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Barrie Baycats capture sixth straight IBL championship

Spataro says he was seeing pitches 'like a beach ball near the plate,' while manager Angus Roy continues to contemplate his future

The Dominico Trophy was pretty much sealed after the first pitch of the game.

Barrie Baycats veteran Ryan Spataro led off Game 6 of the Intercounty Baseball League championship series Saturday night with a solo home run. He gives all the credit to manager Angus Roy. 

"Angus and I always joked, 'Why don't you just swing first pitch, drill it out and end it right there'," Spataro said this morning, mere hours after securing the team's sixth consecutive IBL title Saturday night in Kitchener over the Panthers.

"I was kind of lucky, because usually I'll take that first pitch, but I figured I'd give it a shot," Spataro added. "I think the wind helped it a little bit, but it definitely got the guys going in that first inning. It kept rolling and we had a good win."

Spataro's solo bomb set the tone as the Baycats shellacked the Panthers, 15-0, to win another IBL title. They were 12-2 in the playoffs this summer, with their only two defeats coming in Games 4 and 5 of the finals.

"It would've been nice to do it at home, when we had that little comeback (in Game 5), but I'll take this," he said. "It's always nice to get another championship, because at the end of the day that's what you're looking for.

"It never gets old winning," Spataro added. "You put in a lot of time in the summer and at the end of the day what you want is to win that championship."

The Barrie franchise, which was founded in 2001, won its first IBL title in 2005, followed by this current run from 2014 to 2019. 

For Roy, a former Baycats pitcher before becoming manager, all of the championships he's been involved with are special. 

"The feeling never weakens at all," Roy said. "It's the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of great people."

After the Baycats jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Panthers clawed back with two straight wins heading into last night.

"It was weird. The first three games, we seemed to have a lot of energy and those last two that we lost, we came out a little flat," Spataro said.

Roy says there wasn't a change in strategy for Game 6.

"We just knew that we needed to play a little bit cleaner," he said. "That's kind of what we were talking about on the bus ride down. We made some errors and some base-running mistakes in the previous couple of games, and we thought we could play a little bit better. We figured if we did and we played our best, we'd give ourselves a really good chance to win last night.

"Then it was just a perfect storm and everything went our way last night," the skipper added.

In Game 6, Ryan Rijo went 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs, while Starlin Rodriguez singled three times, scored twice and drove in a run. Also contributing to the hit parade was Jon Waltenbury with two hits, two RBI and a run. Kevin Atkinson scored twice and had an RBI, Kyle DeGrace drove in a run and scored, Glenn Jackson had an RBI and two runs, and Conner Morro also scored.  

But it was Spataro's offensive numbers that really jump off the page and the reason he was named playoff MVP. The City of Barrie firefighter went 4-for-6 at the plate in Game 6, going deep twice and driving in four runs while also scoring four times.

In the post-season, Spataro had three home runs, 15 RBI, 19 runs and four steals. 

Despite numerous accolades over the years, winning playoff MVP honours was a first for Spataro, who's a former IBL regular-season MVP and batting champion (both in 2005), and holds several league records. He was also named amateur athlete of the year in 2017 by the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame. 

"I've been fortunate enough to win some awards in the past, but that's one I've never had," said Spataro, who turned 37 on Sept. 1. 

"At my age, that might never happen again," he added with a chuckle. "I ended doing pretty well and I'm happy now that I completed that and have been able to get a lot of awards in the league."

While Roy said the championship was an all-around effort from the team, Spataro's play particularly stuck out. 

"There were a lot of contributions, but what Ryan Spataro did, not only in this series but all through the playoffs, was incredible," said Roy, who called Spataro's slash lines "absurd. Everything you look at from a numbers standpoint, he had just an incredible playoff run. I was really happy that he got the MVP."

Even at 37 years old, Roy says Spataro somehow manages to keep producing at an extremely high level.

"I don't think anything that 'Spatty' does surprises us anymore," Roy said. "He's been one of the best players in the league since he got here in 2005. It is impressive. He just turned 37, so he's not getting any younger, but it doesn't seem like he's deteriorating at all in any skill set. And the playoff he put together was just incredible."

DeGrace also heaped heavy praise on Spataro, calling the outfielder's game "outstanding" and "unbelivable."

"He's like a 21-year-old," DeGrace quipped. "He was locked in, just from the get-go of this series, especially. That was when he really took off. He really carried us this series."

Spataro says he didn't prepare any differently this playoff run and didn't change his approach too much. 

"That's just baseball," Spataro said. "You can either go really hot or you can go really cold. I had some hits that were fortunate to drop that weren't line drives or anything. But they dropped in and that keeps your confidence up, keeps you going and you just stick with it. You start finding that groove and the ball looks like a beach ball near the plate.

"I was just fortunate enough to contribute and get some good hits." 

With last night's championship secured, the Baycats match an IBL record set by the Brantford Red Sox, who won six straight titles from 2008 to 2013.

DeGrace says reaching six straight titles was a goal planted firmly in the Baycats' minds. 

"It's a good group of guys and it's nice to get another one," the catcher said. "It's pretty much the same group of guys, but obviously getting six (titles being) the number to tie Brantford was in the back of our heads. It was goal that we've had, so this one feels good."

What makes the team special is how closely knit the players are both on and off the field, Roy said.

"It starts with the nine guys who have been here for all six championships now and for all eight finals runs. That's the foundation of our group," the manager said. "They're very accepting and very competitive people, so the new guys we bring into the clubhouse, they'll bring them along and show them the way."

However, it's not just what happens at the diamond. 

"The biggest thing for us is how close they are off the field, as well," Roy added. "Our families all get together in the off-season and everyone talks pretty much daily. The competitive nature of the group and how close we are, both on and off the field, helps us do what we do."

Earlier this year, Roy said talk of retirement has come up in the past.

"I go through the same process every off-season," he said. "I'm going to let (this championship) sink in, enjoy it and get away from the game for a little bit. I'll talk to my wife, talk to my kids and talk to some other people I'd like to talk to. Then I'll make the best decision for me and my family moving forward.

"Absolutely nothing decided at this point," added Roy, who has been field manager since 2007 and general manager since 2014. 

Now the conversation will be: Can they make it seven straight next season? Only time will tell. 


Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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