
Holes to fill
So far, the team has lost veterans Kevin Matheson, Billy MacKenzie and John Chapman. Matheson is taking the year off, although “he says he hasn‘t officially retired,” Mosher said. MacKenzie’s work has taken him to Pictou County and Chapman has returned to Truro, where he will serve as the Bearcats’ head coach as well as a player.
Kevin Daurie has retired, Joey Cavadini will be playing for Halifax and Alex Tufts has moved to Alberta.
Mosher had yet to hear from Kevin Nichols, another veteran pitcher. Last year’s starting catcher, Josh Parker, is still experiencing symptoms from a concussion he suffered last season.
Some veterans returning
Jason Pleasant-Sampson is coaching the new junior team in Hantsport, but is willing to play whenever possible, Mosher said. Pleasant-Sampson has been battling shoulder issues and his playing time may be limited, however.
Curtis Falls, who had been a question mark, confirmed last week he would return for another season. Falls has commuted from Yarmouth to play ever since the Yarmouth franchise folded.
Other returning players include Codey Shrider, “a triple threat” who can play centerfield or third base, close games, and “may end up pitching more than he has,” Mosher said.
Also committed for this season is David MacIntyre, a pitcher-infielder who recently finished at the University of Calgary, as well as Shayne Conrad, one of the team’s steadiest pitchers in the past two seasons.
Veteran Cory Kent is also back, both to pitch and to mentor the younger pitchers. Ryan Power is continuing his comeback as a pitcher and has been “working very hard over the winter” to keep improving.
In terms of position players, committed returnees include Mike Lockhart, Rob Shepherd, Pleasant-Sampson and all-star shortstop and defending league MVP Ian Lockhart.
Mosher said that Ian Lockhart, whose wife is expecting their third child, has committed to playing, “with the understanding there are likely to be times he won’t be able to.”
New to the bench
New players include Kyle Dougan, a former teammate of MacIntyre in Calgary, a first baseman and “a lefty slugger, in the mold of a Darren Doucette.”
As well, Kevin Benjamin, now fully healthy, will return after a couple of seasons off, some of which he spent in Ontario. Mosher said Benjamin will be the starting catcher this season.
The two biggest problems for the Wildcats so far this spring have been the reality that ”we’re not likely to have as many players this year,” Mosher said, and the weather, which has made practicing outdoors difficult.
“(I’m) very concerned at the lack of work we’ve been getting, and getting the entire team there for practices,” Mosher said. “Everyone in the league is in the same boat” in terms of the weather, but Kentville has only been able to have one outdoor practice – and only eight players attended.
“There are likely to be holes on some nights where there weren’t holes before,” Mosher added.
He’s already preparing for a heavy workload this season.
“I fully expect have to work harder as head coach than I have in the past,” he said, adding, “I don’t like the idea of starting the season with this many unanswered questions.”