By the time hometown 20-year-old right-hander Nick Pivetta delivered the first pitch in Victoria HarbourCats franchise history Wednesday evening, it was exactly 8 p.m. — 55 minutes later than the advertised start time against the Kelowna Falcons.
The impressive, sold-out opening-night crowd of 3,026 waited patiently for the first throw by Pivetta, the Victoria Eagles product, who has climbed to a heady 105th overall in Baseball America’s final rankings for the Major League draft that starts today.
“This is a great crowd,” said HarbourCats owner John McLean.
It witnessed an 8-6 Victoria victory in the club’s West Coast League debut as Pivetta took the win by going eight innings, giving up eight hits and six runs while striking out six. HarbourCats closer Ty Provencher, out of Long Beach State, mopped up in the ninth with an array of fastballs and sliders that perplexed the Kelowna batters.
The HarbourCats’ inaugural game almost fell flat — literally. The Falcons’ bus experienced a tire puncture near Hope Wednesday morning on its way to the Island. The suspension system also failed, necessitating a new bus to be called out to the valley. The Falcons missed a couple of ferry sailings before arriving at Tsawwassen to catch the 5 p.m. sailing by a mere minute.
“You’ve heard of rain-outs. We almost had the first ferry-out in baseball history. . . . No, make that a bus-out,” McLean said.
But nothing was going to make this night anything but a triumph, especially in terms of attendance, as baseball returned to Royal Athletic Park for the first time since 2010 and the Victoria Seals of the defunct independent pro Golden League.
The Falcons didn’t take batting practice and went to the plate cold. That didn’t stop Chandler Tracy from unleashing a two-run, two-out home run that gave Kelowna a first-inning lead.
Nick Rutckyj of Langley recorded the first hit in HarbourCats franchise history with a double off the centre-field fence in the third inning. A double by Chris Lewis from Sacramento State in the third scored Rutckyj for the first RBI and run scored, respectively, in HarbourCats history.
Catcher David Schuknecht of Riverside College unloaded the first homer for the HarbourCats with a towering two-run shot in the fifth inning that gave Victoria a 6-4 lead. But a two-run homer by the Falcons’ Grayson Porter, from Baylor of the NCAA, tied it 6-6 in the seventh before Victoria pulled out victory.
The high-scoring affair wasn’t exactly fitting in with Victoria field-manager Dennis Rogers’s general philosophy. But that’s baseball. You just never know on any given night.
“I’ve placed emphasis in my career on pitching and defence,” said Rogers, the former Vancouver Canadians manager, who managed in both the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league organizations and who currently coaches Riverside Junior College.
“We will compete hard for outs,” Rogers added in pre-game comments.
The HarbourCats were missing 13 of their 27 regular players, including a total of 11 who are still involved in, or just recently eliminated from, the NCAA championship tournament. To fill the roster holes, the club has signed nine temporary players on what are known in the WCL as 10-day contracts. Eight of the fill-ins are from the Island.
The HarbourCats started four Islanders in the opener — Pivetta, outfielders Austin Russell, Chase Cuckovich and designated-hitter Ty Russell.