You only get one crack at doing opening night right. And no teams do it better than those in baseball, where the home opener is considered a form of sporting folk art.
The Victoria HarbourCats played the fifth West Coast League home opener in franchise history Monday night under ideal spring conditions before 2,676 fans at Royal Athletic Park.
The Wenatchee AppleSox, however, threw a spanner into the works with a 9-4 win that dropped Victoria to 3-2. It was Wenatchee’s first win after three losses to start the season. It was highlighted by a home run by Adrian Vela, his second of the night, in which fans and ’Cats fielders seemed to lose track of a ball that apparently cleared the left-field netting onto Pembroke Street.
For HarbourCats fans, the highlight was the Zamboni which dragged the base paths. And the skydivers who delivered the game ball, which Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps threw to deliver a credible ceremonial opening pitch.
“It was an amazing atmosphere. The only bad thing about the night was the final score,” said Ethan Lopez from the University of Hawaii Rainbows, who led Victoria with two hits and three RBIs.
Six-foot-three Wenatchee pitcher Collin Maier, who redshirted this season with the NCAA Pac-12 Washington State Cougars, gave up just three hits and two earned runs with three strikeouts over 52Ú3 innings.
Victoria left 10 runners stranded.
“I was disappointed we didn’t take advantage of our chances to get back into the game,” said Victoria coach Brian McRae. “They had the timely hits and we didn’t.”
McRae said he wasn’t worried and believes his bats will again awaken when the HarbourCats and AppleSox close out their set tonight and Wednesday at Royal Athletic.
The HarbourCats started Ethan Fox of Campbell River. It was the third time the franchise has gone with an Island pitcher in the home opener as Fox joined 2013 starter Nick Pivetta of Victoria, who earned his first career MLB victory Monday for the Philadelphia Phillies, and 2015 starter Alex Rogers of Nanaimo.
Fox got roughed up with five runs allowed, four earned, on six hits over four innings. It was a disappointing follow-up for the versatile Fox, as the B.C. Premier Parksville Royals graduate hit three RBIs as a DH while also taking the win in relief in a 7-6 HarbourCats victory Friday over the Pippins in the Yakima Valley.
The home opener featured a familiar face in Kevin Collard.
“Victoria feels like my second home,” said the slugger, who returns to Royal Athletic Park after having played for the HarbourCats in 2015.
Collard, hitting .250, scored a run and walked Monday.