Island players shine bright on B.C. Premier Baseball League diamond

The alumni list in the MLB from the B.C. Premier Baseball League is outsized from what one might expect from basically a league for high-school age players in a far-flung Canadian province.

The 2019 BCPBL early season continued Tuesday at Lambrick Park with an Island derby between the Victoria Mariners and Victoria Eagles, with the Eagles prevailing 9-7. The Eagles improve to 2-1 on the season, while the Mariners sit at 0-1.

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Former Eagles pitcher Nick Pivetta is now playing with the Philadelphia Phillies, continuing a BCPBL tradition in the big leagues that includes Michael Saunders and Rich Harden from the Mariners. Toss in other BCPBL alumni who are playing or have played in the MLB such as Brett Lawrie, Ryan Dempster, Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, Jeff Francis, Adam Loewen, James Paxton, Taylor Green and Tyler O’Neill.

The upcoming generation includes 2017-graduated Mariners star Jason Willow, the Baltimore Orioles draft pick now in NCAA Div. 1 with UC-Santa Barbara, after captaining Canada to the bronze-medal game of the 2017 U-18 World Cup.

Former Eagles pitcher Ethan Skuija is having a standout early campaign in NCAA Div. 1 with Cal State-Bakersfield and has already been named WAC pitcher of the week. Former Eagles third-baseman Kobe Morris was named to the Canadian Baseball Network’s all-Canadian collegiate first all-star team for 2018, Skuija to the second team and former Eagles outfielder Tyler Duncan to the third team.

They are obviously developing some serious talent in the BCPBL. One of the big reasons is exposure.

“The league has a great structure,” said Victoria Mariners head coach and GM Mike Chewpoy.

“We play mostly on weekends, this midweek Island game notwithstanding, and that makes it accessible for NCAA scouts to attend the games. It’s hard to get a scout from California to come up midweek, but they can make it on weekends. That’s been a big factor in getting our kids scouted by NCAA schools and eventually drafted. The exposure is huge.”

The latest Mariners player attracting interest is shortstop and centre-fielder Josh Walker, who just returned from the Canadian U-18 team camp.

“Josh is going [NCAA] Div. 1 for sure and has talked to the University of Hawaii and Sacramento State and is deciding,” said Chewpoy.

Another Mariners position player to watch for this season is first- and third-baseman Dayton Clarke, who is a six-foot-two and 225-pound all-rounder, who also plays in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League for the Saanich Braves.

The Mariners mound ace is Aidan Heintz, who led the BCPBL last season at 9-1 with a downright stifling 1.83 ERA.

Other than that returning veteran power, the Mariners are in a rebuilding stage after making it to the BCPBL Final Five playoff tournament last year along with the Okanagan Athletics, Langley Blaze, North Shore Twins and the champion Abbotsford Cardinals.

“We’re young but talented,” said Chewpoy.

“It could be an up-and-down year for us. Experience counts for a lot in the BCPBL, which is basically a high school sports league.”

It’s the Eagles who answer the call on the latter aspect with a team comprised mostly of Grade 12 and 11 players. Coach Charlie Strandlund’s hurlers have good size with Noah Takacs six-foot-three, Gavin Pringle six-foot-two and Dominic Hambley six-foot-one on a dominating staff that also includes Connor Irvine and Kaleb Nantes.

But the Island team everyone is watching in the BCPBL this season is head coach Doug Rogers’ Mid-Island Pirates from Nanaimo, who are off to a blazing 6-0 start, and are led by the catcher and team inspirer Connor Caskenette.

“The Pirates are a veteran team and should be one of the best in the league,” said Chewpoy.

The 2017 league runner-up Parksville Royals, with Anson McGorman hitting an early .667, also operate what has been a historically successful program and are 2-0.

Each team in the BCPBL plays 48 games in the regular season through late July followed by the playoffs in early August.

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