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NWL preview: Canadians eye three-peat06/14/2013 6:00 AM ET
By Patrick Brown / Special to MLB.com
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Entering its 59th season, the Class A Short-Season Northwest League has gotten a bit of a facelift, all while keeping the tradition-rich history of its teams alive and well. Below is a look at what to watch for as games get underway Friday.
Canadians go for three-peat: The Vancouver Canadians entered the 2012 season trying to become the first team to repeat as Northwest League champions since 2006-2007.
The Canadians secured their second consecutive title last season, defeating Boise in three games. Now they are looking to complete the league's first three-peat since Boise did it from 1993-1995.
Manager Clayton McCullough set the bar high in his first year at the helm last season, and he has no intent on slowing down. Winning has certainly become a tradition for the Canadians, but McCullough doesn't believe that should translate into any added pressure for his players.
"It's so hard to win and even get in the playoffs, and every organization that puts a team together in this league, that's their goal as well," he said. "Ultimately we are here to get these kids better, to get them a good foundation of things they can build from."
Among the returnees from last year's title team are hurlers Kyle Anderson and Bobby Brosnahan, catcher Daniel Klien and outfielder Ian Parmley. But as it goes in the short season, McCullough is faced with having to guide a team with more fresh faces than returning ones. That's a challenge the second-year manager embraces as he continues to leave his mark in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization.
"We're playing a lot more games than a lot of these kids are accustomed to playing," McCullough said. "So it is how they handle the adversity that comes along that will be a big determinant in how their career will go."
Everett manager Rob Mummau echoed that sentiment.
"The nerves usually work themselves out, but we play every night, and eventually you can tell the kids that have butterflies, or might be a little nervous -- they get used to it more times than not," he said. "You just try to be real positive with the kids, and keep them in their comfort zone."
Teams will also need to adjust to the newly created league format, moving away from the former East and West divisions, and realigning with newly created North and South divisions. Everett, Spokane, Tri-City and Vancouver make up the North, while Boise, Eugene, Hillsboro and Salem-Keizer round out the South.
"I think the beauty of it is, with the turnover at this level, we certainly have some returning guys, but you get fresh kids in that are just so excited to be a part of the baseball here in Vancouver and the fan base here," McCullough said. "They realize how great it is and how much they have to look forward to."
Going to be a Classic: The Northwest League will hold its first All-Star Game since 2004 and only the second such event in league history. Just one look at some of the league's alumni can make anyone wonder why this event has not become a regular occurrence much sooner.
The Everett AquaSox will host this year's midseason classic on Aug. 6, an event that will also feature a Home Run Derby. In a league where player development tends to trump the number of wins that show up in the standings, the event may help motivate the young players even more.
"It's a goal for all the players in every league to make an All-Star team," Mummau said. "That can be an added incentive for each kid going out there every night."
Though the event in 2004 was billed as a special one, it has been announced that the Northwest League will repeat the All-Star Game every season going forward, with a different club playing host each year. Although the league has only held one official game, it has named players to All-Star teams dating back to 1955. Some notable names include Ozzie Smith (1977), Ken Griffey Jr. (1987), Mike Piazza (1989), Dan Uggla (2001) and Felix Hernandez (2003).
For host Everett, they receive regular reminders of what they can achieve if they hit their potential.
"The biggest thing is the big league stadium that's about 30 miles away," Mummau said, referring to the Mariners' Safeco Field. "Their game is on TV here every night, so they get to see their big league team play. We just need to emphasize that the harder you work every day, and the more professional you are every day, the better chance you have in moving up the system."
For their part, the coaches want to keep the young players focused and grounded.
"As best we can, we try to keep the kids in the moment, and not look too far ahead," McCullough said. "Not only do they want to make the All-Star team, but they want to get to Lansing, they want to get a promotion sometime in the summer, so they're always thinking of -- I wouldn't call them a distraction -- but things that are out of your control."
Boise Hawks manager Gary Van Tol, who will lead the South Division's team, expects his players to take the game in stride, whether they participate or not.
"It will be an honor for the kids that are chosen," Van Tol said. "I really don't see any added pressure for them to make the All-Star game. At the end of the day, there's a bigger picture out there."
Hopping into the league: The league has lost a familiar foe, as the Yakima Bears have been relocated to Hillsboro, Ore. The Hops will still serve as the Class-A Short Season club for the Arizona Diamondbacks, which was Yakima's affiliation since 2001.
Yakima had been in the league since 1990.
Hillsboro Ballpark is the newest in the league, featuring an artificial playing surface, two batting cages and other amenities. Everett manager Rob Mummau is looking forward to seeing the new park.
"Yakima's a very nice town, but Hillsboro ... has a very nice new stadium," he said. "I'm looking forward to that."
Boise's new threads: The Boise Hawks have unveiled new uniforms for the 2013 season, their first such change since 2007. The change gives the club plenty of options, as they will have standard home and away jerseys, as well as a few additional alternate ones.
The Hawks also released a new logo, depicting scratch marks from a Hawk claw. The different uniform combinations offer plenty of opportunities for players and fans to showcase their team pride, though it may not always be easy.
"I'm afraid I'm going to leave my cap at home, because we have four different caps," Hawks manager Gary Van Tol joked. "The new uniforms feel a lot better than the old ones."
Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Northwest League.