Archive for August, 2012

IBL vs AAA: How the Fat Cats stack up

Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse, NY

A couple weeks back, I was in Syracuse with the family for some back-to-school shopping (insert joke about me trying to find my way around a department store here). Of course, since Syracuse has a ball team, there’s no way that I wasn’t going to take in a game.

Alliance Bank Stadium, built in 1997, is home to the International League’s Syracuse Chiefs.

Coincidentally, the Chiefs were the away team in the last AAA game that I saw, which came on September 3rd, 2007—I’m sure that date is familiar for quite a few of you. If not, here’s a hint.

Anyway, I decided to make up a list of similarities and differences between how the Fat Cats and Chiefs run things. Let’s have at it!

Stadium

When you’re dealing with a stadium that currently hosts AAA versus one that had previously done so, the one that is in better condition and just generally better looking is going to be pretty obvious.

Walking into Alliance Back Stadium, the first thing I noticed was the pristine condition of the field. I haven’t been to a pro game since last summer in Toronto, so I was taken aback at how good the field looked. Ottawa’s grounds crew does a phenomenal job given what they have to work with and the unfavorable conditions this summer, but you can’t really stack it up to a AAA field.

Syracuse’s HD big screen puts our late 80s scoreboard to shame as well. I mean, Ottawa’s board does the job that it has to do and I’ve always thought that it has a certain charm going for it, but again the budget of the AAA team comes in to play with the scoreboard as it does with the field.

The other thing that I liked about the Chiefs stadium was how the concourse was open to the field. Unless you’re going to the washroom, you aren’t missing any of the action. You can wait in line at the hot dog stand while watching the game, which is something that we don’t get the pleasure of doing in Ottawa because of the closed off concourse.

Edge: Syracuse

Crowd/Atmosphere

The Syracuse fans actually dragged the experience down a bit. I will give them that there wasn’t much to cheer about, but even when things were getting a little intense in the bottom of the final inning with the Chiefs threatening, the noise level was still only a little higher than a Phoenix Coyotes game (ZING).

Maybe I’m just used to the rowdy Saturday night Ottawa crowds, but either way, Chiefs fans didn’t seem very loud or proud. Not nearly to the extreme that Fat Cats fans can take it.

Another thing; according to the post-game show on Syracuse’s sports station, there were 6,441 fans in the building. I guess a lot of people decided not to show up. Scroll back to the picture at the top of this post and tell me if you see over 6,000 fans—no way.

Edge: Ottawa

Fan experience

The game in Syracuse really reminded me how hard the Fat Cats try when it comes to on field promos and keeping fans entertained throughout the game.

Alliance Bank Stadium had no on-field entertainment or promotions whatsoever. There was an autographed jersey being given away (can’t remember who exactly the player was), but that was the only time that the MC was actually on the mic doing anything.

Compare that to Ottawa, and the experience is a little different. I’ve already gone though all the entertainment that the Cats dish out while on a budget that is imaginably much smaller than that of Syracuse, there’s no question that the Fat Cats clean up in this department.

Edge: Ottawa

Merchandise

I really don’t have to say much here. This is where the Chiefs show that they have more money to throw around than a semi-professional Ontario ball club. For any of you who have been in the Ottawa merch store, it’s rare that any decently-sized new era caps remain on the shelf. At the Chiefs boutique there’s an entire rack full of different kinds of those same caps. That’s just one example, too. I could go on about jerseys, hoodies and t-shirts if I wanted to.

I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time talking about this, because you can’t really blame the Cats for not keeping up.

Edge: Syracuse

Baseball

This is a bit of a weird situation. The caliber and quality of baseball is obviously better in Syracuse, so they will take the edge in this category, but in my opinion the quality of the ball doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is more exciting and entertaining for the fans.

The unpredictability factor is really on the IBL’s side here.

In AAA, you know that the infield will be able to turn the double play or that the centre fielder will be able to track down the fly ball headed for the power alley. That isn’t the case with the IBL, which I see as a positive. Some don’t see it that way and think that the intermittence of IBL ball just puts emphasis on the fact that it’s a low caliber of baseball.

I personally enjoy watching IBL games for the excitement that comes from it, and I choose not to look at things negatively. There are even some who refuse to watch IBL ball in Ottawa because it isn’t professional—there really doesn’t seem to be any logic in that.

Edge: Syracuse (kinda)

All in all, my experience in Syracuse was a good one. I got a couple funny looks while strutting around the concourse in my Rapidz jersey—I wonder if anyone picked up on which team it actually belonged to.

I recommend attending a AAA or affiliated game if you have the opportunity to. It’s very different than the quirky IBL atmosphere. I obviously prefer local ball, but it’s still nice to change things up every now and then.

Positive strides: 2012 Fat Cats season in-review

Back row L to R: Cody Mombourquette, Jason Coker, Chris Latimer, Eitan Maoz, Matt Hummel, Josh Soffer, Tim Nelson (Manager). Middle row: Brett Sabourin, Kevin Dietrich, Wade Wilson, Brandon Huffman, James Amelotte, Matt McGovern. Front row: Joe Stone, LaDale Hayes, Kevin Miller, Mark Charrette. (photo courtesy Freedom Photography)

This was the 3rd season in Fat Cats history and the 2nd with Tim Nelson holding the reins. Nelson took the Fat Cats to the IBL final last year, making the pressure on him and his team substantially higher than it has been to perform as one of the best teams in the league.

Looking at the Fat Cats roster compared to last season, it seemed to be improved over the group of players that made it all the way to the Intercounty final. NCAA Div 1 shortstop Jason Coker was brought in, with Charrette moving a little to the right replacing Chris Latimer at 2nd. That double switch, if you will, was definitely for the better.

At catcher, Eitan Maoz was everything we could ask for in a replacement for Rick Howroyd.

Having added depth players such as Wade Wilson and Kevin Miller also helped out. Latimer moving deeper into the system leveled-up the depth, as he was capable of producing at the right time all of last year. Having Latimer back further on the chart is a lot more reassuring than having to turn to guys like Travis Murdock (no disrespect, Latimer is just a better ball player).

Every import ever signed by this team has been an essential piece in the lineup. Picking the best of the group is always a tough decision; however P Brandon Huffman made the choice a lot easier for me this time around. He had the league lead in Ks, was 2nd in ERA and was almost a .300 hitter at the dish. The guy was just an all-around force.

However, I was worried at the beginning of the season about his head.

As you all know, pitching is a huge mind game. If you aren’t 100% focused at the task at hand, you won’t be successful.

However, Huffman impressed me throughout the year. He managed to stay consistent in pressure situations and perform to the best of his ability for the most part, something that I wasn’t sure he’d be able to do at the beginning of the season.

Another import who deserves a tip of the cap for his heroics in centre field is Kevin Dietrich. There is not one player on this roster that I would trust more defensively than Dietrich. He just knows what he’s doing back there and routinely makes catches that many other guys in this league dream of making.

This year, he helped out in an unlikely category—power.

Dietrich’s slugging percentage remained about the same because of his decrease in hits, but he managed to pelt a team-leading 3 homers, which is something that I really didn’t expect out of him this year. Dietz was a valuable guy to have and I would guess that he plays a pretty big part in the locker room (older guy at 26, rarely misses games, never say die style of play).

If there is a next season, I don’t know if he’ll be back, which is too bad for us. He’s hinted in the past that he’s looking to move on and to be honest I’m expecting it to happen.

In fact, both LaDale Hayes and Huffman were also hesitant to say that they’d be back with the Fat Cats next season in an interview on CFRA. Hayes was talking about options for himself overseas and Huffman, who is at the ripe age of 20, will look to break into the pro ranks here in North America.

For Huff, I have no doubt that you’ve seen the last of him here, as sad as that is. It’ll be a tough loss, but the big man has loads of options and he’ll be headed to an MLB invitational camp (along with Eitan Maoz) this week. You’ll likely be seeing him in the minor leagues soon.

On the local side of things, our Ottawa-born MVPs in my opinion were James Amelotte, Josh Soffer and of course Eitan Maoz.

Amelotte and Soffer were key pieces on the Fat Cats pitching staff for the majority of the season. I say majority and not all of the year because Amelotte was only added to the lineup around the signing deadline, but in his short tenure with the Cats, did he ever shake up the Ottawa sports scene.

It was his complete game win over the star-powered Brantford team that stamped his footprint in Fat Cats history, but Amelotte wasn’t just a one-hit wonder (no pun intended).

He led the team in complete games with 2 of them and only trailed Brandon Huffman in ERA, while keeping solid stats all around—42 hits against in 41 innings pitched, 13 ERs and a 5-1 record to name a few. All this and he’s just 19 years old.

I’m hoping Amelotte sticks around here for another year or two before embarking on a pro career—if he chooses to do so—because there is loads of potential for him to learn and get better. If he elects to stick around in the IBL, we’re looking at a potential 2013 league MVP.

What can you say about Soffer? The guy has gotten the job done for 3 years here and continues to do so consistently. We saw him off to a bit of a rough start at the beginning of the season, posting an ERA of 9.64 through 3 appearances, but he managed to battle back.

Nobody really doubted that he would. Soffer is an intense guy who loves what he does and there’s no way that a couple bad starts would’ve gotten to him that badly. I stand by what I’ve said for the past 2 years, Soffer is one of the best closers in the league.

Eitan Maoz; who had the highest avg on the team, most RBIs and doubles, while sound defensively and crafty on the base pads; is a guy that you have to include in the MVP equation. Unfortunately, he’s another guy that I’m not so sure we’ll be seeing back here, because of his ability. Nevertheless, I salute the effort he put forward this year.

The team showed in the regular season that they were an improved ball club. While they didn’t achieve their set goal at the beginning of the season, which was to gain home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs, they still moved up 2 positions into the standings and finished higher than both the Panthers and the Maple Leafs—something they failed to do last season.

This was done while facing the adversity of their schedule. While the IBL schedulers have always been tough on the Fat Cats because other teams are very picky when scheduling games against Ottawa, this year was worse than it has been in the past.

A 6-game road trip in one week, two 4-game trips on weekends and the old 2 games in 2 different cities on the same day—on 3 different occasions. Granted, the 3rd 2-game day was rained out, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

I was very satisfied with how the team ended up finishing in the standings and while it is a little disappointing after seeing them in ahead of clubs like the Baycats at the beginning of the season, I think we can all agree that 5th is a reasonably good position for the Cats considering the schedule and where we were in 2011.

Looking back on the playoffs, I’ve already cited why I think the Fat Cats lost their series to the Royals. In short, it came down to the Royals just being the better team. I think I got a bit ahead of myself in the predictions for the series and forgot how good Guelph actually is and I don’t think I’m the only one who did so.

I had also said in the above (linked) post that the key to the Fat Cats’ success in the series was to continue to shut down Guelph’s stars; Reilly, Hare, Ware and Allen.  We were unable to do so.

There’s nothing we can do about it at this point unfortunately, as off-season is underway.

Unfortunately, the question remains, will it be our final off-season? No one knows what is going to happen to the Fat Cats in 2013. “We have every intention of being back for a fourth season but obviously, with a year-to-year lease, that is out of our control.” said GM Jonathan Trottier, who seemed fairly optimistic about the Fat Cats continuing to play ball for years to come when the Cats were circling around the local media wire for a day back on the 1st of August.

If the city elects to give the AA group the stadium lease—I would be very surprised if they don’t—hopefully the group sees the value in keeping Fat Cats ball around. They’ve become a main artery in not just this city’s sports community, but in Ottawa culture as well.

Guelph ousts Fat Cats: Series recap

LaDale Hayes was the final Fat Cat to take to the plate this season (photo courtesy Freedom Photography)

That’s all she wrote on the 2012 season for your Fat Cats. For those of you who are still unaware (if that is the case, you mustn’t be following me on twitter), Adam Reynolds and the Guelph Royals shut down the Fat Cats and ended their season with a 8-2 victory in Guelph monday night.

There were many fans who figured that this loss was coming after the Cats dropped a game at home on the long weekend. Jonathan Trottier was on CFRA last week and he said that the Cats basically had to sweep the weekend to have a shot at the series. I agreed with him since winning 2 straight against a hot Guelph team when they have home field wasn’t a very realistic scenario.

That’s why the 1-0 Saturday night loss was such a heartbreaker. In a game that—when looking back upon it—was a must-win for the Fat Cats, we couldn’t get the run support for Brandon Huffman who pitched an great game.

That was in fact the 2nd loss of the series tallied to Huffman’s record when it shouldn’t have been the case. Game 1 was the first instance, in which fielding errors heavily contributed to our demise.

On Saturday, the only Fat Cat to get a hit off of Guelph starter Andrew Vant Wout was Eitan Maoz. The regulars *cough cough, Hayes* were swinging at everything they saw, which resulted in no other offense.

To Hayes’ credit, he did have a great game on Monday and was the reason that we even found our way back to Guelph.

We really just couldn’t get our bats going all series. This can somewhat be attributed to Guelph’s pitching, but I also saw some bad habits from the beginning of the season rear their ugly heads.

Matt McGovern, who got off to a horrible start offensively this season, batted .071 in the 6 game series. Our best performers at the plate these playoffs, Jason Coker and Eitan Maoz, only finished tied for 35th on the IBL leaderboard. Stats like this aren’t good enough to win you a playoff series.

Game 6 started out well for the Fat Cats, as we struck first on the scoreboard in Guelph for the 2nd time. Things appeared to be looking up. McGovern was pitching solidly while we were getting on base and working with the presented opportunities productively.

Unfortunately, fielding errors spelled our end once again, this time for good.

After Pat Gagnon put a pinch hitter in for himself during the 7th, Mombourquette was moved over to take his place at 2nd and Huffman was put across the diamond at 3rd. 3rd base isn’t his usual position; as you saw during the Royals half of the 7th when he committed 2 errors, helping the Royals to a 5-2 lead.

It’s unfortunate that the defensive substitution—which was the correct choice at the time—put Huffman in a position that he’s only manned on one other occasion this season; but an inning earlier, the 9th hitter in the Ottawa order was coming up and we had a couple in scoring position. A pinch hitter which came in the form of Brett Sabourin was a logical choice. Unfortunately, it didn’t help the cause.

The 3-run homer from Sean Reilly a few minutes later dropped the anchor.

I’ve gotta tip my hat to Guelph, as they were clearly the better team throughout the series. The Royals got the better of us in pitching (despite a couple of thrilling duels courtesy of Brandon Huffman), batting and especially fielding.

I expect them to take their talents to the IBL final. Royals fans definitely deserve it as well, as they had to go through a summer without ball last year when the Royals suspended operations due to lease issues at Hastings Stadium. Believe us, Guelph baseball fans, we know how going without baseball for a year feels.

In fact, it may be a situation that us Ottawa fans will have to relive next summer if a AA group gets the stadium lease—although, I’ll save that talk for another day.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for stopping by the blog all season.

This won’t be the final post of the year. I will have a full season recap out in the next week or so, and a rundown of my experience at a AAA game in Syracuse a couple days ago, including how it stacks up against attending a game in Ottawa.

Take care, fans.