There are certainly more sockeyes than steers up here. But the Victoria HarbourCats will be Austin North with the signing of four University of Texas players for the 2020 West Coast League baseball season.
The HarbourCats announced the signings Wednesday of Longhorns pitchers Thomas Burbank and Justin Eckhardt and infielder Peter Geib. They will join re-signed third-season infielder Tanner Haney, son of Victoria head coach Todd Haney.
But that only scratches the surface of the burgeoning Longhorns connection to summers at Royal Athletic Park. Victoria bench boss Todd Haney and his new HarbourCats pitching coach Mark Petkovsek went to the College World Series with the Longhorns in their NCAA playing days, before they played a combined 14 seasons in the MLB.
“It’s a storied [Longhorns] program and one we obviously know well,” said Todd Haney.
“There are a lot of really good players in Texas. It’s a testament to our program in Victoria, and WCL as a whole, that they want to come up and play. We are focused on bringing in high-level players.”
The three new incoming Longhorns have good size and all are six-foot-two with Geib and Burbank listed at 215 pounds.
“Maybe we’re building a CFL team,” Haney quipped.
“But seriously, pitchers are definitely bigger these days. It’s more of a power game now, bats and arms included. But size can never replace how much heart you have.”
Sophomore Geib was All-State as his high school team won the state championship in Grade 12. Burbank and Eckhardt were redshirt freshman hurlers for the Longhorns. The southpaw Burbank came up through the USA Baseball national team program and was named top reliever for the U.S. at the 2014 Youth World Cup. The righty Eckhardt is from Beaumont, the hometown of Buddy Holly and ’Cats pitching-coach Petkovsek, and is an all-rounder who was a finalist in the high jump at the state high school track and field championships.
The Haneys, meanwhile, will be reunited for the third consecutive season at Royal Athletic Park. Tanner Haney played infield the last two seasons for the HarbourCats, the first season when his dad was assistant coach and last season with his dad as head coach. Todd Haney coached Tanner on select teams in their hometown of Waco, Texas, so they are both used to it.
“It’s been awesome to continue that in Victoria,” said Tanner Haney, last season.
“My dad is tough on me as a coach, but in a good way, because it’s to make me better.”
Dad knows what a rare and special opportunity this is for the family.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to spend time with your children, you take it,” said Todd Haney, who played second base in the MLB for the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets for parts of five seasons from 1992 to 1998.
“This has been a great opportunity in Victoria for us to do that. It’s an honour to coach Tanner and spend good quality time with him.”
Not to mention continuing those Longhorn connections in the B.C. capital. Todd and his wife Kira Haney, mom of Tanner, even met at the University of Texas.
“We grew up a Longhorns family,” said Tanner Haney.
The HarbourCats, who made the league final last year and took the champion Corvallis Knights of Oregon to the limit, open their 2020 WCL season June 5 at Royal Athletic Park against the Ridgefield Raptors of Washington state.
“The goal is always to win the last playoff game,” said Todd Haney.