After the disappointing end to the 2022 Intercounty Baseball League season, Guelph Royals field manager Dino Roumel had to do a little soul searching before deciding to return for another season.
The were 31-11 and tied with London and the Welland Jackfish for first place at the end of the regular season and were 19-2 at home.
But when it mattered most, the Royals were ousted from the league’s quarter-finals by the Hamilton Cardinals a week after being edged in a special single-game battle with the London Majors for first place.
“I truly believe that we're going in the right direction and I wanted to finish things up the right way,” Roumel said in a video chat. “I don't think that was the way it should have ended.
"Full marks to Hamilton, but we didn't play good baseball for a couple of games in that series and it came back to haunt us. I still felt we were the most talented team in the league, but we fell short. I don't want that to happen again this year. I really want to bring a championship to my hometown. I want an opportunity to do that so that's why I'm leaning towards coming back.”
Leaning towards coming back?
“I will be back,” he said.
The Royals were knocked out of the playoffs with a 6-4 extra-inning loss in Game 5 of the best-of-five quarter-final with the Cardinals when Hamilton rallied from a 4-0 deficit with all six of their runs coming after the fifth inning.
“A couple of things happened in that last game that never happened,” Roumel said.
“One of our best players drops two fly balls that he makes with his eyes closed. It was one of the craziest things I've ever seen. We really felt that we had a team that was going to win the championship last year and I hated to see that happen.
"I told the guys after that game that when I talked to them about coming to Guelph one of the things was that we have a great owner, we have the best fans in the league, we have a great place to play – Saturday nights at Hastings are amazing – and we're going to win a championship. When we lost, I kind of took it on myself and said, 'I let you guys down because I promised when you came here that we were going to win a championship."
Despite the ending, there were a lot of pluses to the season and that helped sway Roumel to make up his mind to return.
“We haven' made an official announcement, but (Royals owner) Shawn Fuller and I have been working a lot behind the scenes trying to get things going,” he said.
As good as the on-field product was last year, Roumel feels the Royals could be even better this year if everything falls in place.
“We're working on it,” he said. “We've got a lot of guys returning which we're very excited about. There are a couple of guys we're working on that are really, really good baseball players. I really think this team is going to be better than it was last year.”
However, MVP pitcher Claudio Custodio and outfielder Dalton Pompey are both questionable to return. Custodio’s pitching in Venezuela this winter and could land a pro contract there while Pompey is now a member of the police force in Hamilton.
“Claudio could pitch in Venezuela, but would like to come for second half of season,” Roumel said.
As for Pompey, the Royals are hoping to attract his younger brother Tristan and that might persuade Dalton to return for a second season, one that sees him play whenever his work schedule permits.
And then there’s former major league pitcher Dario Alvarez. He was supposed to pitch in Guelph last year, but had delays obtaining his visa.
“He ended up getting it the day after the deadline,” Roumel said. “We're waiting to hear back from Dario. He has his Canadian visa now and if he doesn't go to Mexico, he's coming here. I think he'll be the best pitcher in the league.”
Last October the teams in the league had to submit protected lists from the players on their squad last year. They could put 25 players on the list and the Royals sent in a list with 22 on it. Among the players included were pitchers Alvarez, Custodio, Andrew Case, Brandon Deans and Steven Dressler, infielders Darius Barlas and Malik Collymore, outfielders Ethan Hammond, Dalton Pompey and J.D. Williams and several locals including Justin Interisano, Kyle Kush, Josh Garton, Jeff MacLeod, Ben Reid and Sean Reilly.
Fuller has already attended a tryout camp in Japan and the Royals could look to bring in a pair of pitchers from there. They’re also to look at getting some arms from the Dominican Republic where all their imports have come from since Fuller obtained ownership of the team.
“When you only have four import spots, we're looking for guys that are dominant – guys that have experience at high levels and guys that can show leadership and can compete and help the younger guys,” Roumel said. “You saw that with Claudio and (fellow Dominican pitcher) Emilis (Guerrero) last year. They talked to all the younger pitchers about grips and things like that. I love that.”
The same was true with Dalton Pompey and Case.
“We had selfless guys with great experience and that's what I want to keep building here, that kind of mentality and that kind of brotherhood,” Roumel said.
As for Reilly being on the list although he’s thought to be retired from the team, it was out of respect for all that he’s achieved in the game and for his dedication to the team.
“The door's always open for him. He's earned that,” Roumel said. “He competed every at bat when he was up there. If he'd played every day I think it would've been different as far as the numbers he put up, but he's also a firefighter that puts in a lot of hours so his commitments have changed to where he was a few years ago.”
As for the coming season, the Royals are to open their season with three games on the Victoria Day weekend, as they’re to play at Hamilton on the Friday night, host the Kitchener Panthers on the Saturday afternoon and play the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on the Sunday afternoon.