Victoria HarbourCats honour Claire Eccles with a win

Claire Eccles wore No. 8 but made sure she was never behind the 8-ball. Most of all, symbolically. As a result, that number will never be worn by another Victoria HarbourCats player.

The team retired former HarbourCats pitcher Eccles’ number in a ceremony Monday night before Victoria’s 5-3 West Coast League baseball victory over the Bend Elks.

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The native of White Rock, who became the first female player in WCL history, will also join the Ring of Honour along the main grandstand of Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park. Her plaque will go up alongside those of other former HarbourCats notables such as pitcher Nick Pivetta of the Philadelphia Phillies and infielder Alex De Goti, now in Triple A in the Houston Astros system.

All this despite making only 11 appearances over the 2017 and 2018 seasons with a 2-0 record and nine relief appearances.

“Claire’s impact goes beyond the statistics,” said HarbourCats GM and managing partner Jim Swanson.

“She motivated so many young girls. It took a lot of guts to do what she did.”

Eccles said she was taken aback by the gesture by the team to retire her number.

“I was surprised,” she said.

“It’s a huge honour and a special night, especially with several of my former HarbourCats teammates still on the team. That’s what makes it really special for me.”

Eccles admits she was jumping into the unknown.

“It was great to get the opportunity. But I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I want to thank my teammates and the fans for the support they gave me.”

She just wanted to play ball at the highest level she could, regardless of gender. If that had residual effects, then all the better.

“I hope I’ve helped give girls inspiration to keep playing baseball.”

Not that it’s always possible for female diamond players. Eccles is a member of the Canadian national team, but won’t be playing in the 2019 Pan American Games this summer in Lima, Peru, because women’s baseball isn’t included on the agenda of sports as it was at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games.

“That’s unfortunate,” said Eccles.

Neither is women’s baseball in the Olympics, because the female bat-and-ball sport in the Summer Games is softball.

Eccles has exhausted her five seasons of eligibility with the UBC Thunderbirds softball team (there is no women’s Thunderbirds baseball team) and will complete her psychology degree beginning in the fall at UBC.

Her summer job is with Pacific FC at the Canadian Premier League soccer team’s merchandise store downtown. It allows her the flexibility to prepare with the Canadian women’s baseball team for this summer’s regional qualifier in Mexico for the 2020 World Cup.

Meanwhile, the HarbourCats (7-5) defeated Bend (5-5) as Chase Wehsener from the NCAA Big 12 Baylor Bears homered on a two-hit, two-RBI and two-run night for Victoria.

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