Since 2010 (the Caps did not play in the 2012 nationals in Prince George, B.C.), St. John’s has a combined 6-14 record in Canadian senior championship play.
St. John’s did manage to reach the quarter-finals in 2011, in Miramichi, N.B.
But in each of the last two seasons — at the 2015 Canadian championship, again in Miramichi, and 2014, when St. John’s played host to the nationals — the Caps were 1-3. They went 0-4 three years ago in Windsor, Ont.
Although their record might indicate otherwise, St. John’s veteran Gerald Butt maintains the gap separating the Caps from some of the other teams entered in the tournament isn’t a wide as one would think.
The most noticeable difference, he suggested, is in the pitching department.
“(It) is the biggest thing,” said Butt, “and it’s simply because we facing harder throwers at nationals (than at the local level).”
In many cases, most of the top-flight pitchers at the Canadian championship have U.S. college or pro experience.
Last year, for example, Ontario outdueled Quebec 4-1 in the championship game in Miramichi. Joel Pierce, the winning pitcher, was a Milwaukee Brewers draft pick and farmhand. Rob Nixon, who got the save, was drafted by Cleveland and pitched in the Indians’ organization. For Quebec, losing pitcher Francois Lafreniere was a one-time Atlanta Braves draft pick and minor leaguer.
“With so many pro leagues and independent leagues now, you’re seeing fewer guys with pro experience (at the Canadian nationals), but they’re definitely still there,” Butt said.
“And those guys have some zip on the ball, in some cases 15 to 20 miles per hour in the difference.”
Butt, who himself was drafted, not once but twice, by the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees, said most of the pitchers in the St. John’s Senior Baseball League top out in the mid- to high 70s.
Young, hard-throwing Dan Connors, who is with The Bigs-sponsored Caps in Fredericton, might be in the 80s.
“The first couple of games at nationals, it’s almost like we have to play small ball and scrape together some runs until we adjust and get used to the speed of the pitching,” Butt said.
The Caps’ highlight last season was a 3-2 win over British Columbia. In 2014, at St. Pat’s Ball Park, St. John’s beat Alberta 4-3.
“The record might suggest otherwise, but we’re not a pushover at nationals,” Butt said.
The first two playoff games are slated for Saturday night. Gold- and bronze-medal games go Sunday.
St. John’s Capitals’ roster
Dan Connors, pitcher
Matthew Murphy, pitcher
Scott Goosney, pitcher
Alex Walsh, pitcher
Sean Janes, pitcher
Kerian Buckingham, pitcher
Greg Barry, pitcher
Gary Dymond, catcher
Scott Stockley, catcher
Mike O’Neil, infield
Trevor Clarke, infield
Steve Crouse, infield
Parker Gulliver, infield
Gerald Butt, infield
Peter Madden, infield
Aaron Flood, outfield
Andrew Simmons, outfield
Dave Penney, outfield
Brent Power, outfield
Gerry Stone, outfield
James Walsh, outfield
Sean Gulliver, head coach
Dan Reardon, coach
Gary Gulliver, chef de mission
Capitals’ senior national schedule
9:30 a.m., St. John’s vs Ontario 1
3:30 p.m., St. John’s vs New Brunswick
9 a.m., St. John’s vs Alberta
11:30 a.m., St. John’s vs Manitoba