The Trail AM Ford Orioles kick off the Pacific International League season with a three-game set against the Kamloops Sun Devils this weekend.
The Orioles will play their third season in the PIL, a league that includes such U.S. powerhouses as last year’s champion Seattle Studs, Northwest Honkers, and Everett Merchants, not to mention formidable B.C. foes like the Langley Blaze, Burnaby Collegiate Bulldogs, Kelowna Jays, and the Sun Devils.
Despite its 2-12 record last season, Trail competed well, and this summer the Orioles will host an unprecedented 20 games at Butler Park.
Trail has many players returning from last season, and player/manager Jim Maniago is tentatively optimistic going into the season.
“We have gained a few guys and lost a few guys, but hope to be as good if not better than last year,” said Maniago.
“We should have a bit more depth but will have some guys that are new to this level of ball so we’ll see how it goes. The teams we play in the PIL are all college level guys or ex-pros so it’s a big jump from American Legion ball.”
The Orioles will reap the benefits of a defunct Jays team, adding Dallas Calvin to a rotation that already includes capable hurlers Scott Rhynold, Darren Kissock, Kyle Paulson, and Kellen Jones.
The youthful additions of outfielder Scott Davidson and first baseman Brady Glover, also from last years Jays team, can’t hurt a line up as experienced as the Orioles.
“We’ve picked up a few guys from the Jays which will give our pitching staff some depth and have Joey Underwood back. Last summer he played in Lethbridge and went to school in Indiana this past year, we expect him to be a big addition.”
Maniago says the team will be a bit short early in the season, without the talents of Connor and Kellen Jones, and a couple players that have not returned from school, but is confident of the team’s ability to compete. The Orioles are looking solid on the mound and defensively, but like last season, offence is a question mark.
“It’ll come down to hitting and whether the we can score enough runs,” Maniago added. “That always seems to be our Achilles heal.”
The O’s first challenge will come against a very good Kamloops team that was runner up at last year’s provincials, and a team that recently added Trail’s Pat Brown and Cam Strachan, whose Thompson River University WolfPack just bowed out of the Canadian Collegiate Baseball Conference championship tournament last weekend.
“They have lost a few key guys but always have good pitching to keep them in games and have some locals playing for them (Brown and Strachan). It will be a good way to start the season.”