by Jonathan Hodgson
Significant names from the baseball world, past present and future, descended on Victoria on Saturday for the 2nd Annual HarbourCats Hotstove.
The event, hosted by Yates Street Taphouse, was headlined for the second straight year by Gregg Zaun, a former major league catcher and current Sportsnet baseball analyst.
Zaun was joined on the main event of this year’s lineup by Sid Seixeiro, co-host of ‘Tim & Sid’ on Sportsnet.
Even with the Blue Jays emphasis, the evening had a distinct Victoria flavour. Philadelphia Phillies prospect and Victoria native Nick Pivetta attended the event along with former major league outfielder and new HarbourCats head coach Brian McRae.
Pivetta was the starting pitcher for the first game in HarbourCats history on June 5, 2013, and was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the major league draft later that month.
McRae played 10 seasons in the majors between 1990-99. He played five seasons with the Kansas City Royals (1990-94) and parts of three with the Chicago Cubs (1995-97) while also spending time with the New York Mets, Colorado Rockies and the Blue Jays before retiring after the 1999 season.
The Hotstove was the first public appearance for McRae in Victoria since being named HarbourCats head coach in August on a two-year contract.
McRae and Pivetta took the stage first, engaging in candid conversation along with emcee Mira Laurence. They discussed the impact the game of baseball can have outside the lines and also their common thread, the HarbourCats.
“The biggest impact that I can make in the game of baseball is to teach the younger players the right way to go about things,” McRae said about his decision to begin coaching after his playing career.
“We are going to have a very aggressive team, we’re going to respect the game, respect our opponents, and be very fundamentally sound,” said McRae about the 2017 HarbourCats.
McRae also added that the team plans to be very community-minded and will maintain a presence in the community off the field, fulfilling their greater purpose to make an impact outside of the game.
Pivetta in reflected on his time with the HarbourCats saying, “as soon as Victoria got a West Coast League team, I wanted to play here. To play in my hometown at Royal Athletic Park was a thrill and an experience that I will never forget.”
The main event of the evening saw Zaun and Seixeiro take the stage for approximately an hour, engaging in a combination of conversation and storytelling, bringing in McRae and Pivetta on occasion, as well as a substantial question-and-answer component.
Conversation between the special guests spanned a wide range of topics relating to their own playing careers and the state of baseball today. A prevailing theme of the question-and-answer period was discussion around the Blue Jays from their current state heading into 2017 and thoughts on the club’s back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances.
“This is why I wanted to cover the Blue Jays,” said Zaun about the passion for the Blue Jays in Canada. “We couldn’t be any further than the city of Toronto within Canada right now and there is still the same level of passion for the team. They truly are Canada’s team.”
Guests were able to mingle and take pictures with the special guests at the end of the event.
Live and silent auctions also took place. The live auction was highlighted by a vacation package to watch the Blue Jays in Seattle in 2017 and autographed jerseys of Blue Jays greats Lloyd Moseby and Duane Ward.
Zaun, a Blue Jays catcher for five seasons (2004-08) who played 1,232 games in his 16 major league seasons, is the nephew of former major league catcher Rick Dempsey who played 1,766 games across 24 years in the majors.
“I’m back, aren’t I?” Said Zaun when asked about his feelings about Victoria.
The native of Glendale, CA who also owns a home in Kelowna, BC added, “I will be back as long as you keep having me.”
Photos of the Hotstove by Christian J. Stewart can be viewed on the HarbourCats Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/HarbourCats/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1339065136111842