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Fledgling Monarchs in flight

The new Canadian Baseball League team is preparing for the opener at Labatt Park.
Morris Dalla Costa, Free Press sports columnist   2003-05-09 11:31:30  

"And here come your London Monarchs!"

OK, so no one actually blared that out as they took the field. And there were a lot of Monarchs missing, but yesterday was the first day of training camp for the Canadian Baseball League team at Labatt Park, short as it was.

The good news was nobody got hurt.

The players worked out for a little less than two hours under the tutelage of manager Willie Wilson. He was missing about 10 players. They're expected to arrive within the next few days as they make their way from Japan and the Dominican Republic.

There's a large Dominican component to this league. League boss Tony Riviera has chartered a plane and expects to bring all of them to Canada at once. Wilson says he believes the Japanese players have been delayed because of tighter travel restrictions due to the SARS outbreak.

The missing-in-action meant Wilson was the only coach available to run the practice. Pitching coach Jose Cano and playing assistant coach Francisco Cabrera are from the Dominican.

"I really prefer to do more teaching than all this," Wilson said. The "this" included pitching batting practice, hitting fungoes, hitting fly balls and working with the infielders on base running. "It's fun, though. We'll stretch it out (today). I don't want anyone getting hurt on the first day."

They start again at 10 this morning.

The day was about par for the course when it comes to the first day of camp. Everyone was getting used to their surroundings. Players were meeting each other and trying to figure out what everyone was good at.

The more one watched, the more it appeared there's plenty of good pitching.

The Monarchs have 11 on the roster, more than they need. But working away in the bullpen was something they haven't had until now -- a left-hander.

He's 34-year-old Raul Tiscareno, a 17-year veteran of the Mexican League. He throws a fastball, slider, curve and changeup. And while he prefers to start, he's also performed as a reliever.

He learned about the CBL via the Internet. It seemed like a natural fit since his sister and brother-in-law live in Sarnia. He has been with them four months.

Tiscareno is typical of a lifer -- he'll play wherever he can for as long as he can.

"For 17 years, this is my career," he said in accented English. "This is my life.

"I know some players in this league -- Francisco Cabrera, Jose Garcia (Montreal Royales) -- and they think it's a good idea for me to play here. I like it very much."

A quick look down the list of players provides a roadmap to the meandering routes they took getting here.

Tiscareno played with the Monterrey Sultanes, Shinicho Sasaki with the Orioles in Australia, Kory Doan is a Texan who played with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Carlos Wild is another Texan who played at Sam Houston State, and Kirotaka Shimizu played in Australia.

For Doan, an outfielder-catcher, last year was supposed to be his last as a pro. But when the CBL announced a franchise in London, he couldn't resist the temptation to play one more year. His wife is from Guelph and they have a three-week-old baby.

"I love the game," he said. "I thought I'd give it up, but when this came along, I couldn't pass it up. I think this is going to be fun. It looks like it's going to be a good group of guys and it's going to be good ball."

Doan admitted to being tired with the newborn, yet he was one of the last guys on the field, shagging fly balls hit by Wilson. After he dove for two in succession, Wilson waved him in. "I got to stop you from diving all over the place," Wilson said.

Day 1 ended with Wilson eyeing a group hanging around the dugout.

"We're done. Don't you have anywhere to go?" he asked.

Only to the the ball park. After all, they are ball players.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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