Old, New Faces for Canaries in 2014
The weather is trying to warm up as the Sioux Falls Canaries are getting ready for another summer of baseball at the Birdcage.During the offseason, the Birds introduced a 'meaner' alternate logo, and signed a lot of new faces that they hope will mix in with a few old faces. While fans may be unfamiliar when they walk into the park tomorrow evening, manager Steve Shirley is excited about what could happen this season.
"A lot of the newness of it. I think it's exciting when we bring in so many new guys to see what we are capable of and to have fresh faces that are excited about being here. So far, the enthusiasm of the team has been at a very high level. I'm excited about that. We would like to get a little warmer, but we are looking forward to coming out everyday."
Shirley is beginning his eighth season as the longest-tenured Canaries manager, and with a bunch of new guys, there's an seasoned pitching staff returning for the skipper. Ben Moore, Kyle Ruwe, Kyle Vasquez, Kirk Clark, and Alan DeRatt all will take the mound for the Birds once again in 2014. Shirley is hoping that his top of the rotation ace and 11-year veteran (Moore) can be a leader and provide an insight for a relatively young team.
"I think it's important you have people on the staff or in the lineup that understand the league to help with certain information. Passing things onto them, talking to the other players, maybe even talk about some players they know from past, guys we're playing against and how to pitch them," says Shirley.
Moore knows who the Canaries will be playing on a nightly basis in the American Association. He's pitched for the Birds for a over a decade, and has been through a championship season, losing seasons, and even a name change from the Canaries to the Pheasants, and back to the Canaries. He knows the successes and failures of the game, and is hoping he and Ruwe can be valuable assets to the team as veteran pitchers.
"Well, I think the younger guys look at Kyle and I, they see our numbers and the way we throw, and are maybe like, 'I don't understand why he seems like he's good, but I am going to pick his brain.' Obviously, Kyle and I have been doing something right for the last four or five years now, and I think the younger guys get a kick out of just listening to us, and especially, Kyle, he's kind of a goofball."
Moore is 83-63 in his career with Sioux Falls, has been American Association player of the year twice (2010 and 2011), and holds the franchise record for wins, and strikeouts. Ruwe, meanwhile, went 11-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 2013. Even as young as the Birds are, Moore thinks Sioux Falls has enough to be a solid baseball team this summer.
"I think we are going to be really good, personally. We are going to play the game the right way. We are going take extra bases, hit behind runners, sac bunt, and do all the stuff that you need to win games. I really, truly believe that we are going to be good."
Kyle Kingsley, Matt Wickswat, Erick Gonzalez, Kaohi Downing, Josh Giles, John Brebbia, and Joe Bircher join the Canaries pitching staff.
While the Birds' arms will be experienced, Shirley's lineup may need some time to adjust. The Canaries bring back catcher Kevin Dultz (.256, 14 extra-base hits, and 14 RBI's in 2013) as their only position player returning. Shirley shares that the decision to go younger was a team, and organizational move to bring some excitement after a disappointing year in 2012.
"Sometimes it's players choice that they decide to move on or not play. Also, we wanted to make some changes. We tried to bring in some fresh people, a fresh approach, and are excited about being here," shares Shirley.
The Birds are still getting used to playing with each other, as a rain has shortened a few exhibition games, and there's been a few blowouts. Sioux City pounded the Canaries,19-0, and St. Paul homered four times to win 10-1 over Sioux Falls. The Birds have showed fight though, winning a hard fought 10-9 game over Sioux City on May 9.
One thing that serves as an advantage for Sioux Falls is their new hitters coming in have a lot of independent baseball experience. Shelby Ford played six seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and hit .315 with 34 RBI's with Forth Worth Cats of the Independent United League last summer. He says the Birds have a solid chemistry, and are trying to learn from some bad outings this spring.
"We got a great team and a bunch of guys. We like to give each other a hard time, but really it's always like, 'hey, what are you doing tonight, we're going to do this, want to go?' Everybody is including everybody, and there's no cliques. (Practice) has been going good. A couple of exhibition games kind of got away from us, but it's spring training. It happens. As pitchers, they're not trying to show everything they have because we don't want to give anything away. As hitters, we're going up, getting a feel putting together at-bats, getting timing, and trying to feel good and get in my rhythm."
First baseman Chris Duffy and outfielder Brandon Jones may have the biggest bats for the Birds this season. Duffy comes over in a trade for Tim Pahuta, and has big shoes to fill. His bat, and defense won't disappoint, as he hit .293 with 13 home runs, and 62 RBI's for New Jersey in the Can-Am League last year. He's hoping to carry over his previous success at the independent baseball level to help the Canaries win some ballgames.
"I'm excited to play baseball, period. I love the game. I live for it. Every year is a learning experience. You take a little bit from each year, and every year is it's own year. I had fun last year, and looking forward to having fun here."
Jones, meanwhile, has some big league seasoning, too. He played 51 games from 2007 to 2000 for the Atlanta Braves and hit .268, a home run, 10 doubles, a triple, and 17 RBI's for them. He's also made stops in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Milwaukee along the way. He played for the Kansas City T-Bones a year ago batting .326 with 14 home runs and a team-best 74 RBI's.
There's some other new players that have played in the minor leagues. Catcher Dallas Tarelton played in the Colorado Rockies top minor league level. Infielder Stephen Branca suited up the last two seasons in the San Francisco Giants organization. Outfielder Drew Muren played two years for Double-A Corpus Christi (Houston Astros).
The Canaries open the season tomorrow at the Birdcage at 7:05 against Sioux City. The first 1,500 fans receive a free Canaries magnet schedule. Fireworks will be shown after Friday's game.