(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - Sometimes it can take a few days to truly let a full-season of professional baseball sink in. From the long hours on the road to the game-after-game schedule that sees the Canadians play 76 games in 81 nights, it can take a while for you to truly formulate a reason for one team doing better than another.
I am asked what it was that made the Vancouver Canadians the "best" team in the Northwest League in 2017 as they rallied for a 5-1 (.833) post-season record after finishing the regular season with a 43-33 (.566) mark, which by the way was the most wins amassed of the eight-teams on the circuit. I'm not sure even after having this amount of time off that I can pin it specifically on one player or element.
Vancouver had the perfect balance of "just enough" of everything to fend off the likes of Spokane and Eugene in the playoffs. Certain teams I am sure wish they could have gotten a hold of Vancouver in the post-season as both Boise and Hillsboro would have proven to be very formidable in a five-game series. What got Vancouver to the Bob Freitas Trophy at the end of the season was the philosophy of "bending but never breaking."
Here's a few moments that I look back on as key;
i) The Canadians like each and every team in the Northwest League started the season at a slight disadvantage as Major League Baseball pushed back its First-Year Player Draft. This gave teams in the NWL almost two full weeks of having to play a collection of players either in their second or third seasons, or perhaps not quite ready for the calibre of play at the Class-A, Short-Season level. Vancouver had a formidable pitching rotation regardless of this slight alteration as while newly drafted players were still getting their physicals and assignments down in Florida, the C's arms here at Nat Bailey Stadium were fending the NWL off with a 7-3 (.700) record in the first 10 games and 10-6 (.625) record in June.
This gave Vancouver a chance to stay even with Tri-City (10-6) while breaking from both Everett (7-9) and Spokane (4-12), with the Canadians eventually winning its first ever First Half North Division pennant which will play right into my second point.
ii) With Vancouver claiming a first-half pennant, not once did the pressures and energy of having to secure a second half pennant ever factor into the Canadians good days and bad. The C's would only lose back-to-back games three times in the entire month of August as Rich Miller led Vancouver to a 16-12 (.571) record before going 8-1 (.889) in the month of September. Not having to strain and allowing key players to rest heading down the stretch was a definite advantage for the Canadians heading into the post-season.
iii) Blue Chips and Castaways: It didn't matter if you were a first rounder or a guy playing out the season in hopes of simply catching someone's eye, everyone got their chances in 2017. Pitching Coach Jim Czajkowski was as valuable as ever as he led a pitching staff that had no bonafide star before the arrival of RHP Nate Pearson, and got them to all have improved seasons. RHP Dalton Rodriguez went from a 2-7 pitcher in 2016 to a 5-4 pitcher this past summer. LHP Grayson Huffman knocked a couple of runs per game off of his ERA and pitched wonderfully heading into the All-Star Break. White Rock, B.C., native RHP Brayden Bouchey went from a quiet, semi-reliable arm in the bullpen to a weapon that went 12.1IP of no-hit baseball to end the season over his final eight appearances. The last HIT he gave up was on August 21st, and it was just the one hit. After that, 38 batters faced, one walk, no hits, 16 strikeouts. That summed up the Vancouver Canadians of 2017 in a nutshell - taking the ordinary and making them believe they were extraordinary. It's amazing what you can get out of a player with a little bit of belief and space to develop.
iv) Offensively, the Canadians had no player that ripped up our record books. The top home run hitter(s) this past season were 1B Kacy Clemens and 1B David Jacob with a whopping four (4) home runs. Four. Vancouver finished with just 25 home runs in 2017 (1 per every 3.28 games) and hit 40 fewer than division rival Everett (65). The Canadians finished 6th in runs scored, 4th in average (.250) and yet found so many different ways to beat you including defense where the 84 errors committed (1.105per game) ranked second behind only Hillsboro. By the way, the 84 errors was in 2,838 chances, a fielding percentage of .970 or 97% which is an A+ on most term papers.
v) Led by Leaders: When the Canadians received C Riley Adams, they had found their leader. On the field, Adams was named a Northwest League All-Star and the Vancouver Most Valuable Player as the University of San Diego standout lived up to his 3rd round selection in this year's draft. Add to that the former Texas Longhorn 1B Kacy Clemens, RHP Nate Pearson and SS Logan Warmoth and you had your on-field nucleaus. But factor in the likes of 2B Deiferson Barreto, SS Kevin Vicuna and RHP Orlando Pascual, and suddenly you had a Latin-influence that at times can feel separated, yet in 2017, felt unified. A subtle last minute addition of coach Jose Mayorga helped bridge this divide bringing all 35 players together from start to finish along with the fatherly influence of manager Rich Miller, the always-excitable hitting coach Dave Pano and cool, calm and collected big man, pitching coach Jim Czajkowski. The staff also featured Dan Leja, Pat Rosanio and Patrick Griffin that ended up being an extraordinary compliment to an already leader heavy cast in 2017.
There was no record-breaking performance in 2017. Not one. But the Canadians had 25 players all pulling the rope the same way, all working toward a common goal and it ended up being the blueprint for what you should want from a team at this level as they enter into professional baseball. No flashy numbers, no overbearing personalities, just wins. Something the Toronto Blue Jays should be excited about as the future begins to brighten by the season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.