The Nanaimo NightOwls have landed, and the second year of WCL baseball in the Harbour City was full proof.

The big crowds in July, bursting with energy that rivals any other city in collegiate summer baseball for noise and entertainment, saw the NightOwls battle for a playoff spot until the season’s final days, elbowed out of post-season contention with just four days remaining in the 2023 schedule.

After a 22-32 mark in the debut season in 2022, the NightOwls improved to within a game of the .500 mark at 26-28, ending with two solid road wins in Kamloops. Under Head Coach Greg Frady, Pitching Coach Gorm Heimueller, and Assistant Coach Sean FitzGerald, Nanaimo saw improvements in offence, pitching and defence over the inaugural season.

We are happy with the strides the team made, on and off the field,” said Jim Swanson, GM of the NightOwls. “Of course, we all want to see what a playoff game is like at Serauxmen Stadium — the games this season had an electricity that was fun for everyone, and was certainly noted by visiting teams. Our guys fed off that excitement, no question.”
The fan entertainment factor also went up in the second year, more action in the stands and on the field between innings.
“That was a major focus this year, improvements in our press box and in the crowd,” said Swanson. “(Assistant GM Tina Cornett) and I worked very hard on changes to that area, and we have a base crew now we think will only bring more added entertainment in 2024 and beyond. Bringing on Darcy “Details” McBride and Geoff Linn, and improvements to the scoring and data side, with Ben Carter handling broadcasts and Keygan Hankins with baseball operations needs, moved us forward.
“The new PA system and additional stands on the third base side were great additions, and going to a NightOwls game has become an event for Nanaimo and area residents. There are more improvements to come for 2024 and beyond, too.”
The team itself had notable performances, including the first-ever NightOwl to be drafted when infielder Elijah Ickes, who will head to the University of Hawaii in his home state this fall, was taken in the 19th round by the Texas Rangers. Ickes would have gone earlier in the draft but was unlikely to sign pro with a great scholarship package — and that’s how it played out as he declined the pro enticement and will be a collegiate player and re-enter the draft after his junior season.
Ickes and Nanaimo-bred infielder Aaron Marsh, his double-play partner many nights, were named co-winners of the Player of the Year award — Marsh hit .287 with 24 runs driven in, and Ickes was the slickest with the glove, making so many spectacular plays at short while batting .277 with a team-high 49 hits and 11 stolen bases.
Strong offensive seasons from catchers Mike Easter and Ethan Rivera (near league leaders in home runs with four), infielders Brandon Nicoll and Wylie Waters, and outfielders Riley Paulino and Brandon Hupe spurred the offense, which struggled due to some injury issues but still finished just above the middle of the pack in the league in average (.254) and home runs (18). Nicoll led the team with 12 doubles.
Co-pitchers of the year — one a starter, one a reliever — were two guys who came to the NightOwls from NAIA Arizona Christian, lefty Bear Pinedo and righty Payton Robertson. Pinedo was untouchable and should be a first-team WCL all-star, with a 0.96 ERA and just six hits allowed in 19.2 innings, while fanning 30 and notching a league-leading seven saves. Robertson, who made eight starts and posted a team-high 41.2 innings, was 4-3 with a 3.67 ERA, walking only 11 batters. Seth Gurr, Nathan Buchan (3-3, nine starts), Jacob Fleury (who was 5-0 as a reliever, with a save), Lucas Hines, Connor Gleissner and Cooper Littledike led a deep pitching staff that had Pinedo and Blake MacMillan ready to close things off. No pitcher was ever over-used due to strong numbers on that side of the diamond.
Fleury was named the winner of the citizenship award, while Ickes, in a no-brainer, won the top prospect honours.

“We worked hard at getting a roster of committed, dedicated players, and so many proved that out over the pro-style season that is what the WCL offers,” said Swanson. “The warriors who battled to the end had this team on the cusp of a playoff spot, and fans noticed a notable improvement overall — this group battled, and took on a real Nanaimo-type lunchbucket mentality that was easy to cheer for.”

The work now starts to get the NightIOwls ready for the third season, starting in late May in 2024 at Serauxmen Stadium. Recruiting and season ticket renewals are already underway at the same time as plans are made to take down the 460 Realty Bathtub Bar fencing, other signage, and move the Owls Nest DoubleDecker Bus to storage for eight months.


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