The Guelph Royals can’t help but think of how things might have gone for them this year in the Intercounty Baseball League had the season not been cancelled.
“We were preparing to win,” Royals’ owner and general manager Shawn Fuller said. “We were preparing to field one of the best teams that Guelph's seen in some time. It was anchored by great local talent and we had made upgrades with all those import slots as well. It's too bad, it could've been our year.
“We had housing booked. We had flights paid for. We had spent money on visas. We were fully invested.”
The team isn’t just disappointed for the lack of a season, they’re also disappointed that their fans didn’t get to enjoy the games and them nights that they had planned.
“The two things that we were really geared up around were, one, putting together an even better team than we had in the previous two years and without a doubt we made the team better and, two, doubling down on the fan experience to make sure that we had kind of taken everything that we'd learned over the last two seasons to make sure that we had a really great outing for families to come and enjoy some time at the park.
"We had all the theme days worked out and we had a very, very competitive team. It was going to be a lot of fun at Hastings.”
A lot of work had been put in organizing the theme nights and there was one that Fuller thought would be a big draw.
“The one that I was most excited about was that we had partnered up with Lucas Films to do a Star Wars night. I think that would've been a lot of fun,” he said. “The R2-D2 jerseys had been designed and we had a letter of permission from Lucas Films to proceed with that. The jerseys themselves looked great and they were going to be auctioned off to raise money for the Guelph Children's Foundation. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but it's something we can kind of put in the can for the 2021 season.”
On the baseball front, the league had pursued the idea of playing some sort of season, but it was eventually scrapped due to the various problems in each of its centres.
“We're a victim of COVID-19 just like everyone else,” Fuller said.
“We held on hope that we could've played some type of season. The contingency plan was to run with maybe a smaller league. Five teams were committed to playing. We were prepared to have no imports and everyone would just use local players and we may even have played an abbreviated schedule – maybe a 20-game schedule or something more like that. But it got parked.
"We were running out of summer. All of the municipalities kind of had their own quirks and challenges in terms of park availability and just the ability to play. Some of the teams still don't have access to their parks.”
The Royals, though, have taken part in a couple of events. They held their own eight-player Home Run Derby in an empty Hastings Stadium a couple of weeks ago and they also played in last weekend’s London Majors’ Legacy Classic.
“Both of those were good just to have some baseball activity over the summer,” Fuller said. “The Home Run Derby was an experiment. We wanted to try to do something, not only to get the guys out on the field but to have some content that we could share in video format with the fans that they could enjoy in the comfort of their own homes.”
Josh Garton of Team Guelph won the contest that also included Sean Reilly, Justin Interisano and Jeff MacLeod. All four played with the Royals in 2019. On Team IBL were Cleveland Brownlee of London, Marcus Knecht and Johnathan Solazzo of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Justin Gideon of the Hamilton Cardinals.
The Legacy Classic was held so London’s Labatt Memorial Park could extend its streak as the longest continuously-used ballpark in the world to 144 years.
“(Manager) Roop Chaderdat from the London Majors called me and he was very aware of the streak that they were coming in on for continuous baseball operations in the park at Labatt Memorial and asked if we would be willing to put a team together to come down and play an exhibition game,” Fuller said.
“I said I'd ask the guys and if there were enough players that are interested, we'll put a team together. I had canvassed a number of our players that are local and I called Roop back and I said 'I've got some news for you. I have seven players that are committed to playing.' And Roop said 'That's great. Let's do it.'
“Of course, you need more than seven to field a roster, but we committed to doing it. On the Monday I looked at our roster and we had 20 players that were interested to come down and play in that exhibition game. Sean Reilly was the field manager for the day and made sure that everybody got into the game. We came up short, we lost the game 3-0, but it was a lot cleaner baseball than maybe I had expected. I thought there'd be a lot of rust, but the guys looked good and even though we wanted to win, Sean made sure that everybody got into the game.”
Like all the IBL teams, the Royals are disappointed that the work they put in during the offseason didn’t come to fruition with the lack of a season.
“It's sad that we didn't get a chance to do it and I feel bad for all the people who put in so much time leading up to this. I think about (field manager) Dino (Roumel). He probably put in 100 hours of phone calls leading up to this talking to players, talking to coaches, seeing who was available and helping us find the right team. He did a phenomenal job recruiting imports,” Fuller said.
“We were going to have a great team and I feel like all of the work that Dino did on recruiting, really we didn't get a chance to see just how good a team that could have been.”
The hope is that those players will be able to shine next summer.
“We've got a good core of veteran players and we would've had some stud import players and maybe some good young talent that would've been exciting for years and years to come,” Fuller said. “Those guys will still get their chance, but we've got to wait a little bit to see them.”