Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future: Q&A with the Lifetime Baycats

by Ryan Eakin

BARRIE - The following is a Q&A with the four "Lifetime Baycats" Brad Bissell, Adam Hawes, Jeff Cowan, and Ryan Spataro.

Eakin: What went into your decision to join the Baycats?

Bissell: I actually had an interest in playing for them in their first season but what happened was I was playing for Team Ontario -- which before the Ontario Blue Jays blew up was the best travelling team in Ontario. But I got into the school that I eventually went to so reached out to the Baycats saying 'I need a place to play' because I thought there was no point in paying to play for Team Ontario when I have already got into the school that I want. At that point, though, I kind of got turned down because I don't think they knew much about me at that point. So I went to school and when I was down there I got a call saying 'yeah, we'd be interested in you playing here.' I was happy because I knew I wanted to play closer to home instead of playing summer ball down in the States because I was on a student visa and couldn't get a work visa, so I'd be making no money. So playing the best level of baseball while making money made it easy for me to come to Barrie to play.

Eakin: So, you joined the Baycats, and then just a few seasons into your tenure the team won their first championship. But you weren't there the night they won because you had to head back to school. What do you remember about that and the series itself?

Bissell: The fact that I was able to stay for as long as I did was crazy because in my freshman year I ended up missing the first two weeks of class so that I could play in the Canada Summer Games and I was able to postpone my arrival again. But the issue was my school had a strict attendance policy so if I missed 'x' amount of classes you automatically fail the class no matter what your mark was. So I needed to get an exemption and I did. I said 'I really want to be here for this,' and they said yes but if you aren't back by a certain date you are going to flunk your first-semester courses and if that happened I wouldn't have been eligible to play ball in the spring. 

So I pushed it as far as I could and on that Saturday night in game six, it started to rain with thousands of people packed inside Barrie Metals. I remember being on the field with my Tim Horton's cup trying to get the water off the field because I wanted to get the game in and I wanted to because I knew we were going to win and I really wanted to be there for it.

But it got rained out and I just remember getting off the plane when I had a stopover and I instantly called [general manager at the time] Gary Calvert because at the time -- in 2005 -- he was the only person I knew that had a cell phone. I remember running over to a payphone and phoning him -- knowing it was around the fourth inning -- and he didn't answer his phone. I ended up leaving him the worst message that I have ever left someone because he didn't answer.

Eventually, I landed in Charleston and I ran to the first payphone I saw and called Gary again and by that time everyone was in the clubhouse celebrating. It was a great moment but I was disappointed that I was not there for it especially because of how well I pitched that season. There was a game in that series -- game two -- where I pitched maybe the best game that I have ever pitched. If I remember it correctly we were winning 1-0 heading into the ninth inning and by this time I had struck out 13 or 14 batters. I ended up walking [future Baycat] Jeremy Walker with one-out and then Gamin Teague came up and hit one over [highway] 26. 

I was pitching one of the greatest games of my life but now we were losing 2-1 in the finals. We actually came back and won in the bottom of the ninth but what a rollercoaster of emotions. 

Eakin: Earlier today I asked Mada [Hawes] about the 2014 playoff run and I kind of jumped right into asking him about the series with the Majors. But what do you remember about the night you ended the Red Sox streak in 2013, because for me after you guys beat [Jamie] Richmond in game six, I truly believed I was walking into the stadium the next night with the understanding that you guys were going to slay the Red Sox dragon.

Bissell: After we beat Richmond in game six I had the same confidence that I had in 2005 and that was I knew we were going to win game seven and once we won game seven I knew we were going to beat London. Just watching 'The Last Dance' over the last month, you see the Bulls had to beat all these top teams in the East such as the Pacers and Knicks, and once they finally did that the finals were what they were.

That was kind of like that for me in 2014. Once we got past Brantford, it was over. We may lose a game or two to London but that was it. We knew we were going to beat them. That wasn't even a question.

Eakin: The one pitching performance in franchise history that does not get enough love is your relief appearance in game three of the 2014 finals when it was clear Chris Kemlo didn't have a lot left in the tank. What do you remember about that game for you?

Bissell: Honestly, I don't even remember a ton about it. It was a blur. For the most part, I was a starting pitcher my entire career. It was what I was familiar with. That year, I would have loved to have started game one, game four, or whatever, but I always prided myself on doing what's best for the team. So if that meant coming out of the bullpen in game four, then so be it. Even if it meant catching bullpen, then so beat it. I just wanted so badly to bring that trophy home that year that I was going to do whatever it took.

But yeah, I wasn't comfortable that night. Being a starting pitcher, I was a creature of habit and had my set ways, but having that outing, it made me feel good for sure.

Eakin: This is a loaded question but I'll ask it anyway. What is your favourite memory -- on or off the field -- through your time with the Baycats.

Bissell: Last year we were playing Kitchener in the finals and in game two, it was my son's Bryson's birthday. And he came to the game as did Callie Spataro [Ryan Spataro's daughter] and they rode on the bus. After the game, our bus driver as you know had heartburn, gall bladder, kidney stones, or something wrong with him and he had to go to the hospital. Spatty [Spataro] ended up driving the bus but then we ended up stopping on the side of some random road because the bus driver was coming back and was getting dropped off by an Uber. At that time it was midnight and officially my son's birthday so all the boys sang him happy birthday and it was amazing. As a father, being able to share that experience with him is why I wanted to keep playing for all these years. 

For the guys to make it acceptable for him to come on the bus and do what they did that night, it was just really amazing.

Eakin: What went into your decision to join the Baycats?

Hawes: When I was done my pro career I still loved playing and competing. I didn't know much about the IBL [Intercounty Baseball League] at the time but I knew it was the closest place I could play while still playing competitive baseball.

"I knew it was a league made up of ex-pro guys and ex-college guys so that is really what drew me to the league and the Baycats."

Eakin: When you joined the Baycats, the Red Sox were just getting going as a dynasty. What do you remember about the battles with the Red Sox?

Hawes: I just always remember it being a battle. There was always something that would lead to us coming up a little bit short. We had great teams and they had great teams but it just seemed like they were together while we always had a revolving door of guys outside of the five or six regulars. I think it's kind of cool how what they had ended up being mirrored by us years later. 

Eakin: You guys ended up ending the Red Sox run in 2014 and you played a big part of that by having a few incredible relief appearances out of the bullpen. What do you remember about that postseason run?

Hawes: We knew that we had an amazing team that year so for us, it was just a matter of conquering that "Brantford Ghost." I think that year we were looser than past years -- we had more confidence and I think that was because we had great starting pitching and because we knew that no one had the bullpen that we had.

Eakin: A couple of weeks after beating the Red Sox, you beat the Majors in London to win the championship and you got the final out to do so. What do you remember about the night you won in London?

Hawes: I loved being in those types of situations -- the high-pressure situations. Being able to get the final out and to celebrate with [Kyle] DeGrace and [Jordan] Castaldo -- in the photo that has been circulating for years -- it was just really nice.

Eakin: Being one of the guys who had to get knocked down a couple of times before getting over the hump, how incredible were the last six seasons?

Hawes: It's amazing because before this run I had great relationships with a lot of the guys but around 2014 you could see that we were becoming a cohesive unit as a team and I think when I reflect on all of this, that is what I'm going to remember most because everything we accomplished over the last few years we did so as a family.

Eakin: You mentioned the word 'family.' Did you ever think that when you first joined the Baycats that all of these guys would end up becoming your second family?

Hawes: When I came to this team I just wanted to play baseball at a competitive level. I didn't know many of the guys, so to become this close with them it almost made baseball secondary because these are relationships that I will have for the rest of my life. These guys were in my wedding party and we hang out regularly, so it is nice that this league has provided me and the other guys some lifelong relationships. 

Eakin: What went into your decision to join the Baycats?

Cowan: The year after they won the championship a couple of their players left and they were looking to add a few players, so I came I guess in '06. I was just looking to play baseball in the summer to stay in shape but at the time I didn't know much about the league. I remember going with my Dad to watch the Maple Leafs play at Christie Pitts when I lived in Scarborough but I had never gone to a Baycats game, funny enough. 

I had a cottage just outside of Elmvale -- my family did -- and between that and knowing a couple of guys who I played with on Team Ontario, that is what led me to join the Baycats. 

Eakin: Just from talking to some of the other guys on this team, they all said the same thing and that is they joined this league just to play some baseball in the summer. Could you ever have imagined this team becoming such a big part of your life?

Cowan: It's actually pretty amazing because I still talk with some of the guys who I played with down in North Carolina and I tell them that I still play in a league that provides us with a bus, rings, and all of that. They can't believe how lucky we are -- they would kill for what we have. Some of them live in North Carolina and some of them live in Florida, so real baseball states, yet they have no leagues that are quite unique as this. They have leagues down there but none where ex-pro guys are coming in, and where college guys are coming in. We are spoiled up here.

Eakin: I have asked some of the guys about the battles with Brantford but I want to ask you about the battles with Kitchener because I had always known you to be a guy like Spatty where you are always so graceful, but by the time 2018 came around, it was hard for you to hide your dislike for them at times. Just what do you remember about those wars with Kitchener?

Cowan: We would go in the clubhouse after some of those games and the guys would say to me "did you know you said that?" They were always great battles. We faced them a lot during the regular season but nothing really happened. Most of those games neither of us really ever had our full squads so we knew come playoff time it was going to be a different season. Come playoff time you just tried to put away those personal relationships so that you could just focus on the baseball side of things and I think that is what made those series so special and that was because I had a lot of respect for that team.

Eakin: I'll ask you about your favourite off-field memory next but when it comes to on-the-field memories, what are some of the ones that you cherish the most?

Cowan: Running into a dogpile was always amazing and always seeing Spataro make an amazing play in the outfield or at the plate was amazing too. I would actually say more so the plays he made in the outfield because we all knew what he could do with his bat but what he did defensively was amazing, whether it was throwing a guy out at the plate in Christie Pits (July 9th, 2013 when he threw Justin Gianfrancesco out at home to win the ball game in the bottom of the ninth inning), whether it was making a fabulous play down the line in Guelph to catch a foul ball (game two of the semifinals against the Royals in 2013), or whether it was throwing a guy out at second trying to extend a single into a double. All those plays were so special to see because you didn't see them from any other player in the league. 

Seeing Hawsey get the final outs in 2014 and 2018 was amazing too. I can't even think of anything that I did personally. It has been just so fun watching our group do what they did. Like watching Emily [Guerrero] do what he did on the mound in a nonchalant way, baffling hitters with his slider. It was just so fun to see our guys do what they did.

Eakin: When it comes to off-field memories, what are some of your favourites?

Cowan: Getting together at Spatty's house a couple of times a year in the summertime is always great. He's got a pool there now so it's always great to see a couple of generations of players there. The get-togethers at the holidays are always fun and Spatty driving the bus last year was an absolute classic. The old trips to Ottawa were special, too. We would get to Ottawa the night before we played and we would get off the bus and pile all of our stuff into the hotel room before going out for the night. 

That is where I got my nickname 'chainsaw.' I was rooming with Biss and [Adam] Reynolds and poor Reynolds was going to start the next day, so Biss and I went out and we came back to our hotel and we thought we were quiet but apparently, we weren't. I remember waking up the next day with four or five pillows beside me and I'm thinking to myself 'Eakin that there was no way I went to sleep with this many pillows.' I asked Biss what happened and he said I was 'snoring really loud, you were like a goddamn chainsaw and all I could do was keep throwing pillows at you but it did nothing.' So he was like 'that's it, I'm [expletive] calling you chainsaw.'

So that is where I got that nickname from and that is what stands out, even if it was just a two-minute exchange. 

Even the bus trips were always great, even if we travelled to Hamilton only to get rained out. It was just always nice to hang out on the bus and talk. Sometimes we didn't even put on a movie and in fact, last year I don't think we did that much at all. We would just chat and that was just a really nice thing.

Eakin: With Spatty still undecided you are the only vet that is coming back in 2021 as of right now. Why is it important for you to come back and play for one more season?

Cowan: I want to end on a high note. We won the championship last season and that is fantastic so I shouldn't phrase it like that but I want to be there more. You know, I just had my daughter that last year and while my wife kept telling me I could go and play, it didn't feel right. She was so young and while my wife was fantastic it just didn't feel right. She was understanding but it was more so me. I would have felt bad if I had left to go play on a lot of nights. 

So I just want to end on a more consistent note by actually playing rather than coming off the bench.

Eakin: What went into your decision to join the Baycats?

Spataro: I ended up getting released near the end of spring training in 2005 and it was tough coming home, knowing my childhood dream of making the big leagues were gone. But I had known about the Baycats because I had heard about them when I would come home in the winter and I actually attended one of their workouts to get some work in before one of my seasons in the [Minnesota] Twins organization started.

So I actually reached out to this guy named Billy Dobson who is no longer with the team but he was the only guy from the Baycats that I knew. My thinking was I could play there and hopefully get seen so that I could get picked back up, which obviously didn't happen. I had a couple of calls but nothing came out of it. 

I just ended up having a lot of fun playing in my hometown where I grew up and we obviously had a pretty amazing season in my first season with the team.

Eakin: I'm sure you had offers to play at least indy-ball after your 2005 season. Why did you decide to stick with the Baycats?

Spataro: Yeah, I did. I ran some camps in the offseason with a place I think called Frozen Ropes and it was with Rick Johnston down in the city and he mentioned that if I wanted to play indy-ball he knows that there would have been a lot of teams that would love to have me. 

But the one thing that happened in my first year with the Baycats was that baseball became fun for me again. When I was in the minors it was fun but there was always someone trying to get ahead of you and take your spot and guys deep down were hoping for injuries just so that they would get called up and have a chance to prove themselves. As much as baseball was just a game it felt as though it was competition even within your own clubhouse at times. 

But when I got to the Baycats I just remember meeting Alex Borgo, Angus Roy, and everyone else and you could just see that they were all great guys who were really warming. They instantly took me in and treated me as one of the guys.

Eakin: Yeah, as you said, the team won the championship in your first season. What do you remember about that run?

Spataro: Yeah, I didn't even understand the history between the two teams coming into that year. It was just my understanding that in the past when we faced them, the coaches would just say 'okay, boys, let's go out there and keep it close!' We didn't even use Angus against them because we felt as though it would be a waste just because they had the Butler brothers and Spoljaric. 

But in either the first or second game against them in my first season, I had a massive game. I hit an opposite-field triple off the wall and I threw the tying run out at the plate to win the ball game. It was one of the first times in franchise history that we had ever beaten the Maple Leafs so that was kind of cool and everyone kind of made a big deal about it. 

Then making it to the finals, the clubhouse was amazing with guys like Jordan Lundberg, David Latour, Cam Newitt, Jared McCord, and even some of the guys who have come and gone over the years.

We were worried if we made it to a game seven but facing Spoljaric in game six, we were all staying upbeat. We had lost Jonathan Baksh at that point which wasn't great but we still had our best guy in Angus going for us.

We had breakfast at the Mandarin Buffet the day of the game which probably wasn't the best idea but it was a great night.

I remember taking Spoljaric deep which was pretty cool because it's not often you take an ex-big leaguer deep, especially in our yard. 

I also remember Danny Gibbons missing a ball in the outfield which led to a Jordan Lundberg triple and that gave us the lead.

And I, of course, remember the final out where Goose threw a slider for strike two and the batter -- I believe it was Nildo Puertas -- swung and threw his bat to the shortstop. He threw another slide for strike three and after that, I just remember the dogpile and all of us going the Penalty Box in true Baycats fashion after the game. 

That night, people just kept saying 'keep the tab rolling' and it was for sure one of the best moments I ever had as a Baycat.

Eakin: Moving ahead to 2014, you guys are up 3-0 in the championship series against London and up 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning in game four but they had the bases loaded and Ryan Lapensee hit what looked to be a walk-off grand slam, only for you to make the greatest catch in franchise history. What do you remember about the catch?

Spataro: I remember Goose [Roy] giving us the sign for no doubles and so I moved back. Lapensee at the time was the best hitter in the league and all I could see was the ball go back and I was saying 'oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh.' I just remember backing into the fence and just doing anything to keep the ball in the yard and I did.

It was big because if we lose that game, who knows what happens. 

Eakin: I'll end with the same loaded question I had for the other guys and that is what is your favourite moment from the last 15 years?

Spataro: Coming in '05, not knowing what to expect and still winning was amazing, especially given that everyone was saying 'Toronto is going to win, they have all the best players and all these ex-big leaguers.' That was super cool.

But off the field is where the true memories are. As much as it seems as though the Baycats are dismantled, there's a Zoom call every Friday night at 8:30 and everyone is on there chatting as if nothing is wrong. They're all asking when the pool parties are going to be.

We are still going to see each other.

To view the boxscore from Bissell's game two performance against the Maple Leafs in 2005, click here.

And to view the boxscore from the Baycats' win over the Maple Leafs in May of 2005, click here.

Up next week in our "Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future," I chat with Baycats icon Angus Roy on his Baycats career.

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