Looking at the list of players signed for the 2021 Intercounty Baseball League season, it might seem that the Guelph Royals are being idle in the extremely long off-season.
The Royals are one of two teams in the eight-team league that hasn’t announced any player signings.
“The league's making all kinds of announcements of different players signing with different teams,” Royals’ field manager Dino Roumel said. “We've been playing it kind of close to the vest a little bit. We're pretty excited about some of the guys that are coming in here. Again, you have to be cautiously optimistic that things are going to fall into place by June because we just don't know what's in store for us as far as imports, as far as how many people we can have in the stands – the way things are going to be put together.”
While the London Majors have announced the signing of 10 players, the Royals and Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t made any player-signing announcements.
“Toronto's doing their job, too,” Roumel said. “Again, there's a limit to what you can do. I love the fact there's all the excitement about getting all these former big leaguers and getting everybody signed, but I've never seen a team win in November or December.
"We want to put together the right group of guys. We have an extra month so hopefully we're going to gear it up like we are going to play in May and that gives us a whole month of getting together and working out and having exhibition games and hopefully everything comes to fruition.”
The league did come up with a few changes at its monthly meeting in January. After cancelling the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IBL is hoping to run the 2021 season with the normal 36 games per team from the beginning of June to about the end of September for the completion of the playoffs. That’s a month later than normal at both ends of the schedule.
“John Kastner, the commissioner of the league, and the owners are doing a great job trying to get this thing going,” Roumel said. “They want to go full bore at it and see if we can get this thing started June 1st. I'm excited about it and I want to make sure we get off on the right foot.”
The league is also to adopt the extra-inning rule that Major League Baseball used last year with teams getting a runner on second base for the start of each of their half innings at bat after the regulation number of innings.
The IBL has also looked to enrich the fan experience, both at the games and through their online presence.
“(Royals’ owner and general manager) Shawn Fuller, (manager of game-day operations) Lou Embro, all the guys and all the volunteers have done a great job as far as the fan experience here in Guelph. That makes it more exciting for us,” Roumel said.
“Last year we had so many things lined up that we were so excited about – different theme nights, the beer garden. We had all these different things set up. Alumni Night where we were bringing all these alumni in, it was going to be an alumni weekend. There was going to be a golf tournament. (We'd) bring back all these different players from different eras and have them at the game on the Saturday and we were actually going to rent a bus to take them down to the away game on Sunday if they wanted to come. And they'd just talk to the current players about the way things were. There were a lot of things that we were going to do at the ballpark.”
One person the Royals have lined up to join the squad is former player Sean Travers who was the league’s playoff MVP in 1994.
“He was one of the best players I've ever coached – definitely the smartest player I've ever coached,” Roumel said.
“He's basically taken on the role of director of player personnel for us so he will help me assemble the guys. We've got not only a great friendship for 30 years, he is one of my closest friends, but he is probably one of the best evaluators in Canada of baseball talent and he really has his finger on the pulse across North America and in the Dominican. He's got a great pipeline. He's on the phone sometimes with GMs and assistant GMs in Major League Baseball because he's got such a good grasp of what the young talent is around here.
“He's excited about it and again the great thing about Sean is that Guelph has always been like home for him. Whenever we'd come back in a Toronto uniform and he was in an Oshawa uniform for a little while, he'd always come in really, really early, sit in the dugout and just reminisce about how great things were for us. He and I, it's been such a great situation. He's really excited about taking on this role and he's going to help us put together a winner and he's going to be a big part of it.”
Like every other league in the province in any sport, the IBL is planning on a 2021 season, but it all depends on the situation with the pandemic.
“The first thing that we really have to be concerned about is the safety of the fans, the players, the coaches, the umpires and make sure that all the precautions are taking that way,” Roumel said. “We don't know what the vaccine situation is going to be at that point. We don't know what the different regulations are going to be.
“We're cautiously optimistic and I'm very excited and I think we'll keep moving forward.”