KITCHENER – It doesn’t matter how close the fence is in snug Jack Couch Park if opposing pitchers aren’t giving you much to hit.
Mitch Delaney, the LaSalle, Ont.-raised infielder who a year ago was chasing the Intercounty Baseball League’s home run title, is getting onboard in a different way this season – with walks.
The Kitchener Panther has been issued 22 of them this season, which means he’s getting a free pass about every fifth time he comes to the plate. That puts him among the league’s top five most walked players.
“I think the pitchers around the league are figuring out they’ve got to pitch around me more,” he said, before Thursday night’s 18-9 drubbing over Hamilton. “Now I’ve got to work that much harder to find the right pitch. So I’ve been taking my walks.”
Although the 24-year-old started slowly in his fifth season in the league, he’s still a potent run producer for his team. Going into last night’s game in London, Delaney led the Panthers with 27 RBI and nine doubles.
He’s seeing fewer fastballs than he did last year, when he hit 11 home runs in the regular season. Delaney has managed to put four out of the park this season, but says he’s changed his approach and isn’t relying on the long-bomb anymore.
“Now I’m getting more off-speed pitches, so I’m just trying to shorten up (my swing) and put it in play,” he said. “That’s all I want to do. I’m just slowing down the game and letting it come to me.”
Field manager Brian Bishop thinks Delaney’s power numbers are down in 2013 in part because he’s pulling the ball more, and teams are putting the shift on him. He thinks if his slugger relaxes a bit and starts using the whole field, he’ll start seeing more balls to hit hard.
“He’s fighting it a little bit at the plate. He might he pressing a little bit,” Bishop said. “If he can just start seeing the ball a little longer, he’ll get some going the other way, and he’ll get more opportunities.”
Delaney’s evolution as a ball player began in LaSalle, a suburb of Windsor. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox out of high school in 2007 but didn’t sign, and instead played two seasons in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League for the New York Yankees.
He returned to Ontario and played several seasons for the London Majors before joining the Panthers in 2011, where he batted .443 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs is a half a season.
That output caught the attention of the Quebec Capitals, a professional team in the Can-Am League where Delaney signed and soaked up the experience playing with former major leaguers and Triple-A ball players.
He returned to Kitchener the following year a more wizened player, and knowing more about the smaller aspects of the game that can add up to big things.
But as for Delaney’s own baseball future, he’s not chasing hopes of making it to the Major Leagues anymore. Instead, with the playoffs looming large for his IBL club, he’s set his sights on big things for the Panthers, right here, right now.
“At my age, the dream of making it to the bigs is vanishing pretty fast. I’d love it if our team could go a couple rounds in the playoffs, get some people in the stands, and make it to the championships,” he said. “That would be awesome.”
The look ahead
Mike McGillivary, who went seven-plus innings for the win in his last outing, will pitch Sunday when the Panthers visit the Hamilton Cardinals at Bernie Arbour Stadium at 2 p.m. American Marcos Reyna, still nursing a sore shoulder, will get the start when the Panthers return to Hamilton the following night.
Shaun Hancock, a converted reliever, is slated to pitch Tuesday in Barrie against a hot-hitting Baycats lineup. Matt McGovern will likely be the starter for the Panthers’ next home game at Jack Couch Park, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against London.