Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future: 2019 Championship in Review with Ryan Rijo
BARRIE - The 2019 season was the last dance for the Barrie Baycats dynasty.
And they went out with a bang, capturing their record-tying sixth straight championship against the Kitchener Panthers in September of 2019.
Baycats' first basemen Ryan Rijo recalls the championship season quite well.
"Last season was crazy because at the beginning we were short on guys early on," said Rijo. "Guys like Biss [former pitcher Brad Bissell] were getting at-bats.
"No one could make it to games but we started to come together and it was crazy. Anytime you have a guy like [former first basemen Jon] Waltenbury in the sixth hole and me in the seventh hole, it's good.
"It was as talented as a team that I've played on. If Kyle [DeGrace] didn't get hurt we would have walked away with the pennant.
"I mean, we had Glenny [former outfielder Glenn Jackson] on the bench. There is no way he should have been but that is how deep we were.
"We all had our own roles. Every college team I played on in the past I had pressure to hit home runs but last season I was able to relax and be the hitter that I am because of how much talent and depth we had."
As Rijo said, the Baycats didn't walk away with the pennant.
They ended up playing a one-game, winner-takes-all for the pennant against the Panthers.
They won and would go on to win their first 11 playoff games and had a 3-0 series lead against the Panthers in the league championship series as a result.
But they lost game four in Kitchener and then lost a heartbreaking game five in Midhurst.
Suddenly, the pressure was on the Baycats, with fans and talking heads bringing up the fact that the Baycats blew a 3-0 series lead in 2013 to the Brantford Red Sox.
Rijo said the Baycats were all business heading into game six against the Panthers.
"Heading into that game, some of the guys were laughing and bringing up the fact that they blew that lead to Brantford in 2013," said the Barrie, Ontario native.
"But we all understood that we were a different team than they were then. I wasn't on that team in 2013 obviously but I know the guys were more mature to handle this than they would have been back then.
"So outside of making a few jokes we were all business. We showed up expecting to come away with a win and it was actually on the busway down I had a great feeling about the night because it was a pretty quiet bus ride, which told me we were all business and expecting to win.
"I kind of had a feeling we were going to put a pounding on them and that's what we did.
"We had that mindset that we were going to do it now or do it never but honestly, in my heart, there was no doubt in my mind that if we lost that game we were going to win game seven at home."
Lose they didn't.
They won and made history as a result.
Rijo said tying the Red Sox streak was in the back of their mind all season long.
"There was obviously a bit of chatter all season long but we tried not to think about it too much because we didn't need the added pressure," said Rijo.
"But truthfully, there was no pressure because every time we were together as a group -- even outside of baseball -- we were a family.
"...I think what brought me the most comfort was the feeling that everyone in the clubhouse was confident. We always felt that we were going to get it done, whether it was in the first inning or ninth inning and I think you saw that in the finals when we trailed multiple times early in that series."
After winning their record-tying sixth championship in a row, general and field manager Angus Roy stepped down and thus begun the exodus for many of the players who were apart of all six of the Baycats' championships.
Rijo said it was the night they won that he began to think the run with this group was coming to an end.
"I wasn't trying to pay attention to that stuff during the season because I have heard every year since I got here that 'this is it.'
"So when it really hit home for me was after we won we went to Hawsey's (pitcher Adam Hawes] and the guys actually started to get sentimental.
"That's when it hit me and made me think 'oh wow, this is not going to be the same team that it was.'
"There were some obvious ones that I expected but seeing some of them leave, it hurts. It really does."
With all the departures, there is no denying that Rijo is now the face of the Baycats, both on the field and off the field, with Jackson now calling the Baycats the "Dream's Team," in reference to Rijo's nickname "The Dream."
Rijo says he's honoured to just be a part of the Baycats, let alone be the face of the team.
"Wow," chuckled Rijo when I told him about Jackson's comments. "I can't believe he said that to you.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you I don't feel pressure because I do want to be that guy that fills in and becomes that guy right away but that's not going to happen. I'm not going to become [Baycats legend Ryan] Spataro right away where every kid is yelling his name, Glenny where everyone loves him, or Kyle where everyone says 'man, what a dog, he works his ass off.
"It's not going to happen right away but even just hearing Glenny saying that, it makes me feel special. That's all I ever wanted. This is my hometown and I love playing for the Baycats.
"I have been coming to games ever since I was a little kid and it was always a dream of mine. I remember going to games when I was eight or nine and I loved watching Spatty play. And then I got to play with him.
"I'm just happy I get the chance to make our fans happy and more importantly the kids. You see what I'm like with them. The championships are just the icing on the cake.
"The fact that I'm now about to get the opportunity to do what those guys did for this team, it's special.
"These guys have coached me and have made me a better man. Now I just want to continue their legacies."
Up next week in our "Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future," I will be chatting with Baycats manager Josh Matlow on what he and the team have been up to during this extended offseason.
To read and watch our entire series, click here.
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Photo: Brian Backland/Brian Backland Photography