HarbourCats HeadOnly

Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

November 25, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – One thing for certain about new Victoria HarbourCats General Manager Jim Swanson is that the man knows his baseball. Swanson and HarbourCats owner John McLean sat down Monday with ISN to discuss his move to the team and to how he hopes to use his experience with the sport to take the HarbourCats to the next level in 2014.

Choosing Swanson for the HarbourCats General Manager position – vacated by Holly Jones at the end of last season for family reasons – was likely a no-brainer for team owner McLean. Swanson’s baseball resume is impressive, beginning with a stint as the Commissioner and Administrator for the independent Prairie League of Professional Baseball and most recently, as the Chair of the World Baseball Challenge, which was successfully staged at Citizen Field in Prince George in 2009, 2011 and 2013, featuring national teams from Cuba, USA, Canada, Japan, Chinese-Taipei, Germany, Bahamas and China.

In between those roles, he served as Vice President and General Manager of the Grand Forks Varmints of the Prairie League, coached in four Baseball Canada Senior Championships (2001, 2002, 2007, 2012), was Manager of the host Prince George Axemen team that won gold at the Baseball Canada Senior Championship in 2012, and Head Coach for Team B.C.’s peewee entry in the CABA World Series in Cincinnati in 2013. He has also been the MLB analyst for Dan Russell’s SportsTalk radio program for five years, and has spent most of his career in the media, as a television sports anchor, radio commentator and a long tenure as Sports Editor of the Prince George Citizen.

New Victoria HarbourCats General Manager Jim Swanson officially begins December 3rd, but he was on hand Monday at Royal Athletic Park to meet with ISN and other media outlets (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)
New Victoria HarbourCats General Manager Jim Swanson officially begins December 3rd, but he was on hand Monday at Royal Athletic Park to meet with ISN and other media outlets (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

With such an expansive baseball resume, Swanson seems perfectly suited take on the GM role of a team, that in its second year of operations, can now focus on the baseball side of things, something that Swanson has done very well over his career.

In the HarbourCats inaugural season, it would be fair to say that much of the focus for the front office staff was getting the team up and running – getting the team marketing, social media presence and branding in place, getting offices set up, getting uniforms, equipment and outfield fences ordered and delivered, getting a ticket system up and running – and on top of all that, putting a team and a coaching staff on the field.

With many of those start-up logistics now out of the way, while they will still need attention, significantly more focus can be put on the players who come to the team and on the quality of the on-field product.

This is something Swanson feels strongly about. “I am a competitive guy. I want to see a team with a winning record, with a playoff berth and with a championship. We are not here just to participate. We have to find a way to climb that mountain. I think that’s something this market is yearning for as well – Victoria is a type of city where a winning team will attract far more fans – and that’s going to be a major focus of what we do and it will be my job to put the pieces in place that allow the coaches and players to do their work and to do it successfully and to win here in Victoria.”

“I’ve been fortunate to win along the way with the different baseball endeavours I’ve been involved with,” added Swanson. “I’d like to think that those same methods and ideologies will translate to working and winning with the HarbourCats too.”

McLean also understands that the on-field product needs to be better and in that regard, while both he and Swanson were quiet on specifics since a number of player announcements will be forthcoming in December, McLean did note that the team will have a significantly expanded pitching roster this season.

“Pitch counts and innings pitched are critical at the college level,” noted McLean. “Part of the issue we got into last year when the team struggled was that many of our pitchers had strict limits on the innings that they could pitch that were dictated by their college coaches. As such, some of our more successful pitchers had to be shut down late in the year and we could not bring them into games in situations where they might normally have entered the game. For the fans, that led to some head scratching, especially when things did not go our way. We know now that pitch counts are critical and we basically need to have more arms available to us, so when you see the 2014 roster, you will note that our pitching staff will be much larger than last year.”

As far as any operational, game day or facility improvements that fans might notice under Swanson’s tenure, both he and McLean noted it is a bit too early to say what if anything major might change and that more on that may be forthcoming in the new year.

McLean did note that, “The plan all along was to see what changes we could make in Year 1, what changes in Year 2, and so on and make the changes we could both within the budgets of the team and the City. In Year 1 for example, we acquired the scoreboard, brought the field closer, bought the new fence, improved the clubhouse for the players and improved some fan sightlines. For Year 2 we are evaluating what needs to be done and should know more on that early in the new year.”

Two items that McLean did comment on were that the bullpen configuration – which saw both team’s bullpens down the leftfield line – would be returned to a more traditional configuration in 2014, with one down each foul line and that the team would be re-evaluating the operation and configuration of the corporate barbeque section. The team is also slightly changing their office location, moving to the front of their existing building on 1814 Vancouver Street so that they have a greater on-street presence.

At the community level, Swanson is looking to build upon the baseball community contacts that he already has and to spread the word about the HarbourCats beyond just the Greater Victoria region. “I know a number of folks here in Victoria through the Mavericks Senior Men’s League as well as through my involvement with BC Minor Baseball and I am looking forward to building those contacts quickly. I also want to get in touch with the folks I know up-Island toward Duncan and Nanaimo, so that we can expand the HarbourCats brand and let them know what we can offer. There is a lot of work to do, but it’s fun work to do!”

And no doubt, given his history and accomplishments to date, work that Swanson will do very well.

The HarbourCats will begin their 2014 season on the road in Kelowna June 6-8 and then return to Royal Athletic Park for their home opening series against the Cowlitz Black Bears June 10-12. The full 54-game, 27-home-game schedule can be found on the team’s website at www.harbourcats.com.