By Cole Parkinson
It’s been a few years since the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball has experienced a regular spring schedule, but 2022 will see the team back to the usual grind.
With games already underway this spring, VAB is preparing for a busy schedule over the next several months and players and coaches are more than happy to be back playing baseball. It’s been a few months since players have been outside on the diamond, and the coaching staff were impressed with what they saw over the winter months.
“We were happy with our winter work — our strength coach Alex Sirard, he did a really good job pushing the guys to get better, bigger, faster, and stronger. It’s a moving target when it comes to strength and conditioning and Alex does a really good job to individualize programs and figure out which guys need what and tailor a program to them,” stated Les McTavish, head coach of the Jets. “We were happy with the development there and it’s one of those things where a lot of it comes back on the leadership group and the Grade 12s we have in our program right now did a nice job of leading the way with what they expect in the weight room and the work ethic.”
The last two weekends have seen a handful of games for the Jets and lots more are on the way over the next several weeks. When looking at the boxscores, one thing that might stick out is the number of runs the Jets are putting on the board. VAB has compiled over 70 runs in the last four games and while that definetely shows the potency of the Jets’ lineup, the coaching staff also realizes the opposing pitchers contributed to that.
“It’s a combination. We, as a group, feel we have a pretty balanced offence. Our eight or nine hitter can have a better day than our three hitter somedays. We have balance and it’s also a combination of the fact our opponents have given us some free runs, so there have been quite a few walks. They’ll walk three and then we’ll hit a double in the gap, so it can be misleading a bit, but certainly, we’re happy with how the offence has come out this spring. We’ll be challenged this coming weekend,” continued McTavish.
It’s still early days in the spring season, so pitchers are still finding their way on the mound. While plenty of walks have come their way, Jets’ hitters also have to be complimented on their approaches when they get to the plate which shows a willingness to hand off the baton to the next man in line.
“Jim (Kotkas, coach) is a big believer of being ready to hit — if they throw a fastball for a strike, let’s get after it. But I think it’s a combination — one, we’ve had patience and two, there has been some rust on our opponents coming out and throwing strikes,” added McTavish.
On the other hand, the pitching staff has been off to a great start. While the transition from inside to outside can lead to some early struggles, so far Jets pitchers have been great.
“We’ve been pretty happy early on. We didn’t pitch really well the first time out — it’s continually gotten better. We threw the ball really well on the weekend, we had one tough inning, but each guy that has come in has come in and done well. The key is to increase pitch counts, increase workload, and continue to develop to be better each time we go out. This week we’ll throw a few more pitches — we’ve been in the 50 pitch range. This week we’ll extend some guys out to 60ish. And we have been missing our top arm for the first four games — he’s been in Phoenix working with the pro teams. He pitched against the Mariners and Dodgers, that’s Anson McGorman,” stated McTavish. “They will have some tough days here at some point in time. When you have those tough days, it’s about how you respond and we talk about having a short term memory — short term memory if it’s good or bad. Sometimes that is the key to success as an athlete and when you’re 16, 17 years old, trying to look at the big picture isn’t always easy, so we’re really trying to get them to understand that.”
Looking ahead at the schedule, the Jets see plenty of games from now until the beginning of June. Even with the heavy workload ahead, the coaching staff is more than confident their pitchers will be able to handle it. The staff has been working hard over the winter to make sure they’re ready for the spring and now they have their chance to show what they’ve been working towards.
“I don’t know if we’re concerned about (pitching workloads over the spring), but it is something you are trying to manage. That preparation started two months ago to be ready for things like this. We are already starting to figure out our rotation and we can pretty much tell you, or have a pretty good idea, who’s pitching for the next month and on what days. You manage your program, individualize as much as you can, and let the chips fall as they may. One thing I can guarantee you is there will be some surprises — you think you have it scripted out, sometimes things go better and sometimes things go worse than you thought. You deal with it and move on,” said McTavish.
A trip to the United States is a staple for the spring season, but the last two seasons have seen those cancelled. This spring though will see the team head south for several games and the team is ecstatic about the return to what they normally expect.
“It’s really exciting and we’re really happy. It’s one of those things — it’s been a long two years for everybody and we’re happy to get back out there. We have the University of Calgary this weekend, the weekend after is cancelled, but then on the following Wednesday, we’re off to the States. It’s been two years since we’ve been able to do that, so we’re super excited about that,” added McTavish. “It’s pretty much back to normal. We get on the bus and rock n’ roll. It’s a different trip too — we play Twin Falls, Idaho, then we go over to Salt Lake City, then we go to Vegas, then we come back to Great Falls. It’s a nice little swing with nine games in 10 days.”