Bobblehead game is honour for Victoria HarbourCats' Claire Eccles

In terms of North American sporting pop culture, there is probably no higher honour than to be the subject of a namesake bobblehead giveaway game.

Pitcher Claire Eccles of the Victoria HarbourCats, who last year became the first female player in the West Coast League, will receive that rare accolade today at Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park.

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“It’s weird, but cool,” she said. “It doesn't look anything like me. But it’s an honour and I’ll take it.”

The HarbourCats play the B.C. Senior A champion Coquitlam Angels at 1 p.m. in an exhibition game. Eccles won’t start, but will be a reliever coming into the game at some point.

“My family and friends are more excited than me,” the slider-throwing Eccles said.

“I’ll be a bit more nervous, because it’s my bobblehead day, but it’s the same game out there that you always play. That doesn’t change. I feel good.”

The Coquitlam-Victoria exhibition set began with a game Saturday night at Royal Athletic Park. The honorary coach for the set is former Toronto Blue Jays star Kelly Gruber, the two-time AL all-star third-baseman, who rocked a mullet as part of the 1992 World Series champion team.

“I never got a bobblehead during my career, and so good on Claire,” Gruber said.

Fans met Gruber and got pictures taken with him Saturday and can do the same during today’s game. “I still have fans across Canada — it’s quite an honour and something that is special,” said Gruber, who lives in Austin, Texas. “And I hear from those fans when the Jays aren’t playing well.”

He will never forget being part of the franchise’s first World Series in 1992. “I grew up a Houston Astros fan, and they finally won their first World Series. It was much the same way for the Jays’ fans across Canada in 1992. It’s a memory that will never go away. It will always be a part of me.”

Eccles joined the 2017 WCL runner-up HarbourCats this weekend after playing softball earlier this season as an outfielder for the UBC Thunderbirds.

“The [HarbourCats] guys have been welcoming again, although this year’s group seems quieter than last year’s,” she said.

Eccles baseball assignments this year include national team duty with Canada, which is preparing for the 2018 women’s World Cup from Aug. 22 to 31 in Florida. Although there are 12 national teams in the baseball women’s World Cup, it is women's softball, however, that is in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Women’s baseball needs to get more exposure and grow bigger. I would love to see that,” said Eccles, leaving no doubt which diamond game is her preference."

DIAMOND DUST: The HarbourCats (3-3) return to WCL action Tuesday night in Kelowna against the Falcons . . . There were 72 current or alumni WCL players selected last week in the 2018 MLB draft, including 12 from the HarbourCats.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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