Leaning on the batting cage as he prepared for his 13th opening day as a professional baseball player, Sebastien Boucher got to discussing championship rings with his manager Hal Lanier. Or rather how many rings each had.
About to begin his 41st year in professional baseball as a player, coach or manager and his 19th season managing in independent baseball, the soon-to-be-75-year-old Lanier had a senior moment and couldn’t quite recall how many he had earned over the years.
Boucher, 40 years Lanier’s junior with a fresher memory, had no such trouble.
“I’m running out of fingers,” joked Boucher, though it’s hardly much of a stretch because the next ring for Boucher is going to have to be for a thumb.
When the Ottawa Champions celebrate their 2016 Can-Am Baseball League title with an official ring ceremony Friday night and Boucher strides from the home dugout to behind home plate to shake the hand of Can-Am League commissioner and Champions owner Miles Wolff, that will make it championship ring No. 8 for the Champions centre-fielder.
Counting them up, it will Boucher’s sixth in the Can-Am League (the first five with the Quebec Capitales), and two more for conference championship rings he earned at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla.
And ring No. 9 is hardly out of the question in 2017, not with a talent-laden Champions roster that returns 10 players from last year’s squad.
“We really stepped it up as an organization and that we won, really helped,” said Boucher, who played his first season at home since his minor baseball days as a teen growing up in Ottawa, then spent the winter in frigid Blackburn Arena on early Saturday and Sunday mornings watching five-year-old son Matteo in his first season of organized hockey. “This season, I hope we can create even more buzz in the city.”
The Champions begin building on 2016 with the season opener Thursday night Against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles and optimism is high.
On paper, the Champions have to be rated a solid contender to repeat, if not solely because of a starting pitching rotation that returns four of five starters, almost unheard of in independent baseball.
It starts with Can-Am League pitcher-of-the-year Austin Chrismon, who posted eight wins and a 2.39 ERA before tossing a complete gem in the fifth and deciding game of the Can-Am final.
Right behind Chrismon is the league leader with wins (10) in Daniel Cordero, who spent the winter in Canada and will apply for Canadian citizenship as soon as he becomes eligible, leaving his native Venezuela behind.
Fellow Venezuelan Yean Carlos Gil and Steve Borkowski hold down the third and fourth spots with a chance Gatineau native Phillippe Aumont may figure in the rotation before long.
The outfield is also set with holdovers Boucher in centre and Matt Helms and Adron Chambers on the flanks with Can-Am veteran Steve Brown over from Les Aigles.
And the catching is in solid hands with incumbent Danny Grauer and newcomer Tyler Nordgren.
That leaves uncertainty in only the bullpen, where closer Tyler Wlson opted for the Long Island Ducks, and the infield due to the retirements of league MVP Kenny Bryant and Albert Cartwright.
The bullpen will remain in flux for some time the infield will count on veteran Daniel Bick at short, with newcomers Ricky Oropesa at first, much-touted Brian Bistagne at second and Dominican Gustavo Pierre, who was scouted and recruited by the club’s owner.
“It’s always challenging putting a team together but I really like the club,” said Lanier. “We have replaced the guys who retired with quality people.
“Oropesa was at triple-A and double-A with the (San Francisco) Giants and Bistagne was an all-star in the American Association.
“All winter, we had 12 guys returning until the retirements. But I’m happy with the 10 back.”
Lanier puts off retirement in hopes of repeat
That mid-September night when the Ottawa Champions capped their 2016 season with a Can-Am League championship win on the field in Pomona, N.Y., was just too soon for manager Hal Lanier to start thinking about 2017.
So he did what he does every fall. He packed up his car and drove back home to Orlando, and put baseball behind him.
Then the phone started ringing.
“It took me about 2 1/2 months this time and five or six guys started calling, asking what my plans were and if I was coming back,” said Lanier, set to turn 75 on the 4th of July. “And I thought about it and I thought how I really enjoyed it and I just couldn’t say no.
“There was so much reward for me and the coaching staff with what these guys did last year. And the other reason, well it was still fun.
“You know it doesn’t matter where you win a championship or at what level of baseball you do it at. You should be very proud of it.
“And when they start handing out rings, I am sure the players will reflect back on just what a season we had.”
Winning another title does have its perks for the manager and Lanier will manage the Can-Am all-stars July 25 when the Champions host the 2017 Independent Baseball all-star game at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Stadium.
Over in the other dugout managing the rival American Association all-stars will be Rick Fournier, who pitched for Lanier, then became his pitching coach, then took over as manager of the Winnipeg Goldeyes when Lanier left town after 10 seasons.
“(Fournier) has won a couple of championships and we talk often,” said Lanier. “Let’s just say, I keep an eye on him.”
Article written by Don Campbell on the Ottawa Sun Website. Follow the link here.