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SPORTS: Baseball in full bloom at the Pits (Summer 2023)

September 14th, 2023 · No Comments

Returning veterans, deep roster raise hopes for elusive championship

Toronto Maple Leafs outfielder Gregory Carrington connects on a pitch on July 30. The Leafs defeated the Hamilton Cardinals 9-5. (R.S. KONJEK/GLEANER NEWS)

By R.S. Konjek

Third time’s the charm.

Fans of Toronto Maple Leafs baseball are hoping that’s the case this summer.

In the past two seasons, the Leafs fell just short of winning the Intercounty Baseball League’s championship series. After an offseason that saw some major changes within the organization, the boys in blue are primed for another run at the title.

Jeff Lounsbury should know. As the club’s new general manager, he assembled the team that plays at Christie Pits every Sunday from May through August.

Lounsbury was hired by the Leafs after longtime player, manager, and team executive Damon Topolie announced his departure last December.

A former collegiate head coach and general manager of the Hamilton Cardinals, Lounsbury set out to preserve the heart of the existing Leafs roster while adding much-needed depth to the bench.

“Keeping the core together was paramount,” he said.   

The Leafs boast one of the most experienced rosters in the league. Some players have been with the team close to a decade or more.

Lounsbury’s efforts were successful. The veteran infield of Justin Marra, Jordan Castaldo, Dan Marra, Jose Vinicio and Johnathan Solazzo returned. Young outfielders Gregory Carrington, Ryan Dos Santos and Aiden McAskie came back. Marek Deska, Zach Sloan, Adam Marra, Sam Greene, Chris Nagorski and Ryan Wells were among the returning pitchers.

Many a Leaf postseason run has been disrupted by lack of depth at key positions. Past managers have been left looking through their fingers when they reached for help from the bench or bullpen.  

Lounsbury filled the holes in the Leafs roster with a mix of local youngsters and import players from the Caribbean, and they fit right in.

New manager Rob Butler has been overseeing the action on the field. The first-time skipper is a veteran of the game. Butler spent part of four seasons in the Major Leagues and is the only Canadian to win the World Series while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2001, Butler joined the Maple Leafs and played five seasons at Christie Pits. In that sense, his hire by the Leafs has been a kind of homecoming.

Lounsbury described the thinking that went into the Butler hire.

“We wanted someone with IBL experience and some veteran experience because of our older team,” he said. “It can be tough for a young guy to coach 35-year-olds. We reached out to Rob and it clicked really fast. He checked all the boxes. He has a great baseball mind; he’s calm and has a sense of humour.”

Entering August, the Leafs were in fourth place in the standings with a 15-14 record.  Lounsbury is not concerned.

“We had a great start offensively, but some struggles with the bullpen,” Lounsbury said.   “Rob is a new manager and trying to learn which kids fit into which role. Sometimes you lose a game trying new things out.”

As the season progressed, the Leafs bolstered their bullpen by signing four additional pitchers including returning fan favourite Dustin Richardson, a six-foot-six mountain of a man from Kansas.

“Richardson coming back is huge for us,” Lounsbury said. “He’s healthy, he’s lights out, he’s motivated.”

As are the rest of the Leafs. The 2023 IBL postseason will commence at the end of August. There is a “now or never” vibe in the team clubhouse. Some players, like former league MVP Jordan Castaldo, have indicated that this will be their final season of play. 

The Leafs are in their second year of caretaker operations following the passing of longtime owner Jack Dominico. In late July, the club announced that it was officially for sale and welcoming interest from prospective buyers.  

While the future of the club is to be determined, Lounsbury is focused on the present.  He is confident that he has assembled a Leafs team that could win its first championship since 2007.

“It’s really wide open,” he said of this year’s postseason race. “It’s as open as it’s ever been, but I think we’ve got the most depth. I don’t think other teams can go as deep as the Leafs.”

As for the Leafs’–and his own–future beyond this year, Lounsbury is not looking too far ahead.

“I knew why I was doing it,” he said about his decision to take on the job. “[It was] to continue Jack’s legacy.  I really like working with Rob. He’s more than willing to stick it out for the future, so we’ll play out this year and see what happens.”

As always, the Maple Leafs play home games every Sunday at Christie Pits with the opening pitch at 2:00 pm. The regular season wraps up on Aug. 20 and the playoffs will begin soon after.

More information about Maple Leafs baseball, and their regular and postseason schedules can be found at: 


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