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Guelph Royals looking to take the next step

Intercounty Baseball League squad returns many veterans when they hit the field for their first game on Saturday
Guelph Royals pitcher A.J. Mackey delivers a pitch to a Hamilton Cardinals batter at Hastings Stadium. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday file photo

Guelph Royals manager Dave TeBoekhorst isn’t one to make bold predictions.

After finishing well back of the pack in fifth place in the Intercounty Baseball League standings last summer and being ousted in the first round of playoffs, TeBoekhorst is just looking for improvement on a team that went 16-20 in the regular season.

The Royals open their IBL season Saturday, May 11, at 1 p.m. against the Kitchener Panthers at Hastings Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m.

“I want these guys to shoot for better than what we were last year,” TeBoekhorst said.

“I want us to look at last year and say ‘that’s good,’ but I want us to improve on that.

“I expect a very successful season, but as for where we’ll finish and predicting that, it’s not really my style.”

Guelph hasn’t won the league championship since 2004.

In fact only two teams have won it in the past 11 seasons: The Barrie Baycats have won five straight league crowns and before that it was Brantford Red Sox winning six in a row.

The team returns four of last year’s imports from the Dominican Republic, including slugger Angel Villalona, the one-time highly touted San Francisco Giants prospect who only got into five regular season games last year due to visa complications.

Montreal native Fernando Fernandez-Beltran joins the pitching staff. The lefty played in the Australian Baseball League over the winter.

Also joining the pitching staff is Intercounty Baseball League veteran Bret Lawson.

The 6’7” Lawson pitched for Barrie the last six seasons. He comes to Guelph in exchange for infielder Jon Waltenbury.

“He’s actually turned himself into a real nice pitcher, he’s not so much a thrower any more,” said TeBoekhorst of Lawson.

“The amount of knowledge he brings, well you just can’t put a price on it. We’re super pumped to have him here.”

Also signed is pitcher Joel Espinal, who spent four seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays system, and Jean Carlos Hernriquez, who spent two seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays system.

The team is still working on signing some players, several of who are still mulling over their options.

“We do so much work from January to the middle of February, but getting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from people is so hard,” TeBoekhorst said.

All the key veterans return, including all-time IBL home run leader Sean Reilly, Justin Interisano and Josh Garton.

Infielder Liam Hicks has retired as a player but will help out as a bench coach.

The Burlington Herd have relocated this season to Welland, where they will be known as the Jackfish.

The Royals haven't yet been able to hold an outdoor session at Hastings Stadium due to the wet field conditions, but have been working out indoors since mid-March.