They’ve been locking horns at St. Pat’s Ball Park for years, and things don’t figure to be any different this summer as the Shamrocks and Gonzaga Vikings kick off the 72nd season of the St. John’s Senior Baseball League today.
The Shammies and Vikes get things going on opening day with a 1 o’clock tilt at St. Pat’s, followed by the Knights and Holy Cross at 3:30.
It’s been all Shamrocks and Gonzaga each of the past three years, with the green and gold group winning it all last season and in 2016, beating the Vikings both times in the final. Gonzaga won back-to-back championships in 2015 and ’14, upending Shamrocks for the 2015 crown (Holy Cross were the runner-up in 2014).
In 2013, it was Shamrocks over Gonzaga in the final and six years ago, in the 2012 championship series, it was Holy Cross slipping past the Vikings.
So, in other words, Gonzaga has either won it all or has been in the league final in each of the past six years, and veteran Viking Gerald Butt doesn’t see anything changing — barring the unknown, of course, such as injuries — this year.
Butt especially likes the fact a pair of former Vikings and St. John’s Capitals all-star pitchers Matt Peterson and Kieran Buckingham are back in the Gonzaga rotation. Buckingham returns after missing a season due to a knee injury.
However, Butt, who will play this season as a 42-year-old and doesn’t appear to be slowing down judging by his back-to-back MVP awards last year and 2016, has been around long enough to know that games aren’t necessarily won and lost by brilliant pitching or hitting performances, but rather solid defence.
In other words, making all the routine plays.
“If our batting is not the best, it’s No. 2 in the league,” Butt said. “We have guys one through nine who have played all-star at some point.
“And our pitching is only going to be better with Matt and Kieran. But the thing is with our league, there are not too many strikeout pitchers so consistent defence is what will win you games.
“If you give up extra outs, at some point the better teams will capitalize.”
Shamrocks topped the standings from the get-go last season, losing only three games in 17 starts. It will be a little more challenging this year, starting with the retirement of long-time first baseman Andrew Symonds.
Symonds, a mainstay on the St. John’s Capitals, enjoyed an all-star career that lasted 20-plus years. Bobby Kent also retired, along with Kirk Fleming, who enjoyed a 30-something year career which included many accolades and all-star appearances with the Caps.
“I suppose we’re in a little bit of a transition,” said Shamrocks skipper Sean Gulliver. “We’ve always brought two or three or four juniors into the senior team, and this year there could be as many as six.
“We’ve got a good feeder system,” he said of the Shamrocks’ intermediate squad, which has won the last four championships in that division.
Gonzaga was 14-6 last season, Knights 12-8, Holy Cross was an even 10-10 and Feildians were 7-13. The hapless Blazers, who languished through an 0-20 2017 campaign, aren’t back, leaving the senior circuit a five-team league.
“The Knights are pretty good. They could surprise some people,” Butt said. “Holy Cross will be good. They’ve got everyone there, and Feildians are a good, scrappy little team.”
“My whole theory,” Butt said, “is to get to the playoffs. Then it’s a whole new season.
“In a seven-game series, you’ll see guys like Scott Goosney (of Shamrocks) and (Gonzaga’s) Dan Connors three times,” he said, referring to a pair of pitching aces.
As for Butt, he has no plans of slowing down. The passion and enjoyment is still there, and he hopes some day to play with his son, Kody, who is now 14 and currently playing bantam baseball.
“As long as I’m doing well and having fun, why would I not want to play?” he said.
All games are at St. Pat’s Ball Park, although the Knights will play their home games at Mount Pearl’s Smallwood Drive Ball Park.