Car­di­nals drown­ing in early-sea­son rain­outs

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

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.”

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