BAYCATS BEAT: OPENING DAY THROWBACK + BAYCATS SIGN RICK PHILLIPS
BARRIE -- Snow is good for the Holidays, not baseball.
Other than the excitement of the holidays, this time of year is not the best if you are a baseball fan. Maybe it is for transactions, but with the season still over five months away, all you can really do is watch games from last season.
For the Baycats, last season saw a trip all the way to the IBL finals with plenty of great moments. On this week’s Baycats Beat, we look back at the opening day walk-off last season and the events that led up to it. In addition, the Baycats picked up a new outfielder.
RIJO, MATLOW SPEAK ON THE OPENING-DAY COMEBACK
A real tone-setter for the rest of the season. A matchup between two teams separated by a trip up, or down, highway 400. The 2022 season ended in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs so this matchup was one Barrie marked not only because it was opening day at home, but there was also unfinished business.
Ryan Rijo, who hit three home runs in three playoff games against the Maple Leafs in that sweep, remembers the comeback on opening day. Along with being the walk-off hero, Rijo was a team leader and gave his thoughts on the game.
“We were getting our butts kicked by the team that knocked us out in 2022,” Rijo said. By the third inning, Toronto had taken a 5-0 lead and would go on to score five more runs in the next three innings.
“It was cold [and] nobody wanted to be there, everyone was down,” said Rijo, explaining what the energy was like. Former Baycat Jordan Castaldo had just hit a three-run double to make it 10-4 Leafs. That would be all Toronto would get as Barrie found life.
“Something came over us and we were like screw it we’re here let’s get something going.” That they did as the Baycats started to chip away at the deficit. But with two innings left, it would not be easy.
Rijo would do his part as he and Royce Ando would drive in two on back-to-back doubles. The ninth would start off with a walk to Carson Burns. Five out of the next six Baycats to come up all reached base, setting up Rijo again, this time, a chance to win it.
On the first pitch from Adam Marra, Rijo knocked it into centre field bringing in the winning run to cap off a wild opening-day victory for the Baycats. They had just scored five unanswered runs in the eighth and ninth innings and delivered the Maple Leafs their first loss of the season and a heartbreaking one if you’re a Toronto fan.
“Toronto controlled the game right from the first pitch. We were completely out of it early and they were cruising throughout the game,” said Baycats Manager and President Josh Matlow. “I don’t know what happened, but we just woke up late.”
“Just a bad start to the season, wiped away with a heroic comeback extremely late in the game,” he added. ”Was definitely a memorable moment and game during the 2023 season. It was a sign of what was to come.”
Matlow then relived his reaction once the winning run was scored.
“I remember running to join the guys celebrating on the field and kept yelling, what? What? What happened? It happened so fast it didn’t seem real.”
“We took off like a rocket,” said Rijo, describing the turnaround.
BARRIE BAYCATS SIGN OUTFIELDER RICK PHILLIPS
With the expectation of Canice Ejoh heading to the Frontier League, Avery Tuck and Starlin Rodriguez expected to explore other opportunities, and Noel McGarry-Doyle in a position to possibly enter the MLB draft, the need for outfielders on this team has become more noticeable.
Last season, the Baycats had one of the best outfields in the league which featured speed, power, and a high on-base average at the top of the lineup. They also had depth with the likes of Branfy Infante, Brad McQuinn, and James Anderson. All three are expected to return in 2024.
With that, General Manager Josh Matlow has been busy looking to fill in a new starting outfield with the first player being Rick Phillips. Before Phillips signed with Barrie, he won an MVP in the Mavericks League that was followed by a first-team All-Star nomination last year in the Pecos League. Both of those are independent leagues located in the western United States.
Phillips, age 26, hit .376 last season with 36 out of his 76 hits going for extra bases including 14 home runs and 20 doubles. He also collected 15 stolen bases on 19 tries and walked 30 times. Matlow was very excited when he spoke about the signing.
“Ricky is a super athlete with great power, speed, and baseball ability. We are looking forward to having him bolster the middle of our lineup all season long,” Getting a guy like Phillips who has similar attributes to Ejoh, Tuck, and Rodriguez is a good thing. The Baycats needed a guy to complement Ryan Rijo in the middle of the lineup and Matlow thinks he got that in Phillips.
“His ability to hit for power, get on base but also steal bases will make our lineup even more dangerous in 2024!”
Cover Photo: Bob Burley Photography