This weekend’s playoff match-up between the Abbotsford Cardinals and the Okanagan Athletics figures to be the most fascinating of all the B.C. Premier Baseball League first-round series.
For starters, the two teams finished close in the standings – the A’s are the BCPBL’s fourth seed at 32-16, while the Cards have already locked up the No. 5 seed at 27-19 heading into a pair of otherwise meaningless road games against the North Shore Twins to wrap up the regular season on Thursday.
But it goes deeper than that – there’s a genuine dislike between these two clubs, stemming from a hotly contested four-game set at Abbotsford’s DeLair Park, July 14-15.
According to Abbotsford head coach Corey Eckstein, the bad blood began when the Athletics started chirping at Cardinals shortstop Luke Cooke, who left the A’s organization to join the Cards prior to this season. A couple of cleats-up slides escalated matters, and over the course of the weekend, the benches cleared four times, though nothing developed beyond a little pushing and shoving.
“It was a fun environment,” Eckstein noted with a dry chuckle.
Looking ahead to the best-of-three series in Kelowna this weekend, the Cardinals players say they’re not interested in getting torqued up emotionally to face their rivals; rather, they want to take a level-headed approach.
But Cards pitcher Daniel Koo did admit his team is relishing the match-up.
“This is what we prayed for,” he said. “We were waiting for the standings two days ago, and we were pumped up. We couldn’t have asked for a better team to play on Saturday.
“They don’t really have that class, as they should as a baseball team. Even losing a couple games to them during that (regular season) series was kind of heartbreaking for us. We want to take these playoff games.”
Cooke said he “couldn’t be more excited” about heading back home to face the Athletics.
“It got pretty emotional (during the regular season series),” he noted. “Everything was definitely heated. But this weekend means a bit more, so we’re going to try to leave all the emotions behind and just play ball.”
The Athletics boast a potent offence – they were second in the BCPBL with 284 runs scored – and it’s going to be a tall order for the Cards’ pitchers to quiet their bats.
“For the guys at the top of the lineup, I want to throw a lot of off-speed to them,” said workhorse hurler Matt Forsythe, Abby’s Game 1 starter. “All of them have the power to take it over the fence, so I just want to keep them off-balance all game.”
The Cards have shown a great deal of character this season, battling back from a rough 5-10 start to secure a playoff berth. Now they’re two wins away from the Final Four.
“It’s going to be a huge weekend, but I know our guys are going up there to play baseball,” Eckstein said. “We’re not going up there for any shenanigans – we’re got one goal and one mindset, and hopefully we can come back with a Final Four entry.”