C’s Plus Baseball was granted media access for a third straight year to the 2019 Vancouver Canadians Media Day at Nat Bailey Stadium Tuesday. It felt like Christmas in June as the initial roster for the C’s was revealed.
The coaches and players put on the uniform to have their pictures taken for the club’s various media platforms inside and outside the stadium before being made available to the media.
Managing the roster will be former big leaguer Casey Candaele. He held court with the local media to address a wide variety of topics. The first question dealt with Candaele’s memories of Nat Bailey Stadium.
“I used to play here in Triple-A when it was a Triple-A stadium. It was fun. I always enjoyed coming back here because in the past, I’ve been up here before and all my family is from this area. When I landed in Vancouver and drove over here, I had a good feeling. It was fun.
It’s great to be back. I just remember coming up when I was a kid and how much I loved it. I could always smell the lumber. I don’t know why (laughs) but that was always something that I remember when I came into town. I have great memories of Canada and specifically Vancouver.”
Even though no specific memories stood out, Candaele remembers how much of a pitcher’s park Nat Bailey Stadium is.
“I knew I couldn’t hit balls out of this park when I played here so (laughs) I know it’s a tough place to hit home runs so concentrating on just getting good at-bats and putting the barrel on the ball and seeing what could happen offensively. It’s in great shape. Ross (Baron) and the grounds crew have done a wonderful job getting it ready so we’re excited. I do know, I just remember the ball does not fly here very well.”
Getting to manage in Vancouver in 2019 is a homecoming of sorts for Candaele.
“I have four older brothers and they’re all from this area and my Mom and Dad were born here too in this area.”
Returning to the Nest
When Candaele was offering the managing position for Vancouver in 2019, he gladly accepted.
“It was great. I was excited. I was really pumped up about it so I’m looking forward to it.”
Last season saw Candaele make his managing debut in the Toronto Blue Jays organization with Dunedin. He led the Florida State League club to a 69-68 record.
“It was good. We started off slow and then we got really hot. We had a lot of players that moved up so that was satisfying for them. We kind of went through a lull toward the end of the season but it was a lot of those players first full seasons so that’s tough getting used to and I think some of them got tired but that’s expected.
Overall I think we got better, the players got better so it was a lot of fun.It’s a much different weather environment in Florida than it is here (in Vancouver) but I like this better. (laughs)”
One thing Candaele will stress to his players is to be ready to play.
“I expect them to come out and play hard and do the best they can everyday and play the game the right way. Be on time and play the game hard. Those are the only two things I really focus on and if they aren’t capable of doing that, then we’ll have a talk and they’ll end it doing it.
Just play the game right. I think defence. You always look at the World Series and it usually ends up with teams that pitch well and play really well defensively. It’s been that way for a long period of time and it seems to happen a lot still. Playoffs and World Series end up becoming the team that pitches the best and the team that makes the least amount of mistakes defensively. Looking at that, I think those are the things that you still need to stress and they need to be important for you. Offensively – when it comes down to that time – you’re usually facing a team that has some pretty good pitching so runs are at a premium.”
Establishing team chemistry is also on the agenda for Candaele, even though the 2019 Blue Jays draft class has not reported yet.
“You don’t really know them. I was in Florida when they got in for a day, I met a lot of the guys. They’ll be a few of them coming up here but it’s kind of just a short period of time trying to get a team to gel and have good communication and a good environment in the clubhouse. I think they get involved pretty good and the guys that I met seemed to be pretty enthusiastic about being here. When you’re enthusiastic about playing the game and you have energy to play the game, usually things end up pretty well.
The drafted guys I think are coming up here are Tanner Morris, Trevor Schwecke. I haven’t known them very long so it’s really hard for me to pronounce their names already. Along with them, we got Ronny Brito coming in. There’s just a lot of good players that are coming in. Some guys that are from college that will help out so it’ll be a good mix.”
Having crowds of 6,000-plus a game at Nat Bailey Stadium is something Candaele is looking forward to.
“It’s awesome. I came up here. I must admit when I played here in Triple-A, there wasn’t as many fans. I came up here with Spokane when I was with Texas and it was amazing. Very few minor league parks have the enthusiasm and the energy that generated from the fans here in Vancouver. It was really cool.”
Candaele feels playing in front of the sold-out crowds at The Nat can only be a good thing.
“Absolutely. Understand that most of these guys were in the Gulf Coast League last year where nobody goes to watch the games. I’ve been through (extended) spring training, nobody’s there. If you can’t get excited with 6,000 people in the stands, you probably need to find something else to do. They’ll be enthusiastic and they’ll be fired up to play in front of the fans here. I know that.”
Having seen their team capture four Northwest League championships since 2011, Candaele welcomes the high expectations from the fan base.
“That’s great. They should (have high expectations). I think that’s why you’re a fan. You come and expect the team to play well. I can’t say we’re going to win games. I can say we will be successful in the way we go about preparing and the way we go about playing the game. If you base on wins and losses, usually when you prepare well and you play with energy and you play the game the right way, you pitch, you throw strikes, you play defence, you can be in most games and you’re usually successful in a season. When you don’t do those things, you’re not. That’s kind of the way I look at it. Success is based on how they go about their business.”
For the Love of the Game
After spending parts of nine seasons in the majors with Montreal, Cleveland and Houston, playing minor league baseball until the 2000 campaign and most recently coaching first base in Seattle from 2015 and 2016, baseball is something that’s in the blood for Candaele.
“I just love the game. I love working with young players and trying to be an influence however I can with their development and kind of getting them set up for professional baseball and what a grind it is. A lot of the college kids come in and they’re not used to playing everyday so the staff here is capable of letting them know what to expect. I think it’s just a great environment. Players are eager to learn, wanting to get better and I enjoy that.”
Words of Wisdom
The experiences Candaele has gone through is something he will look to impart upon his players.
“You kind of talk to them about the game. The interesting thing about baseball is so many different things happen and so many people in the game go from being, ‘Oh, this guy’s a great prospect’ to ‘This guy wasn’t a prospect’ and it changes. Most of the time, when people perceive what things are going to happen, they don’t end up that way.
It’s really about preparing them to understand whatever you’re faced with, you have to learn how to overcome that and to go out and play the game and not be concerned with decisions that are made, not be concerned with where I’m hitting in the lineup and just go out and do what you’re capable of doing. I think that’s the most important thing because there are many guys that have started out in professional baseball and started hitting ninth and ended up in the big leagues hitting first or second. There are many stories like that. I was one. (laughs)”
Teaching the players right from wrong will be a constant focus for Candaele.
“You’ve got to have expectations that things are going to happen but the learning process and making sure that you coach to the negatives that happen and coach the negatives of the positive things that happen but basically, kind of teaching them the game and teaching them about how to be professional both on and off the field and how to conduct themselves.
In that aspect, there’s so many things that you can do and just things that I’ve experienced, things that the coaching staff has experienced. To relay that to the players is so important because they need a foundation to build from when they come and first start playing when they’re young players. I think you can build that and hopefully some things stick with them that stay throughout their career and that they use throughout.
Mental performance-wise, you don’t want to use the word ‘don’t’ because they don’t hear the word don’t. (laughs). Do this, I did that! (laughs) I know that didn’t work.”
Establishing a routine is something Candaele believes is important for every player.
“Teaching them routines and the kind of things that you need to do everyday to get yourself prepared. You help them along with that. You kind of guide them in that and try to help them build those solid foundations so that they can understand what it takes to prepare everyday and the things you need to do.
A lot of it has to do with not only working hard but also working smart and not overdoing it. When you start getting into playing 162 games in a season, you have to prepare the right way and not just go and ‘Hey, I’m going to do all these things everyday.’ That’s a lot of it because they’re used to practicing a few days and then kind of playing a few. ”
Billets & Coaches
One thing that helps the players settle in to Vancouver is the hosting families that take them each year, something Candaele deems as extremely import.
“You think about the sacrifices they make and how they bring the kids in with open arms and kind of take them in, it’s tremendous. I don’t think you can have enough to say about it. These guys are away from home, it’s probably their first time traveling somewhere and to have somewhere to feel comfortable and kind of get that family atmosphere and family environment is tremendous.”
Helping Candaele out will be the 2019 coaching staff that includes 2018 returnee Aaron Mathews. He believes they will add a lot to the club.
“They’re all crazy. (laughs) Danny Canellas is going to be doing catching and a lot of different things here. Demetre Kokoris is going to be pitching (coach) and ‘Butch’, Aaron Mathews, will be doing the hitting and outfield. They’re excited, they’re energetic, they’re young. I look forward to working with them. We spent a bunch of time in spring training and extended spring together so I think they’ll be fine. They’ll do a great job.
They all have the same thought process and that’s to get the players better and do whatever we can to make them the best players they can be. I mean, when you have that as your goal, it’s pretty easy to go out there and work hard.”
The home run craze and the launch angle revolution that is prevalent in baseball today runs counter to the type of player Candaele was during his playing days. He only struck out 7.5 percent of the time in his 2,132 plate appearances in the bigs.
“I’m not going to comment for fear of retribution. (laughs) I was just always of the thought that if you can put the ball in play, they have to make a play on you so it puts more pressure on the defence. That’s my own personal feeling.
I think the game, because of the strikeouts, has become more stagnant and less strategic. I enjoy the game because of the strategy because you always had to think about what was going to happen and what someone might do. Thinking ahead was what made the game exciting for me when I was on the field. That’s just my personal opinion or feeling about it.
You hammer the ball in the middle of the zone and you battle with two strikes and make them make a play. It’s not necessarily cutting down a swing and not being competitive. I wouldn’t talk about strikeouts. I don’t think it’s good to talk about strikeouts but emphasizing that, ‘Hey, we want to battle with two strikes and make it a competitive at-bat. I think that’s different than telling them, ‘Hey, don’t strike out.'”
Candaele first broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos in 1986. He says he keeps in touch with a number of former Expos.
“I see Tim (Raines). Rock. He works with us so it’s always good to see him. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and then when I got back here with Toronto, it’s great. I’ve seen Tim Wallach a little. Mike Fitzgerald. Mitch Webster I saw. A lot of the guys are still in the game and they’re around. I loved Montreal, I loved playing there. I didn’t last long but it was a great experience.”
Candaele is not sure Major League Baseball will return to Montreal but he would like to see it happen.
“I don’t know about that but I hope it could. I had such a great experience and enjoyed the city. I could have stayed there forever but they didn’t want me so (laughs). That’s okay though but I enjoyed it a lot and I think there’s a fan base there that it seems like they’re excited to be able to have the opportunity if there was one to get a team back there but like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed being there.”
Candaele was asked to weigh on in the recent induction of Gibsons, BC native Ryan Dempster into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
“It’s great. I think it’s always great when you get inducted into a Hall of Fame. I don’t think I’m in any of them so (laughs). I don’t know if I’m even eligible. I think it’s great. A great career, a great pitcher. Those kind of things.
All the people that help you going up. There’s a lot of influences. You take the good ones and then the ones you don’t feel you need, you kind of let go of. There’s always a lot of people that influence someone’s career.
Usually, there’s one particular person that kind of had something to say or helped in a particular way that stayed with somebody their entire career. I think it’s important when a person is a younger player gets that kind of guidance that they can use throughout their career that can help them and kind of build on that.”
The major influences of Candaele’s career are his family.
“My mother and my four older brothers, beating me up all the time. (laughs)”
A League of Their Own
Candaele’s mother Helen Callaghan played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. His brother Kelly Candaele produced the documentary ‘A League of Their Own’ before it was eventually transformed into a major motion picture. Casey admits he still gets emotional when he watches the documentary and film.
“It was probably this past winter. It’s still good (laughs). I still cry! It’s still special. My Mom was a better player than me so it’s always fun to remember that so. (laughs).”
Candaele will write the latest chapter of his baseball career on Friday when his Vancouver Canadians host the Spokane Indians in the C’s home opener.