Jackfish dominate on and off the field
The Welland Jackfish are the 2023 Intercounty League Baseball champions. Photo: @RyanMPhotograph
It’s hard to image a more perfect season for the Welland Jackfish, both on and off the field.
The Jackfish culminated a memorable 2023 Intercounty Baseball League campaign with a 17-1 win over the Barrie Baycats Saturday to capture the organization’s first championship.
The Jackfish took home and Jack and Lynne Dominico Trophy as IBL champions in six games over the Baycats to finish 10-4 in the playoffs after placing first in the regular season with a 31-11 record.
“When it all came together it was a surreal experience,” Welland manager Brian Essery said Sunday afternoon at Welland Stadium where the team held a celebration event for players and fans. “When we came here four years ago, we didn’t know what to expect. To win in four years is incredible. You look at teams that haven’t won it in decades. It’s unbelievable.”
Essery gave all the credit to the players for their execution and buy-in all season.
“Extremely proud and happy for the guys. Obviously it’s their trophy, it’s their championship, they won it. All the credit goes to them and the leadership group we had on this team to keep that bond together,” he said. “We performed all season.”
All the wins and fun did not go unnoticed as the Jackfish led the IBL in total attendance with 44,000 fans, up from 23,000 last season. As well, team president Ryan Harrison reported the team has already added to their 440 season tickets from this season for 2024.
“We always knew every year was going to get better and better, but this has exploded for us,” Harrison said. “Not just our roster, which was amazing, but to double attendance, to lead the league in attendance, and even for next year to already have a record sale of season tickets, you can’t really put into words. “When we came here in 2019 we knew it would be better than where we came from, but we couldn’t anticipate the family-like fan base we have here.”
While the Jackfish were performing their magic on the diamond, behind the scenes general manager Jason McKay was working into extra innings to provide Essery and his staff with the best possible team.
“You provide the players, you provide the framework, but it’s not always the most talent,” McKay said. “I happen to think we have the most talent in the league — I don’t think there’s much dispute about that — but it takes a coaching staff to put the proper lineups in and the full, total buy in of the individual player, not only the stuff we do on the field, but community involvement and community engagement. We just don’t look for the talent, we look for players who want to buy into something bigger than just what happens between the lines.
“I’m very proud. The proudest part, the trophy is nice, the recognition is nice, but there’s 28 young men who are linked together for life.”
McKay said when the franchise moved to Welland from Burlington four years ago, team management quickly realized they could be on to something special.
“When we moved it here and saw what the size and scope of it could be, first and foremost it doesn’t work without a facility this size. The economics part of it doesn’t work,” McKay said. “We knew coming in here we had to change our complete and entire approach by going out to get out-of-area players, including out-of-province players. It was a baseball operations strategy to expand our scouting and our scope.”
That meant beating the bushes and developing relationships with colleges and independent league teams.
“It’s a lot of on-line work, video analysis, talking to coaches at various levels. I have very good relationships with general managers and field managers of all the independent pro teams. We’re no longer an unknown entity in the IBL, especially our team. We have partnered quite well with some of the indy leagues,” McKay said. “It’s being really aware of what Canada has to offer, hotspots in B.C., out east and Quebec. If you mention a Canadian between 22-24 I’ve read up on them, talked to them or texted them at some point.”
Going forward, McKay would like to see a more balanced roster with additional local players.
“We established the 22U team in Burlington and we moved it here. It’s been gaining momentum as well gaining awareness in the Niagara Region and the even Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville drawing players in,” he said. “It’s trying to keep some of the talented players in the area, because they are there. We’ve seen fruition through Brandon Underhill. Ethan Pasco is going to be a starter on this team, Tyler Dupuis is local. The correct balance between a local base and supplement with the best talent we can access is the goal.”
Fish sticks: Welland pitcher James Bradwell was named playoff most valuable player after going 5-0 with a 1.02 earned run average in five games.
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