In a few short weeks the cracks of baseball bats and stadium lights will bring life to Kinsmen Field when the Ravens’ 21st baseball season begins.
Heading into the new season, there are several things to look out for: different players taking on leadership roles, the use of speed, and the development of a new pitching staff.
Last year, the team went 8-6-0 in the regular season and finished third at Nationals after a disappointing performance in the semifinals. The semifinal loss to McGill University was not reflective of how well the team had progressed during the season nor how well the team played during the Canadian Collegiate Baseball Association (CCBA) championship tournament.
Andre Robidoux, Carleton Ravens baseball coach of eight years, said the team hopes to carry last season’s success into the upcoming season. He added the biggest difference in the team this year will be the “changing of the guard.”
“We lost some of our best guys like Matt MacDonald, Eric Elliott, Charlie Crabb, and Wil McIntyre who were pillars of this club for years,” Robidoux said. “Now we need some guys to take control of the reins and step up and establish their own leadership roles.”
Many of the graduated players were starting pitchers. As a result, the look of the Ravens’ pitching staff will also change this season.
Robidoux said the team is looking to find two starting pitchers and expand the roles of returning players, including Braden McGinnis, Curtis Lacelle, Tom Peake, and Ryan Burnside.
“With Braden and Tom at the top of the shop I think that will really help us out,” Robidoux said. “Tom has always had good success against Concordia and McGill.” Burnside, described as a “lights out” pitcher by his teammates, ended last season with an impressive close against Saint Mary’s University in the Ravens’ second game at Nationals. Despite his arm strength, Robidoux said Burnside won’t be used to replace graduated starters.
“It will be more beneficial to continue to develop and establish Burnside as a closer,” Robidoux said. Burnside, a rookie last year, said he usually plays infield and catcher, therefore he didn’t expect to be pitching when he joined the Ravens roster last season. “I only pitched a handful of innings in my last three years playing, so I wasn’t expecting to be a pitcher and didn’t really have confidence in the way I could pitch,” he said. “As the season wore along we needed pitchers and I decided that I needed to help the team.” This year, Burnside said he is excited to continue developing in that role. “It gives me a lot of confidence going into my second year that my coaches and my teammates have the confidence in me to go out there and play my best every game,” he said.
Similar to last season, Robidoux said defence and speed are going to play a role in the team’s success in the 2016 season.
“We have a lot of guys who can really create some traffic out on the bases and we haven’t had that in the past couple of years,” Robidoux said. “Now that we have guys like Spencer Sheldon, Jordan Harcourt, Shawn Green, and Mike Heffer who are some of the fastest guys out there, we want to use a lot of speed to create a lot of havoc.”
Offensively, Robidoux said he is expecting good things from players like Harcourt, Dom Plaschy, and the 2016 Hitter of the Year, Ethan Nodwell, who will be key components in setting the tone for the season.
“I’d like to add a little bit more power into my game,” Nodwell said.
Fans will be taking to the bleachers on Sept. 4 when the Ravens open their season with a double-header against the team who ended their hopes at winning the National title last year, the McGill Redmen. The Redmen beat the Ravens 11-1 in the CCBA semifinals in Fredericton and went on to win the championship for the second year in a row. Last year, the Ravens and Redmen met on the diamond eight times, including the Ravens’ season opening weekend that ended in a back-to-back split: a 12-2 win for Carleton and an 11-1 win for McGill.
Robidoux said he is confident and excited to face off against the Ravens’ longtime rivals. “The one thing about Carleton is that, even though McGill is known as one of the strongest teams out there, everyone also fears Carleton,” he said. “We are going to look to set the tone, try to outplay them on the defensive side and play a little bit more small ball to get these guys on the ropes.”
The Ravens will play 16 regular season games this year, eight of which will be played at home. Playoffs will begin Oct. 8, leading up to Nationals on Oct. 27-30 hosted by the Université de Montréal.
The team welcomes aspiring players to tryouts from on Aug. 30 and 31 for students living in Ottawa, in addition to tryouts on Sept. 1 and 6-8. Robidoux said he anticipates upwards of 30 players will attend the tryouts, vying for one of the 25 positions on the active roster and additional five training positions.
“As for players coming in, we are looking for a lot of arms,” Robidoux said. “Last year we had too many players and not enough arms so that left us high and dry in some situations.”
He said the team hopes to find some pitchers and a good short stop this season. “As long as the guys that come out are as passionate about baseball as the rest of us, they’re going to fit in,” Nodwell said. “As long as they have that mentality of being able to drop a bunt down, steal a bag and do whatever it takes to win.”