It should have been a glorious day for Jim Swanson.
Swanson is managing partner and general manager of the Victoria HarbourCats, and Wednesday word came down that HarbourCats alum Alex De Goti had been called up to the big leagues for the first time by the Houston Astros.
De Goti, 26, an infielder from Miami, spent three seasons (2013-15) with the HarbourCats, which is a lifetime by summer college-league standards. Swanson calls him the “best human being we’ve ever had,” and says that when he phoned the host family that took De Goti in during his time with the HarbourCats to let them know about the promotion “they were in tears.”
Unfortunately for Swanson and everyone else involved with the club, Wednesday was also when the HarbourCats and the four other Canadian teams in the West Coast League (WCL) announced that they were cancelling their 2021 seasons due to COVID-19. That included the Nanaimo NightOwls, an expansion team owned and operated by the group that runs the HarbourCats. The NightOwls were to be one of the three new Canadian entries this summer, along with the Kamloops NorthPaws and the Edmonton Riverhawks. The trio is slated to debut instead next year, playing alongside the HarbourCats and the Kelowna Falcons.
The HarbourCats also called off their 2020 season due to the pandemic. They had announced Greg Swindell, a left-handed pitcher who spent 17 seasons in the majors, as a bench coach for this season under manager Todd Haney, an infielder who played five years in the bigs.
“This is gutting,” Swanson said. “We’ll make it through. We’ll find a way. It’s not going to be easy. The end of the day, we’re a ticket-based business. You can’t sell a hotdog or a beer to someone who isn’t there.”
Swanson said that he was concerned initially that these back-to-back shutdowns might affect the league’s ability to recruit players but NCAA coaches have told him this week, “we’ll get you our best guys.”
De Goti played 137 games over three summers with the HarbourCats. He was at Long Beach State, a program that includes Jason Giambi, Troy Tulowitzki, Marco Estrada and Jeff McNeil as alumni, for those seasons. De Goti transferred to Barry for his NCAA senior season and was a 2016 15th-round draft pick by the Astros.
“I’ve been hearing, ‘We get it. It’s not your fault. We sent you guys before and we’ll keep doing it because you do a great job developing players,’ ” Swanson said.
Swanson says that one of the pluses out of this cancellation is that it gives his group more time to prepare the NightOwls. It also means that the NightOwls, NorthPaws and the Riverhawks have a chance to begin play in more optimal circumstances.
“If you’re going to debut, you’d rather do it with everything a little closer to normal. You don’t want to be trying to put fans in your ballpark and be worrying about social distancing at the time,” he said. “We hadn’t ramped up a whole lot in Nanaimo just yet. We were ready to. We were cautious going into this winter and this spring, and it turns out that we bet the right way.
“We’ll make it through this. We’re going to be here in Victoria … We’ll get Nanaimo up-and-running.”
The WCL revised its schedule earlier in the spring and eliminated cross-border travel. The league’s 10 U.S. teams continue to prepare for a June 4 opening day and a 48-game schedule.