The sounds of baseball returned to Springwood Park on the weekend as the boys of summer took to the field for their first outdoor practice of the season.
Sunday’s brief blizzard aside, the weekend “was actually quite nice all things considered,” said longtime Royals’ skipper Dave Wallace, clearly in his element as he gears up for his 18th season with the local club, which will also see him working closely with the Bantam AAA Blizzard team.
The weekend practice was a first of sorts, as those players trying out for the Blizzard team were also on hand being put through their paces, and the skill set of the youngsters was surprising.
“It’s extremely encouraging,” said Wallace, adding, “there are 31 kids out vying for 15 spots on the roster, and the talent of some of those kids is better than I expected,” he said of the players, who come from four different associations — Oceanside, Alberni Valley, Campbell RIver and the Comox Valley.
The two teams practiced together at times both days. On Sunday, the Royals had a 90 minute practice before then the Blizzard had a two-and-a-half hour inner-squad game.
The Blizzard will compete in a province-wide Bantam AAA league for 14 and 15 year olds — a 40-game league schedule that starts April 14 and wraps up August long weekend.
“It’s a very competitive league,” said Wallace. “Most of the kids that play in this league will go on to play in the PBL (B.C. Pacific Baseball League).”
The Blizzard first surfaced around 12 years ago but the team has sputtered the last five seasons and was sidelined the last two.
“Having it reinstated is going to be a tremendous support to our program and to baseball on central Vancouver Island,” said Wallace, pointing out who gets to play this season will be a tough decision.
“We’re going to have to cut some pretty good players.”
The Royals’ junior program, he said, “filled the void, but the Bantam program is a far superior option for us in terms of our development aspect. Virtually all our players went through this program, kids like Taylor Green and Carter Bell … all our elite players played for the Blizzard.”
Bruce Biro is back as an associate coach with the Royals this year and will take on a bigger role in the running of practices.
As for this year’s crop of young players, “I cant say enough about the quality of kids out there … the depth … there’s some very good players, and certainly lots of potential, and they’ll get a lot of help this year.”
Indeed. Coaching the Bantam Blizzard this year will be former Royals; standout and Junior National team member Ryan Chenard. He is now a teacher in Campbell River, stepping in as head coach. Jared Hendry, who led the BCPBL in hitting in his junior year (2007) and Scott Wallis, who went on to play pro ball with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Pioneer League, will assist.
Missing from the practice this weekend were six Royals who are down in Tuscon, Arizona for a high-performance, 10-day spring training camp put on by San Diego Giants’ scout Jim Chapman from Vancouver.
This is Wallace’s 18th season with the club, “and it’s still enjoyable,” he said. “I love it — these young kids coming up … hopefully this has sparked some more interest in the game.”
The Royals’ BCPBL regular season home opener is Saturday, April 14 when they host a double header against the Whalley Chiefs. All home games start at 12:15 p.m. Their fist league game is April 7 in Victoria against the Eagles.
The Blizzard’s Oceanside home opener is April 21.