Rams baseball is back for the first time since October 2019, and while new faces dominate the field, the team’s goal remains the same — a championship title.
New kids in town
With a vast number of the previous roster having graduated during the team’s downtime, initial tryouts were held on Sept. 7 — the first organized baseball at the school in almost two years. A second tryout was held on Sept. 12.
Ben Rich, founder and president of Rams baseball, said there’s a lot to look forward to with the mostly fresh roster.
“With COVID, we’ve basically had two graduating classes at once. Of the 29 players on the roster, only eight are returning guys,” Rich said. “There’s a lot of excitement around seeing what the new players can do.”
This year’s team includes an almost all-Ontario team roster, save for one member from B.C.
Fresh faces include third baseman Devon Capitao, who joins the Rams after playing for the elite Toronto Mets in the Canadian Premier Baseball League. Capitao is just one of 21 total players who are freshmen.
Although this season’s team is dominated by freshmen, there are still some returning players — the majority of which are pitchers, like Max Dieks, who played for the team as a freshman in 2019.
Other veterans on the mound include Logan Kerry, Mark Rizzotto, Justin Stonkus and hybrid pitcher and shortstop Matt Tohana.
In the talent as catcher is Sam Turcotte, who returns behind the plate for the Rams in his first appearance since 2019.
This year’s assistant coaches also include some familiar perspectives, with Rams baseball alumni Kevin MacDonald (RTA, 2018) and Mitch Fiacco (TRSM, 2019).
Rich said the addition of MacDonald and Fiacco brings a combination of not only baseball knowledge and proficiency, but also the experience and foundational principles of navigating baseball from the student perspective.
“Each of them certainly brings knowledge and technical expertise, plus established credibility among the players from having been successful at the university level as players,” Rich said. “A combination of dedication, passion and deliberate approach to preparation — these are traits that we’re always looking to instill in our players, and which have been a foundation of our culture as a program since the beginning.”
Off to a promising start
The Rams are hoping for a better ending than their 2019 season, in which they were stunned 23-13 by the McMaster Marauders in a wild card game. The Rams were 7-7 in the regular season, and 2-2 in the post-season in 2019, ending at 9-9 for an even .500.
Despite their best hopes, however, the team already seems to be repeating history with another even .500 halfway through the season.
The team split both of its series against the Waterloo Warriors and the Laurentian Voyageurs this past weekend, with their win against Laurentian coming in extra innings to keep their record at a balanced two wins and two losses.
First-year pitcher Gus Cousins had his first crack at the mound during the team’s opening game against the Voyageurs. Unfortunately for Cousins, it wasn’t the start he hoped for, as he gave up two walks and hit a batter with a pitch.
“Being removed from the game doesn’t exactly give the coaching staff a good first impression,” said Cousins. “I let them know, ‘Hey, I know that sucked and I looked awful, but I’ll be ready for whenever the next chance is.’”
Cousins says he’ll be ready for their next game this coming weekend at York University Lions. He said watching the game from the bench was a different experience knowing he wasn’t going to come back into the game.
“Watching hit after hit after hit from the offence is incredible. I think everyone’s under the same impression that we just gotta get rolling for the OUA qualifying tournament, and so that’s the goal, and this is a fantastic first step.”
Momentum from their last game, which ended in extra innings, may be a factor when the Rams return this weekend for the start of a four-game series against the York Lions at Vaughan Sports Village.
Afterwards, the Rams finish their regular season with a four-game series against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, beginning on Oct. 2. Two of those games will take place at Stan Wadlow Park, the Rams’ home pitch.
Once those games are finished, the Rams will begin the pursuit of their first OUA title in the post-season.
“We’re still chasing that OUA championship and that will always be a top priority,” said Rich. “We’ve grown to become very competitive and in the mix for it each year.”
Although winning the championship is undeniably on everyone’s mind, being a part of the team is much more than sport. For Rich, who’s been by the Rams baseball team’s side since its inaugural 2013 season, it goes far beyond the diamond and the dugout.
“When graduating players say that Rams Baseball was the best part of their university experience, that they can’t imagine their time at the institution without it — the memories and the friendships; when we see the impact we have on the players personally, and that they leave our program as better people — that’s ultimately what we set out to achieve when establishing this program.”