Cardinals drowning in early-season rainouts
Throughout his 20-year playing career, he never had an arm injury. This despite playing the thirdmost games in Intercounty Baseball League history. So there’s a certain ridiculousness in the fact that he’s in a sling today recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, probably damaged throwing batting practice.
That’s not good. That said, the way things are going with the weather, Hamilton Cardinals GM Dean DiCenzo’s 13-week recovery period might be over by the time he needs to throw BP again.
The Cards were washed out on opening day in Guelph. That was May 13. Their home opener was washed out the following weekend. Then they were washed out Thursday, Friday and Sunday. In some cases it was precipitation at game time. In others, too much water had already made the field unplayable. Either way, that’s five out of six that have been postponed.
“Yeah,” DiCenzo laughs. “But what’s going to happen now is we’re going to have to play five in five days or seven in nine. That’s going to put a strain on pitching and create inflated scores.”
In other words, a young team trying to break out of a decadeslong funk has already found itself facing a daunting task. He believes the team he’s assembled is better than last year’s but circumstances are conspiring against it.
This is not a major league roster. He has just nine pitchers. Jamming a lot of innings into a short period will wear out their arms and leave them susceptible to trouble later in the season. Meaning there’s a good chance one of two will have to be sacrificial lambs and eat some innings no matter how badly they’re being hit.
Or he could call up a kid from the junior team. Then pray.
“You’re hoping maybe he can give you four (innings),” the 56year-old says. “At that point it could be 9-0 but what are you gonna do?”
And if any pitchers get injured? He doesn’t even want to think about it.
When he took over as GM three seasons ago, he said the team was going to become heavily local with Hamilton and area guys getting most of the roster spots. It was going to be a natural extension of the Hamilton Cardinals minor system.
That’s been done, he says. Most of the players this year are from here. They’re young but a couple years from now if they stick with it, this team will finally be competitive. Trouble is, if too many games in too short a time leads to too many losses, how many will be eager to come back and do it again?
“We have to be better each year,” he says. “That’s the goal.” There’s certainly room for that. Since the start of the decade, the high-water mark — sorry, poor choice of words under the circumstances — was 2013 when the team finished in third-last place, 10 games under .500.
Four times it has finished second-last (a combined 66 games out of first despite playing just 144 games in that time) and twice it’s finished dead last with records of 6-30 and 7-28.
Last year, things started poorly. An 8-1 season- and home-opening loss was followed by a 27-2 carpet bombing and losses of 13-4, 15-1, 10-5, 14-3, 17-4 and 8-2 before getting their first win. Part of the problem was that many of the U.S. college players DiCenzo had recruited hadn’t finished their school seasons and weren’t in the lineup for those early games.
This year he has his full roster ready to go but they can’t play because of the weather. “If it’s not one thing …” he says. Things have been so wet the Cardinals haven’t even been able to practice for two weeks. Not even batting practice. So they’ll try to get back on the field again Wednesday in Toronto when they’re scheduled to play the Maple Leafs. The Weather Network says there’s a 40 per cent chance of rain that night and thunderstorms the day before which could saturate an already sopping diamond. Then they’ll attempt to play their new home opener at Bernie Arbour Stadium on Friday evening. Chance of rain? Seventy per cent.
“I just keep hoping they’re wrong,” DiCenzo says of the forecasters. “They’ve been wrong before.” He pauses. “But when it comes to our games, they always seem to be right.”