Knock on wood; switch to lumber a good omen for Gaels baseball team

Given some of the pitfalls that befell them in 1999, the Golden Gaels baseball team might be willing to accept greater stability in exchange for playing fewer slugfests.

Last season, the highlights (or lowlights) of a tumultuous 7-9 campaign came either when the Gaels had to play home games on the road because of a municipal strike, or lost a tripleheader against Carleton that was played in cojones-shriveling cold more generally associated with a NFL playoff game in Buffalo.

This year, with a dozen returnees joined by a crop of promising rookies striving to survive the final cuts, third-year manager Perry Conrad believes he has a club that may well rise to the top in a competitive Ontario East division.

“We have a lot of depth on the mound and talent in the infield,” he said.

Those qualities, pitching and defense, will be of more importance than usual this season, as teams in the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association will be swinging genuine lumber, rather than the more potent (and less expensive) aluminum models, a new experience for many collegiate ballplayers.

“Very few of our players have had experience swinging the wooden bat, it’s different than what they’ve been used to — they won’t get that base hit off the bat handle the way they do with metal,” Conrad said. “It’s going to change the flavour of the game... You won’t be able to rely on the homerun. You’re going to get more singles, and you’ll have to steal bases and capitalize on the other team’s mistakes.”


With his charges facing a 16-game schedule compressed into four weeks that consists entirely of doubleheaders, Conrad is gladdened by the Gaels’ mound depth. First baseman Phil Darling will once again moonlight on the hill, joined by a troika of southpaws, Jeremy Brown, Adam Campisano, and Scott Hodgkinson. Righthander Elliott Brown returns after missing last season while on a work program, and rookies Steve McFadden and Jeff Simeone round out the arms brigade.

Conrad stated that the adjustment from aluminum to wooden bats renders any prediction of who will provide the bulk of the Gaels’ offensive punch a shot in the dark. Darling will hold down first base when not on the mound, and returning stalwarts include second baseman Kevin Jennings, catcher Dave Yarwood, and the brother act of catcher Chris Reid and third baseman Joe Reid, who have long excelled in fastball in their hometown of Napanee and will again undergo the adjustment period from windmill to hardball pitching. After an exceptional rookie season, Ryan Berlin will roam center field — and given his surname, reach over the outfield wall to make a catch if need be.

At press time, Conrad was still sifting through the candidates to replace graduated shortstop Henry Shiau and man the corner outfield spots. Conrad expects the Ontario East division, consisting of the Gaels, Carleton Ravens, Durham Lords and Ottawa Gee-Gees, to once again be very competitive.

“I would say that everyone is within a game of each other,” he said. “It would nice to be first or second going into the playoffs.” After they play a friendly exhibition game with Brock tomorrow morning at Skydome, from which the Gaels’ skipper is expecting nothing more than “everyone plays, and everyone throws,” the Tricolour treks north this weekend to face Ottawa and Carleton in successive doubleheaders.

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