By Josh Howald
The Cubbies won't see any teams like this at the OBA tournament.
The Cubs score a run against WLU in the 2011 exhibition game between Kincardine and the Golden Hawks. First pitch is tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Tout Field at Connaught Park in Kincardine. (Independent file photo/Howald)
The Kincardine senior baseball team will have its work cut out for them tonight (Wednesday) as they host the Sir Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks for an exhibition contest at Connaught Park.
Kincardine native Scott Ballantyne has run the Laurier baseball program since 2007, and tonight's game will mark the fifth time he has brought his troops to town. He opened training camp last week, and has since trimmed his roster from 45 players to 30 and plans on putting his opening day line-up on the field tonight in Kincardine against the Thames Valley Senior Baseball League Cubs.
"We're not going to take the Cubs lightly," said Ballantyne. "Our starters will start the game. From what I understand, the Cubs have a pretty solid team right now. How long we stick with (our starters) remains to be seen, but we are trying to get ourselves ready for the regular season, so they will see action."
The Golden Hawks are the defending OUA (Ontario University Athletics) champions. A run at an overall provincial OUA/OCAA title was thwarted by the St. Clair College Saints, but Laurier is in good shape to make another run. Ballantyne said his team lost six or seven players to graduation or injury, but only three of them were impact players and he has a new crop of talent at his disposal. Laurier kicked off the preseason yesterday (Tuesday) with games at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys against the Ontario Terriers and the University of Guelph.
Laurier will roll into town at about noon today, and then conduct some training sessions with the Kincardine peewee OBA Cardinals. Ballantyne said many of his players have worked at baseball camps and training facilities, and are looking forward to meeting the youngsters to help them prepare for their upcoming OBA tournament. He will then conduct a full team practice at 2 p.m. before heading to the home of his parents, Bill and JoAnne, for a pre-game meal.
The Golden Hawks are the easy favourite in tonight's game against the Cubbies. Kincardine is the more experienced team, but WLU should erase that advantage with youthful athleticism. The Cubs will have to watch what they throw to players like Jonathan Brouse and Jeff Hunt - two players to keep an eye on tonight. Brouse was named WLU's Athlete of the Year last year and has twice been an OUA First Team All-Star. He has great range in centre, and hits for power. Ballantyne said he is one of the top two or three players in the league. Brouse will have #10 on tonight. Hunt, meanwhile, has four years of professional baseball experience in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He spent the summer ripping up the Intercounty Baseball League with the Brantford Red Sox, and will be wearing #24 and standing on the hot corner.
"We also have a few kids coming in that we're excited about," said Ballantyne, a Kincardine Minor Baseball product. "We have two from the Ontario Blue Jays, which is the top under-18 program in the province, and a middle infielder out of West Toronto who stands about 6'4" and hits the ball with authority."
While Laurier preps for the regular season, Kincardine is at the other end of the schedule. They are getting ready to defend an OBA title in Port Lambton on Labour Day weekend, and make a run at the TVSBL playoff championship. This year, the TVSBL playoffs format will be a seven-team tournament on Sept. 5 and 6, with Sept. 6 games being played at the Hall of Fame in St. Mary's. The top two teams will then play a best-of-three series. Last year, Listowel knocked off Kincardine in the TVSBL final. Kincardine will be ready for tonight's game, and will want to put on a good show for what is, in all likelihood, the team's final home game of the year.
Kincardine has never beaten Laurier, who has been to town on four previous occasions. The first ever meeting was an 18-3 blowout for the scholars, and in 2010 the game had to be cancelled due to a sudden, torrential downpour. The 2011 game was easily the most entertaining game between the teams, with the Golden Hawks winning a 9-8 thriller in gorgeous conditions at Connaught Park. Laurier took a 20-9 win in 2012, and scheduling conflicts prevented the teams from meeting last season.
"(Coming to Kincardine) is always a good chance for us, as a team, to spend some time together," said Ballantyne. "From a team building perspective, it's always a great trip."
Following tonight's game, the Hawks will head to Toronto for a Friday double header against the Humber College Hawks. Then, in a rematch of last year's OUA/OCAA final, WLU will take on St. Clair College on Saturday in Windsor and Sunday in Chatham. Games against Guelph and the University of Windsor will wrap up the preseason for Laurier. The Golden Hawks will open the OUA regular season on Sept. 6 at home against the University of Western Ontario Mustangs.
First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. on Tout Field at Connaught Park. There is no admission charge to watch tonight's game.
NOTES: The Cubs will send non-rostered Tyler Middleton to the mound tonight. Not wanting the burn any arms prior to the OBA tourney, Middleton, from Port Elgin, was recruited to lend an arm, so to speak. Middleton plays south of the border, and has spent time in the Ontario Jays organization.