Friday, May 23, 2008

Allard: A new beginning for Ottawa baseball

Jean-Pierre Allard attended the franchise opener for the Ottawa Rapidz last night at The Zip and came away upbeat.

Pro ball was back in Ottawa last night, albeit at a lower level than the customary Triple-A.

Save for a few defensive errors and numerous hit balls by the home team that appeared to lack a little zip, most fans would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between International League and independent league play. The newest members of the Can-Am League, the Ottawa Rapidz, losing their first game, 6-0 to the New Jersey Jackals didn't matter much to the 4,246 enthusiastic fans who braved a cold and damp night to come out and support their new team, a great bunch of them remarkably still in their seats at game's end.

Nor did this lopsided loss concern manager Ed Nottle much as he was quick to point out in his post-game interview that stellar pitching performances such as the one delivered by the Jackals’ starting and winning pitcher Aaron Tressler, and the Jersey bullpen would be rarer in indie ball than in Triple-A.

Tressler, who spent time with Syracuse of the IL last season, shut out Ottawa on one hit and five strikeouts in six innings of work. Nottle was pleased with his own starter, left-hander Mike Kusiewicz, who only gave up one earned run in six innings, a 6th inning long ball by SS Ramon Nivar, a former Lynx, over the left-field fence that landed on Coventry Rd. Kusiewicz, the former draft pick of the Colorado Rockies, was victimized by two defensive errors on the same play in the second inning which lead to New Jersey scoring its first run.

While the Rapidz, looking resplendent in their white pristine home jerseys, didn’t get their first runner in scoring position until the 7th inning when after 18 consecutive batters had been retired, DH Sambu Ndungidi walked and advanced to second after a passed ball, it was still a 2-0 game at that stage when the next batter, Jereme Milons, fouled out several pitches in swinging for the fences, before finally striking out on a full count.

When the Jackals erupted for four runs in their very next turn at bat, thanks in large part to three errors and a hit batsman coupled with three hits, it was basically game over. Especially when all the Rapidz could muster was two meagre hits on this opening night.

For the record, Mike Kusiewicz pitched the first strikeout against Francisco Leandro, and later struck out the side in the 6th inning. In the bottom of the 1st inning, Jared Lemieux got the Rapidz' first hit on a 2-2 count, but was quickly erased when the next batter Jose de los Santos hit into the first Rapidz double play. Sambu Ndungidi was the first designated hitter and he also picked up the Rapidz first walk in the second inning . Fans had to wait until the eighth to witness the club’s first extra-base hit, a double by Juan Infante.

Obviously, the difference was Ottawa committing five errors on a chilly night. I’m sure that Ed Nottle would also agree that similar performances by his defense will be very few and far in between this season.

Now if most of the baseball fans in attendance last night can make an outing to Rapidz Stadium the norm rather than the exception, while the team’s directors continue their excellent work in attracting new fans, this franchise should be all right. Alas, it is only one game, though nevertheless very encouraging. Tonight's attendance should tell us a lot about where we stand with this latest venture.

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