Fish happy to be back home as training camp opens in River City
The Winnipeg Goldeyes can finally play a full season of baseball without a cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads.
Thursday was a monumental day for the Fish, as it was the first time since 2019 that the club was able to hold spring training at its downtown Winnipeg home of Shaw Park.
They spent all of 2020 as a traveling team out of Fargo, ND, and the majority of 2021 playing in Jackson, Tennessee, before COVID-19 border restrictions/regulations finally allowed them to return to the Manitoba’s capital in August. The 2022 season, to the delight of everyone in the organization, marks the end of the roller coaster ride for the Goldeyes.
“It’s unbelievable,” Goldeyes manager Rick Forney told the Free press after day 1 of spring training.
“It’s been a long hard road to get here with many challenges, but we’ve found a way to survive for two years.”
Preparing for the home season doesn’t seem normal for Goldeyes third-year outfielder Logan Hill. He certainly isn’t complaining, though.
“Yeah, that’s weird. I feel like a lot of guys are asking me about spring and how it’s going and I really don’t know,” said Hill, who hit .270 with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 53 games l last year.
“I haven’t had many answers for them because it’s all new to me too. But there’s definitely a different energy to starting the year here and not being in this unknown that we’ve been for the past two years.
One of the biggest challenges of being away was trying to convince players to sign contracts. Winnipeg, considered one of the most attractive indie markets, is generally easy to sell, but when you’re forced to play on a traveling team, your home cooking isn’t worth much. Although this offseason has been easier, Forney said they’re not off the hook just yet.
“There are obstacles. You have to be vaccinated to come to Winnipeg and not everyone is vaccinated… That’s one of the first questions you have to ask when talking to people,” said Forney, who has lost several free agents to of that.
“Why would you even waste your time on the phone with someone knowing they’re not vaccinated because you’re not going to convince them to get vaccinated at this point. If you are not vaccinated now, you are not getting vaccinated.
The Goldeyes needed to make a signing or two after losing star first baseman Kyle Martin to the Mexican League’s Guerreros de Oaxaca. Martin’s 31 home runs and 106 RBIs last season are both franchise records and he’s still swinging a hot bat as he has seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 11 games in Mexico this season. The Mexican League regular season ends in August, leaving Martin little time to return to Winnipeg, if he was even interested. Forney thinks Martin will have bigger opportunities for him, maybe in Japan or South Korea, if he keeps playing anyway. The Fish are hoping David Washington — who played six games with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017 and won an A.F.C. with the Milwaukee Milkmen in 2020 — can fill the void left by Martin at first base. Three-time affiliate league all-star infielder Ian Sagdal and outfielder Reggie Pruitt Jr., an excellent defenseman and base runner with experience in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system, are a few other new faces to watch.
“Obviously losing Kyle is a big blow to our offense, but then having the chance to sign David Washington was huge,” Hill said.
“He’s arguably the second-best first baseman in the league…so that really helps our offense a lot.”
The Fish could lose another star in shortstop Wes Darvill. The only player remaining from their 2016 and 2017 Championship AA seasons is on the Goldeyes’ inactive roster as he is now the head coach of the University of Fraser Valley baseball team. The 30-year-old from Langley, BC also plays for the Canadian national team.
“I don’t know for sure (if he’ll come back),” Forney admitted. “He is getting older and he has real life going on and has to figure out some things. At the moment he’s not available as he’s coaching this team and I don’t think they’ll be finished until the third week of May, so we’ll see what that looks like.
With or without Darvill, the Goldeyes must find a way to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2017. They went 50-49 last year, which is pretty impressive considering they played faced a sea of empty seats in Jackson for most of the campaign, but left-handed reliever Travis Seabrooke said there were no excuses this year.
Now, with 50 games at Shaw Park on the schedule, it’s the playoffs or the bust.
“Oh 100%,” Seabrooke said.
“I know when we came back at the end of August last year to close out the season, we won our first six games here. There’s so much more energy and so much more camaraderie that comes with the excitement of being here.
Eighteen-year-old and still in high school, Taylor made his Free Press debut on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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