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HarbourCats and NightOwls set to renew Island rivalry

HarbourCats and Nanaimo NightOwl open their Vancouver Island derby for the 2024 season Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Royal Athletic Park.
HarbourCats infielder/outfielder Garrett Teunissen. CHRIS J. STEWART, HARBOURCATS

The Victoria HarbourCats only lost twice at home last year in going 25-2 in the friendly confines of Royal Athletic Park. But Fortress RAP has crumbled a bit as the HarbourCats have already matched that total of losses just three games into their West Coast League home schedule this season as the visiting Wenatchee AppleSox took the rubber match of their series 5-2 on Sunday afternoon.

The 2023-league finalist HarbourCats (5-4), who began the season with six road games, and Nanaimo NightOwls, 5-4 after dropping their last two games to the Riverhawks in Edmonton, open their Island derby for the 2024 season tonight at 6:30 p.m. at RAP.

That will be followed by a game in the Harbour City on Wednesday evening at Serauxmen Stadium, the historic park opened by Mickey Mantle in 1976, and a game back at RAP on Thursday morning at 11 a.m. for the annual school game in which thousands of local students get a break from the classroom and come to the park as part of a spring field trip to the field. The Island teams also play each other three times next week at Serauxmen Stadium and nine times total over the first half of the season.

Jim Swanson is the managing partner of the company that owns both the HarbourCats and NightOwls. Dual ownership is not unusual in minor-pro-type sports leagues. The Yakima Valley Pippins and Walla Walla Sweets of the WCL are both majority owned by John Stanton, who is also majority owner of the Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball. In another B.C. example, like the HarbourCats and NightOwls, Vancouver FC and Island-based Pacific FC of the pro-soccer Canadian Premier League are both owned by the same company, co-headed by 43-time Canada-capped Josh Simpson of Victoria and 32-time Canada capped Rob Friend of Kelowna, both former Bundesliga pros.

Teams are run independently by different management and coaching groups and Swanson has a rule that he doesn’t wear either team’s jerseys when Victoria and Nanaimo play each other.

“In these games, I cheer for great baseball, and that’s what we have with both teams 5-4,” said Swanson.

The WCL playoff positions are split between the champions of the first and second halves of the season, and the results of the nine games between the Island rivals in the first half, will go a long way toward deciding their respective first-half playoff-clinching hopes.

The NightOwls are led offensively by Wylie Waters of West Vancouver, who is tied for sixth in league batting with a .400 average, and the NCAA Div. 1 San Diego State duo of Drew Rutter hitting .370 and Kevin Noonan. 345. The HarbourCats answer with Camden Sos from the NCAA Div. 1 TCU Horned Frogs batting .333, Garrett Teunissen from the NCAA Div. 2 Cal State-San Marcos Cougars .324 and Jake Haggard out of the NCAA Div. 1 University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks .308.

“I love the challenge of baseball. You fail more than you succeed. But my bat has been good here with Victoria and I’ve managed to drive the ball,” said Teunissen, a versatile plug-anywhere infielder/outfielder, who was conference player of the year with the Cougars.

“My goal is pro ball and hopefully I get seen this summer.”

It happens in the summer-collegiate WCL. There were 37 WCL alumni on MLB ­opening-day rosters this year. A total of 62 WCL alumni appeared in MLB games last season and more than 300 in minor-pro ball.

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