Spring has sprung - finally! And that means it’s time to think about baseball.
While the official start of the local baseball season is still a few weeks away, excitement is building for many young players who have high hopes for a summer to remember.
It was a forgettable summer a year ago, in a way, for Mike Provenzano and the Orillia Juniors.
Provenzano decided to resurrect the team for players aged 18 to 21 last year; the team had folded a few years earlier.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, Provenzano had to rely on a several younger midget-aged players just to field a team.
“We knew we were going to get smacked around and we did,” said Provenzano with a chuckle.
In fact, especially early on, the other teams in the North Dufferin Baseball League had their way with the fledgling Orillia Royals.
“In the first half of the season, the top teams would mercy us,” said Provenzano, referring to teams dominating them so thoroughly that the game would be cut short due to the lopsided score.
But patience and hard work, eventually, paid off.
Provenzano and assistant coach Chris Woodman poured their heart and soul into teaching the players fundamental baseball and how to win.
There were group practices and one-on-one sessions whenever and wherever circumstances allowed.
“In the second half, the guys started buying in and in the last month, we were competitive with the top clubs,” said the coach with pride.
But they still lost most games; their record was 3-17.
Despite that record, the team made vast strides, said Provenzano.
The team enters its second season with some experience under its belt in addition to hope and promise.
There will also be some notable new faces.
“This year, I’ve recruited some guys from Muskoka and Barrie - Barrie doesn’t have a junior team,” said Provenzano.
He said the AAA-rated players from Muskoka - a shortstop and a catcher - will give the team strength up the middle.
“I had to do a lot of teaching last year, but not so much this year,” predicted Provenzano, noting he has a bit of an older team.
Once again this year, former Orillia Majors standout Greg McMillan will be helping Provenzano on an informal basis.
“I’ve always looked up to McMillan, so I’m really grateful for his help,” said Provenzano.
This season’s newcomers, in addition to Orillia Secondary School graduate and current university football player Pierson French, will join a core of seven players from last season.
The team has been working out all winter and is chomping at the bit to begin outdoor practices once local diamonds are open.
However, because of the weather, local diamonds are not slated to open until May 1. That is a challenge for a team that opens its season May 4.
The team's first home game is Thursday, May 9 against Ivy; Game time is 8 p.m. at the Jerry Udell diamond at Tudhope Park.
This year, the team’s primary sponsors are Crate’s Lake Country Boats and Towns Jewellers. Orillia Sports Medicine and The Rad Shop and Automotive Repair
Provenzano said he is grateful for the support of the team’s sponsors.
He noted he was grateful that Burton Team Investment Planning Counsel was the team’s main sponsor last summer. In addition, others supported the team: Orillia Power, Speedy Glass, Crate’s Lake Country Boats, Holdaway Trucking, Ontario Wheelchair, Simcoe Sewers and The Water Market.