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Yesterday, former Batter's Box author and University of Waterloo math student Rob Pettapiece inexplicably found himself at Opening Day for the Intercounty Baseball League's Kitchener Panthers. Was he bored with the Jays? Really hard-core about baseball? Just happened to be in the area? I guess you'll have to read on to find out. Take it away, Rob!

Photographs courtesy of Brock McNichols.

Apparently the press box at Jack Couch Park is "usually unbearably hot and humid" but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn't shivering up there yesterday. During the third inning, the smell of fried onions from the concession stand below drifted up, leading one reporter to remark not that he was hungry, but that those onions could be used for warmth.

Outside yesterday in the 14-degree sun, the Kitchener Panthers of the Intercounty Baseball League played their home opener against the Guelph Royals. Kitchener lost the first game of the home-and-home in Guelph on Saturday by a score of 10-0, so they were looking to at least push one across and keep the other team in single digits. Or win, I suppose.

On the mound was veteran Joel Scott, who struck out nine batters, including six in the first two innings. Unfortunately for the Panthers, he had a hard time finding the zone and left in the sixth inning with his pitch count at an unofficial 109, 63 of which were strikes. (I say unofficial because I was the only one keeping track.) At the time of the pitching change, the game was tied at 2 with the bases loaded and Cody Cassagrande, a hulking lefthander, came in and stranded all three runners.

Nearly right away, the Panthers took advantage of this good fortune, scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth on a pair of seeing-eye singles before and after a stolen base. The new coach, Brian Bishop, preaches a more aggressive style on the basepaths than previous Kitchener teams; unfortunately, only one of the two stolen bases led to a run while twice the Panthers were caught stealing. It stayed 3-2 until the eighth when the Royals went small and hit only one ball out of the infield. A double-steal (two of the four stolen bases on the day for Guelph) with nobody out set up back-to-back RBI groundouts to make it 4-3. Enter Scott Schmidt in the bottom of the ninth, who already had a boxscore line of "4 2 2 2" and got the attention of another reporter when he learned it was Schmidt's birthday: "There's my storyline if he ties it up."

He wouldn't. (Later, Schmidt could only describe the loss as "tough.") He doubled, but was stranded on second as the game ended. The Panthers sent 43 men to the plate in the nine innings, but 11 hits plus four walks only added up to three runs as they left twelve (unofficial) runners on base. There were two crucial moments in particular that certainly did not look good for Kitchener in retrospect: scoring only one run on a bases-loaded, two-out single in the third and following two walks with a four-pitch strikeout to strand all three runners in the eighth.

But it's good fun, and ten dollars gets you in and out with two hot dogs and a bottle of water to your name. When you get right down to it, this really is a Canadian baseball league. Everything seems smaller, friendlier, and more considerate. When I marked the attendance down on my scorecard, I didn't need the pre-printed thousands separator. A friend of mine said that the "music was awesome until I realized they had only five songs," which I assure you is simply another unofficial total. The Royals' manager was also their DH, or their DH was also their manager, depending on your view. The teams, while competing against each other, were still joking around on the field before and after plays (no illegal champagne gifts from Torii Hunter just yet). The last item on this non-exhaustive list? Before the scoreboard operator cracked open the peanuts, she made sure to check around the press box in case anyone was allergic.

There are also some other little things you don't get in bigger leagues. The left fielder's mother operated the scoreboard. There were two players in the outfield named Pietraszko (yes, they were related); the one named Jeff is shown about to be caught stealing, 1-3-6-3. And with two players with "Pie" in their names followed in the order by one named Baker, I daresay Mick Doherty would fit right in.

Anyway, if you needed another reason to get out there and see an IBL game in Kitchener, Toronto, or elsewhere, here's one last point of motivation: They haven't lost six in a row to Cleveland and Texas. Okay, what I really wanted to say was team president Darryl Rutherford, who is also a school photographer, often asks the children if they've ever heard of the Kitchener Panthers.

They usually ask him if he means the Rangers, the local Ontario Hockey League club for those not in the know.

So he wishes the Panthers "were more of a household name." This isn't the case, despite the IBL being the "best baseball in Southern Ontario" aside from the Blue Jays, but still a speck compared to a junior hockey team on the sports-fan radar of most K/W residents. Less attention paid to hockey and more time spent on baseball? Now there's a cause we can all get behind.

Or you can go for the fried onions.
Pinch-Hit: There's More Baseball in Ontario | 3 comments | Create New Account
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Mike Green - Monday, May 07 2007 @ 02:32 PM EDT (#167394) #
Here in Toronto, we have Christie Pits where the price is always right and the roof is always open.  Thanks, Rob.
JB21 - Monday, May 07 2007 @ 06:21 PM EDT (#167409) #
Labatt Park in London is by far the best park in the League. Come out and check us play next Sunday at 1pm vs Brantford. We beat Stratford yesterday in the opener, awesome day for Baseball.
#2JBrumfield - Tuesday, May 08 2007 @ 03:51 PM EDT (#167503) #

Agreed about Labatt's Park.  That's a great place to watch a game.  Boy, I miss the London Tigers.  

Oshawa is the closest team to me so I might go check out a game.  I've never been to Christie Pits either but if the Jays keep stinking it up, I might have to go there.  Apparently, Paul Quantrill is supposed to throw out the opening pitch for the Oshawa Dodgers home opener.

Pinch-Hit: There's More Baseball in Ontario | 3 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.