THUNDER BAY – Sunday’s fan fest was a chance for this year’s crop of Thunder Bay Border Cats to get to know the people who’ll be cheering them on this summer at Port Arthur Stadium.
More importantly, at least from a baseball standpoint, it was a chance for the players to get to know one another.
With the exception of three pairs of college teammates and a trio of returning players from last year’s team that finished 27-43 and buried in the Northwoods League’s North Division cellar, there’s not a lot of familiarity on this year’s roster.
Not to worry, said right-handed pitcher Alex Nolan, the lone Canadian on the squad and one of the three players who tasted action with the Cats in 2017.
Early signs are that won’t be a problem, the players already starting to gel on Day 1.
Nolan, who was roughed up in his only appearance with the team last summer, said he sought out the chance to return, for a couple of reasons.
“I love being here. I love playing on Canadian soil. I think it feels great,” said Nolan, a Burlington, Ont. native who plays for Brock University, who will be joined by bullpen returnee Connor Centala and outfielder Billy Cook from last year’s squad.
“Having that undermining feeling that there are great Canadian ballplayers, it just feels good to be here.”
New teammate Joey Cardamon, a junior right-hander from Iowa’s Luther College, said it was the competitiveness of the Northwoods League that drew him north of the border.
“I’m ready do whatever the team needs,” said Cardamon, who was 9-1 with a sparkling 1.43 earned run average in 81 innings this past season.
It’ll be an adjustment, not knowing most of the hitters he’ll face, but added he’s a quick learner.
“You play a lot of games, you learn a lot of stuff and you kind of learn how to pick up stuff on guys. Really it’s just trial and error. You see a guy a few times a game, he sees you three times a game. You’ve got to learn how he does and what’s going to work for you,” Cardamon said.
Also back for a second summer is manager Mitch Feller, who feels more comfortable with this year’s team, having had an entire offseason to put the roster together.
“On paper, I think we’re going to be all right,” he said, his team consisting of 10 freshmen, 11 juniors and five sophomores.
One thing Feller is thankful for is no extended road trip to start the season. Last year they were forced to the road for nearly three weeks while upgrades were made to Port Arthur Stadium and never recovered.
This year they’ll spend four days on the road before returning north of the border on June 2 to host Mankato in the home opener.
That’s the biggest relief, Feller said.
“I think it’s going to be a world of difference because these guys aren’t going to have to be forced on these bus trips anywhere between seven and 10 hours every other day. They’re going to be able to sleep in their own beds, develop a routine, go to the gym and be able to eat healthy instead of the junk food that you get forced to eat when you’re on the road,” Feller said.
“They’re not as fatigued and they can compete at a higher level.”
Claw marks: The home plate club, a fixture at the stadium for nearly a decade, has been removed … The Border Cats open on Tuesday on the road against Bismarck.