Tomcats back on diamond in Jr. IBL

 Tomcats back on the prowl   


   The St. Thomas junior baseball team returns to Emslie Field

Thursday, July 15, 2021        



By Rob J. Ross 

ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas boys of summer are back.

Nearly two years without a pitch at Emslie Field, the St. Thomas Tomcats are returning to the historic ball park Friday (Update: rescheduled to Sunday, July 18, at noon vs Welland) for their home opener.

"Pulling up to that first practice was an odd feeling because we haven't done it in two years," Tomcats' coach Paul Pettipiece said. "Getting out and seeing the guys. The whole camaraderie of it all was very satisfying."

It will be the beginning of a lot of baseball for the local junior team, 20 plus games, including hosting the Baseball Ontario provincial 22U championship, on the August long weekend.

For this year only, it's 22U instead of 21U, to allow players born in 1999 to play a final season, after last year was cancelled.

A 2021 schedule was in doubt as well, but the Tomcats weren't about to let two entire years go by without the cracking of bats at the diamond located deep within Pinafore Park.

"There were times between January and May where it would have been easy to pull the plug, but we wanted to give the guys the opportunity to play," said Pettipiece.

The Tomcats had been playing in the Southwestern Senior Men's League in recent seasons, but the area circuit was a no go for a second year.

That prompted a the move to rejoin the Junior Intercounty Baseball League, reuniting St. Thomas with old rivals Guelph Silvercreeks, Kitchener Panthers, Brantford Jr. Red Sox and Stratford Nationals. The Welland Jackfish and Hamilton Jr. Cardinals complete the seven team circuit.

The Tomcats were league champions back in 2006.

"We were thinking of going back to the league regardless. There are pluses and minuses to both," Pettipiece said. "Sometimes the quality of competition is better in the senior league, sometimes it's not. The travel is definitely better in the senior league. The level of play has been better in the junior league for the last couple of years."

The Tomcats are 2-1 in the first week of their return to the JIBL.

St. Thomas dropped their season opener, 10-0, at Welland on July 3, but defeated both Hamilton, July 12 and Stratford, July 9. The Tomcats played Welland a second game on July 3 and won, 7-2, but it was only exhibition.

"At Welland, we were treating the game as no bunts, get your swings in. The reps are the most important thing," Pettipiece said. "The rust was certainly evident in that first game. Then we bounced back and won the second game. Every pitcher was on strict pitch count. It was like spring training in major league baseball. In the two game we used seven pitchers."

The Tomcats only had four practices before facing Welland.

"We got a mix of guys who play college or university ball here in Canada and a number of U.S. guys," said Pettipiece. "The guys who have been playing in the U.S. are so much further ahead. For the Canadian guys, it's been almost two years since they've had an at bat. Those are the ones that you really see kind of being a little behind. Their timing is off."

Pettipiece added, the pitchers are a little bit ahead of the hitters.

Jackson  Van Bakel

There are 11 returning players from the 1999 roster - pitchers Zach Banks, Ben Hubert, Jaryd Lund, Mason Newell, Jackson Van Bakel, Alex Pettipiece and Connor Ambrogio, catcher Brad Verhoeven, infielder Josh Hare and outfielders Brendon Johnston and Alex Liem.

Hare, Verhoeven, Banks, Johnston, Newell and Nick Brooks, are playing for their hometown team. Van Bakel, Liem, Ambrogio and the Pettipiece boys, Eric and Alex, hail from Dorchester. Alex Fishback comes from Tillsonburg.

The league will have its playoffs mid August but the format has yet to be finalized. The post season will be either a double knockout tournament or top four teams advance to the semifinals.

"Personally I would want everyone in the tournament. Guys get more reps in and up to speed," coach Pettipiece said. "I think we're going to set the team goal to win that tournament."

The Tomcats also have the goal of having players game ready when they return to school.

"At this stage of the season that's so much more important," said coach Pettipiece. "Making sure guys are ready when they do go back to their schools, they're in a good position to succeed. Especially those ones who are playing a fall season in Canada."

Most of all the Tomcats are simply happy to back on their field of dreams following likely their longest stretch without the cleats on.

"It changes the whole mindset," coach Pettipiece said. "Everyone has come to appreciate the sport for what it is. Just getting out and having fun."