Zack Downey Tournament draws baseball scouting interest

The participants in the B.C. Premier Baseball League Zack Downey Memorial Tournament, taking place Thursday through Sunday at Layritz Park, received an added bonus.

Not only are they part of the first organized baseball event on the Island in the pandemic year, but Baseball Canada head coach and director of national teams Greg Hamilton is here to scout the tournament looking for talent for the junior national team.

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Also on hand are scouts from the San Diego Padres and Florida Marlins along with Walt Burrows of Victoria, former head of Canadian scouting for Major League Baseball, and now with the Minnesota Twins.

The high-level interest is justified. The 13-team BCPBL has produced current or former MLB players Nick Pivetta from the Victoria Eagles, Rich Harden and Michael Saunders from the Victoria Mariners, James Paxton, Tyler O’Neill, Rowan Wick, Larry Walker, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Francis, Brett Lawrie, Adam Loewen and Justin Morneau. “This is really great for our players to get this kind of exposure,” said Mariners head coach Mike Chewpoy.

“It’s a real added plus for this tournament.”

The latest group of stars out of the league includes pitcher Dom Hambley of the Mariners, who committed last month to the Oregon State Beavers of the NCAA Pac-12.

“[Hambley] can do it all. He’s our clean-up hitter, as well as our ace on the mound, who can throw 95 to 97 miles per hour,” said Chewpoy.

“He’s that all-round talent that comes along only once-in-a-while.”

The Zack Downey tournament features the Mariners, Eagles, Parksville Royals and Mid-Island Pirates of Nanaimo of the BCPBL. The tournament-host Mariners have also entered their bantam division team.

“The players are loving it,” said Chewpoy.

“There is a big difference between practising and playing. There is nothing like actual competition.”

There has been precious little of the latter across all sports this year.

The tournament is named in honour of Zack Downey, who was a pitcher and third-baseman with the Mariners when he died in 2014 at age 18 after a two-year battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Downey’s No. 6 jersey has been retired by the Mariners.

“Zack was a great kid who excelled in all sports, especially baseball and basketball,” said Chewpoy.

“He loved sports and played everything and followed them passionately. There wasn’t a [pro] player in any sport Zack didn’t know something about. He was an excellent athlete and an outstanding young man.”

The tournament continues with games today at Layritz Park from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The consolation games are Sunday at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. followed by the championship game at 3 p.m. General spectators are not allowed.

The BCPBL Island teams will also play exhibition games following this weekend and through the fall. Phase 3 of the B.C. return-to-play guidelines allow for team-against-team games on a regional basis.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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