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HarbourCats thrill throng of school kids with extra-innings win

Victoria now hits the road to Edmonton
Students were packed in Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park on Thursday for the annual school field-trip game. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

Morning school-day games have become a staple promotion in minor-pro and junior sports across North America. The Victoria HarbourCats of the West Coast League of baseball do a pretty good job of it annually, as attested by the cacophonous din created by 5,044 school kids out on a field-trip to remember Thursday at Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park.

They erupted when Cam Schneider hit a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the HarbourCats a 2-1 victory over the Nanaimo NightOwls.

“It was a lot of fun to be out here. It makes you want to play a little bit harder. I’m glad all these kids came out and that we could win for them,” said Schneider, headed to his sophomore season in the fall with the NCAA Div. 1 Fresno State Bulldogs.

“The team worked really hard for that one.”

The six-foot-three third-baseman Schneider, who went four-for-five with two RBIs, is part of the Bulldogs pipeline to the HarbourCats over the years: “A lot of my buddies from Fresno State played here for summer collegiate ball and said it was a great experience.

As with anybody in the NCAA and WCL, the dream is the same: “To play in the MLB,” said Schneider, noting the WCL alumni list proves that route has been well traveled.

The win moved the HarbourCats to 7-5 and dropped the NightOwls to 6-6 as the ’Cats took the rubber match of the three-game Island-rivalry series this week. But that wasn’t the story of the day. It was more about the sea of students.

“It’s great for our students to get out in the community and learn a little bit about sports,” said Grade 3 French Immersion teacher Jenny Belanger-Borysiak, who was there shepherding her students from Millstream Elementary School.

“It’s a great opportunity, especially for students who may not get out to a game otherwise. And they love Harvey [the HarbourCats’ mascot].”

Jim Swanson, managing partner of the company that owns the HarbourCats and NightOwls, described the day as “magical and electric” and that the players were “fired up to be playing in front of so many people.”

Swanson pointed to the school kids crowding around the players after the game looking for autographs.

“A lot of these players have never signed autographs in their lives,” he said.

“No athlete likes to play in front of 50 people. Athletes like to play in front of thousands.”

Swanson said he will introduce school-day games for the NightOwls in Nanaimo starting next year.

The HarbourCats open a three-game series against the Riverhawks tonight in Edmonton. The NightOwls, with a break in their WCL schedule, meet the senior men’s Redmond Dudes from Washington state in a three-game exhibition series beginning tonight at Serauxmen Stadium.

The HarbourCats lead the race 2-1 for the Island Cup, awarded annually to the season winner of the WCL games between the ’Cats and NightOwls.