Kamloops NorthPaws players, coaches looking to recapture magic of inaugural season

'Paws psyched for summer

The Kamloops NorthPaws are hoping that a greater sense of stability in the franchise’s third West Coast League season will lead to more success this summer.

After making the playoffs in their inaugural campaign two years ago, the NorthPaws followed that up with a thud, finishing at the bottom of the standings last summer with a 12-40 record.

“We are trying to get back to that mentality we had the first year here,” said Kolby Luckinchuk, a Prince George product and Thompson Rivers University WolfPack athlete.

“It’s great having Jose [Bautista] back with us, he sets the culture in our locker room and develops great relationships with the players. He’s a great guy to play for and we can’t wait to get going.”

After serving as a pitching coach for the past two seasons, Bautista earned the promotion to head coach during the winter.

Having a head coach in place this offseason was a drastic shift from last year, when the newly hired Brian Anderson took a different job about a month before the season started.

With so much of the team’s success reliant on recruiting, that put the NorthPaws in a difficult situation before the first pitch was thrown and left them short-handed in a variety of positions as the season progressed.

Bautista and NorthPaws management made sure depth will not be an issue this summer.

“I learned over my first two years is that you need plenty of players. Not everyone is here yet, but we should have 22 pitchers and about 20 position players here this summer,” said Bautista, who took the mound for five teams during his nine-year MLB career.

“That way, we can rest guys that are playing longer into their spring season, get other guys in and have them stay fresh.”

California contingent strong

Nearly 20 bodies were running, throwing and hitting at the NorthPaws’ first practice of the summer on Monday night, days ahead of their season-opening tilt against the Victoria HarbourCats at Norbrock Stadium.

The club is waiting on several American-born players to wrap up their collegiate season and sort out passport issues. The team expects a few more players to arrive each day and should be at full capacity by mid-June.

The NorthPaws recently announced that outfielder and last year’s leadoff hitter Tyler Glowacki (San Diego State University) will return for his second season on McArthur Island. The California native will be joined by 15 others from the Golden State, on top of six more Americans, three Japanese-born players and one from the Netherlands.

“Running into these guys on the first day is definitely awkward at times. I am sure it’s not easy being from California and showing up to the ballpark for the first time in Kamloops,” said Lukinchuk, who earned second-team All-WCL honours in 2022 for his work out of the bullpen.

"But a lot of us got in contact and started gelling over the winter, which will hopefully allow us to get off to a pretty good start."

Kamloops kids ready to play

Along with the imports, the Kamloops pipeline is beginning to populate the NorthPaws’ roster.

Luckinchuk will be joined by a pair of Kamloops kids and WolfPack teammates, as gold glove first basemen Nolan Austin suits up for his third season with the club, along with outfielder and pitcher Manny Recchi donning the red and black for a second summer.

Younger catcher Matt MacDonald and infielder/pitcher Dylan Dekker played for the Kamloops Riverdogs two summers ago and are expected to return from their Calgary team shortly.

“I’m beyond excited to play with the younger [Kamloops] guys, said Austin, who led the WolfPack with two home runs, 22 RBI and a .333 average in 23 games this season.

"I never got a chance to play with them growing up — I played with Matt’s older brother and they are both great players. I am really excited to see what they can do."

Adding to the local flavour is Riley Jepson, another former Riverdog who traded in his spikes and glove for a fungo and a spray chart.

After spending his last two summers in Great Falls, Mont., in the Pioneer League, he joins the NorthPaws fresh off of leading the University of Fraser Valley Cascades to the CCBC championship.

He is looking forward to spending more time in the Tournament Capital.

“I’m really excited for this summer and this season to get underway,” said Jepson, who swatted 16 homers in 177 professional games over the last three seasons.

"I heard we recruited really well this winter and I’m looking forward to working with all these guys and help them with their aspirations to play pro ball."

All the stability and sense of community will get put to the test Wednesday night, when the season gets underway with an exhibition game against the Riverdogs at Norbrock Stadium.

The NorthPaws will kick off their regular season on Friday when the Victoria Harbourcats visit Norborck, with first pitch at 6:35 p.m.

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