Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future: Spoljaric Reflects on Baycats Career
BARRIE - The Barrie Baycats have had a lot of big signings during their first twenty years in existents.
None, however, have bigger than the signing of Paul Spoljaric in 2007.
The former big-leaguer came to the Intercounty Baseball League [IBL] shortly after his career in the majors came to an end and he instantly became the most dominant pitcher that the IBL has ever seen, winning two championships in six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But he wanted a change and for him, there was no better fit than the Baycats.
In a recent phone conversation, Spoljaric explained why he made the decision to leave the Maple Leafs for the Baycats following the end of the 2007 season.
"The biggest reason is it was closer to home and quite frankly [Maple Leafs owner] Jack [Dominico] was starting to get on my last nerves," laughed the former Toronto Blue Jay.
"To be completely honest with you, Jack wouldn't give me my release and I said 'okay, well, I'll quit then. You either give me my release to Barrie or I'll quit. I don't need the game.
"So, I kind of put him and Jim Rooney [the IBL commissioner at the time] on the spot and I don't know what happened behind the scenes from the Baycats side to make it all possible but they managed to make it work with Jack which I didn't think was ever possible.
"It happened and I don't regret a single second of it. I was proud to be a member of the Baycats, that's for sure."
Baycats president David Mills recalls how the Baycats managed to land Spoljaric quite well.
"In the early Baycats years [general manager at the time] Gary Calvert and I would travel to Toronto to watch our Baycats at Christie Pits as well to catch some playoff games, especially those Toronto versus Brantford games, both powerhouses.
"In a historic playoff game that saw Paul Spoljaric chase Lee Delfino around the bases after a bat flip, I became intrigued with this guy they called Spolly, a former Major Leaguer, now pitching in the IBL.
"...During visits to the Pits from 2005 to 2006, I met Lisa Spoljaric and the family. Conversations discovered that the family had just moved to Lisle, a hamlet 20 minutes from Barrie Metals Stadium. Lisa indicated that it would be great to have Paul play close to home and to have their 5 children able to watch their dad play in a great park setting.
"Now we had to put a plan in place to convince Paul to come to Barrie. In September 2007, Keeper [owner Gary Inskeep] and I invited Paul for a round of golf at National Pines to sell him on the benefits of playing here. This might have been considered tampering which would have been against IBL rules.
"With the help of Lisa, we had our man, however, not so fast. The IBL has some strict rules on whether a player can leave their existing team to play elsewhere. We approached Jack Dominico -- the owner of the Leafs -- to request Paul’s release.
"Needless to say, Jack wanted no part of our proposal and quickly dismissed our attempts. Keeper and I then approached the IBL Commissioner at that time, Jim Rooney, and made the pitch that because of moving to a location within our territory, he should be allowed to participate here.
"After a heated meeting in Toronto with Jack and the Commissioner, it was decided that Paul would be given his release with compensation.
"From there, Paul started his Baycats pitching career in 2008 and retired after the 2010 season. Having Spolly pitch and play three seasons for the Baycats was another great chapter within our organization. Our fans were afforded the opportunity to see some great pitching from this former major leaguer. This turned out to be an incredible coup for our organization."
If the Baycats' 2005 championship win over the Maple Leafs didn't ignite a rivalry between the two sides, Spoljaric jumping ship certainly did.
Spoljaric says he remembers the battles with the Maple Leafs as though it was yesterday.
"There was definitely some bad blood between the two sides," said Spoljaric. "...There was always chirping and there was always something going on during our games, whether it be drilling guys with pitches or sliding into second base hard.
"There was never good blood between the two sides, even when I was on the Leafs. They were a pesky, tough team at the time led by Angus Roy and you knew they were an up-and-coming team."
For Spoljaric, it just wasn't the Maple Leafs that he had a rivalry with.
He said it was the battles with the Brantford Red Sox that he remembers the most, highlighted by game seven in 2007 when he followed Delfino around the bases after a sky-high bat flip.
"I have always found that once you get to the semifinals in this league, there is no easy road to the championship and Brantford was no exception to that rule.
"They had incredible starting pitcher and one-to-nine their lineup was deep.
"I didn't like them to start with, though. I always thought that they were a chirpy bunch so for me, there was always this extra motivation when I faced them.
"They were the one team that I really wanted to beat and I didn't just want to beat them, I wanted to stomp them. Every time I faced them I wanted to have that 15 strikeouts, two-hit game where I allowed no runs and my offence thumped them for 15 runs.
"I had no love for them at all and that didn't even stem from Delfino's bat flip. That just made things a lot worse," laughed Spoljaric.
"I just thought as a guy who played professional baseball he should have had a better understanding of the game and the situation. If that was a home run that would have given them the lead I wouldn't have done anything but it didn't even tie the game. It brought them within a run.
"I took it as him insulting me and I instantly saw red. I snapped," said a laughing Spoljaric.
Spoljaric said his competitiveness always came from internal pressure.
"I had a lot more to lose by simply playing," recalled the former Kansas City Royal.
"Every game I pitched in the IBL was potentially going to be my last game, so I went into every start with the intent to win at all costs. Whether I was pitching for the Jays in the big leagues or for the Baycats in the IBL, my goal was the same and I wanted to win."
While Spoljaric was never able to enjoy a dog pile in Barrie, he said the memories and friendships that he has with past and current members of the organization will last a lifetime.
"Playing with the Baycats was so unique and I know this will not make sense but I felt as though I was already there before I was there.
"The group that was in that clubhouse was apart of an inner circle and it showed on the field with the camaraderie that we had. We were all pulling for each other.
"Every game it was something different, whether it was Spatty [Ryan Spataro] going off all the time or whether it was Biss [Brad Bissell] doing his thing.
"The list of players that had was great and we had so much fun. Every time I went to the ballpark there was no misunderstanding and that was because everyone knew the expectation was to win, yet that expectation came with no pressure. It was so unique in my baseball career.
"It was just an amazing feeling. Being there I felt things that I had never felt before. I have been traded many times in my career but never did I feel as though I was being traded home."
Spoljaric concluded by saying he is proud of everything the franchise has accomplished over the last six years.
"I am so proud of them. This franchise has always had a quiet confidence about them and that was there before I got there, once I got here, and after I left.
"The way Angus managed and trusted his players and the way he looked after everyone, it was just special. It was a whole organizational effort. Everyone was pulling on the same rope with the same amount of effort and it was surreal to watch.
"The only regret I have playing in Barrie is that I didn't win a championship. That was the whole reason why I wanted to go there but I am glad the guys after me did so.
"Going there renewed my love for baseball."
In 2009, Spoljaric was one out away from throwing the second no-hitter in Baycats history.
To view the box score from that game, click here.
Up next week in our "Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future," I write a Q&A with Brad Bissell, Adam Hawes, Jeff Cowan, and Ryan Spataro on their Baycat careers.
To read and watch our entire series, click here.
For more information, follow the Baycats on Facebook and Twitter at @iblbaycats and on Instagram at @barriebaycats.
Photo: Brian Backland/Brian Backland Photography