The Langley Blaze premier baseball program has been docked a dozen wins, dropping them from first place to sixth place in the B.C. Premier Baseball League standings.
The sanctions are the result of a protest filed against the Blaze by the Coquitlam Reds in late June.
The Reds protested that the Blaze had used ineligible players in the form of junior (U16) players who played in excess of 10 games at the Premier level.
The players in question were Mason Cratty and Greg Rogers.
PBL rules state that junior players may play a maximum of nine games at the premier (U18) level and any games after that, require them to have a permanent roster spot on the team’s PBL roster.
“The intent is to bring (junior) players up for one or two or three games, to give them exposure,” explained Ted Hotzak, the league president.
Rogers played just two games for the Jr. Blaze while Cratty suited up in four.
But at the PBL level, they have played in 28 and 31 games.
“If a junior player plays more than 10 games, he is a senior player, you have just hidden them (on the junior roster),” Hotzak said.
“Some of the rules might seem picky and trivial, but at some point in time, someone stretched it.”
Premier teams have an allotment of 22 roster spots and since Cratty and Rogers exceeded the nine game limit, that pushed the Blaze to 24 players. As a result, the Blaze’s record was amended for that 17-game span, in which they went 12-5.
This affected games between May 22 and June 23.
The Blaze and Reds played four times this season, with Langley winning all four. But three of those victories came in that time frame and have since been overturned.
The decision to vacate the wins was made by Hotzak, Clyde Inouye and Troy Carmont, who make up the league’s executive management committee.
Their role is to enforce the league’s rules, which are passed by the 13 general managers. For any rule to pass, it needs at least 70 per cent approval, which equals nine votes.
Langley, which was in California for a tournament at that time and could not respond immediately, filed an appeal on Sunday (July 10), citing lack of clarification in the league’s roster rules regarding violations and subsequent penalties, as well as the way the format was submitted.
But the league ruled on July 11 that they had upheld the Coquitlam protest and subsequently docked the Blaze the dozen wins.
The appeal was upheld by a three-person independent panel, not associated with the league.
Langley coach Jamie Bodaly said the team was disappointed in the league’s ruling.
Since the club routinely loses multiple players to the Canadian junior national team program for weeks at a time, and then loses more players when they are drafted in June, only carrying 22 players is not feasible, especially considering their overall schedule — with league, exhibition and tournament play — can reach 140 games. There are only 48 league games.
Bodaly said it would have been easier to accept the punishment if they had been informed immediately of the infraction since they have done the same thing in the past in regards to dipping into the junior roster to fill out their premier roster.
But what is done is done and Bodaly says the team will use the sanctions as a rallying cry.
“Our guys are pretty fired up,” he said.
“If anything, it probably motivated the guys.”
Neither Smith nor Cratty is eligible to play for the Jr. Blaze, the top team in the B.C. Junior Premier League at 37-6.
But two of the Blaze players — Dustin Houle and Justin Atkinson — have signed on with their respective Major League Baseball clubs after being drafted last month, opening up roster spots for Smith and Cratty.
Hotzak did commend the Blaze for their work in player development. Since 2001, they have had 29 players drafted.
“Langley runs a very good program, a very intensive program,” he said.
Hotzak added that the Blaze have pushed for a higher roster limit since they routinely play a much bigger exhibition and tournament schedule than their counterparts.
“They violated the league roster rules,” said Reds head coach Kyle Williams.
“They league has a precedent going back to last year when a team was found to be using ineligible players and they’ve obviously stood by that ruling.”
The two organizations have had a frosty relationship in the past but Williams was hoping they can both move on.
“I hope we can get past this at some point,” he said.
“We need, as coaches, to be able to get along and get on with just coaching.
“The near term might be difficult … maybe the off-season is the best time (to discuss it).”
“But we have to be role models for the kids on the field and do what’s best for them, first and foremost.”
With two games remaining in the PBL season, Langley sits at 23-23 — instead of 35-11 — and in a fight to qualify for the post-season.
The Blaze close the regular season this afternoon (Tuesday) with a doubleheader in Victoria against the Eagles.
Langley sits in sixth spot,but can finish anywhere from fourth to tied for eighth spot.
The top eight make the post-season, which begins this weekend, and the top four advance to the BCPBL championships July 29-31 at Nat Bailey Stadium.
The Blaze have won the past three PBL regular season championships.
— with files from Larry Pruner/Black Press