‘It’s a breath of fresh air:’ New Goldeyes just happy to be back on the diamond

Article content

There was a time in 2020 when Canadian pitcher Dylan Rheault thought he was “on top of the world.”

He had signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds and was having a strong spring training. He got into a big-league spring training game and travelled with the team.

“Then stuff started to happen and I was just: ‘Oh no,’” Rheault said this week from Fargo, N.D., where he is preparing to pitch for the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the American Association.

The “stuff” that started to happen was, of course, the coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide sports shutdown that has affected so many athletes.

Rheault, a 28-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., was on a one-year, minor-league contract. With no minor-league baseball being played this year, he was released.
That was on June 1 and, at the time, it looked like the prospects for playing in 2020 were about as good as being down three runs with two out and nobody on base in the bottom of the ninth.


Story continues below

Article content

“I don’t feel sorry for myself,” Rheault said. “We’re all going through this together. At the end of the day, life just isn’t fair. We can sit here and complain about it or we can make the best of the situation and try to make it some kind of positive.”

To that end, Rheault signed with Winnipeg and will take part in the American Association season, which is slated to open on Friday in Fargo, with the Goldeyes taking on the Redhawks.

“I get to come here and pitch,” said the 6-foot-9, 245-pound right-handed reliever.

“It’s a great escape being out there on the diamond,” he said. “We’ve all had (baseball) taken away this year. It’s just nice to be back out there. It’s a breath of fresh air. You can go into a dark spot and baseball has always been that solace.”
There are many players with stories like Rheault’s in the independent league this year. The American Association will be the first North American pro baseball league to get its season going. It has been reduced to six teams and the Goldeyes are playing out of Fargo because of restrictions on fans in the stands in Winnipeg and at the Canada-U.S. border.

With the six remaining AA teams drafting players from the other six and with the minors shut down, the Fish revamped their roster just as training camp was to begin.

Also finding himself in a Goldeyes uniform unexpectedly is catcher John Nester — a pickup from the Cleburne Railroaders in the dispersal draft.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Nester said. “It’s been a really long off-season.


Story continues below

Article content

“Personally, I got to the point where I figured it wasn’t gonna happen. Then we had the league getting going and some teams opting out and then a draft. Every day, it’s something new so it’s been interesting, to say the least.”

The abbreviated spring training camp in Fargo has been different from everything the players have experienced before.

“You can’t really describe it, you just have to be here,” Rheault said. “Everybody is kind of avoiding each other and you don’t know how to act. You go to give a dude a high-five and then you think: ‘Nah, I shouldn’t be giving high-fives right now.’

“Baseball is like a brotherhood, so we’ve always got our arm around somebody. Now, you just don’t know what to do.”

The players and team personnel have all undergone COVID-19 testing and have been asked to be vigilant in their efforts to avoid contact with the public. While they are not locked down in hotels, Nester said everyone shares a sense of responsibility in these strange times.

“You know you’ve got the rest of your team to look out for as well as yourself,” Nester said.

“All the guys seem to be doing their best day to day. Everybody is on board to be smart about it and do what we’re told.”

Independent baseball players are never in it for the money. They are in it because they love baseball and want to stay in the game by whatever means possible. If that leads to a job in a big-league organization, it’s a bonus.

That love of the game is on full display this week in Fargo.


Story continues below

Article content

“First practice, everybody just had a smile on his face, because we’re out here,” Rheault said.

“Usually, I don’t like standing out there for an hour and a half for batting practice, but when I’m out there now it’s like: ‘I get to be out here now and stand for BP.’ All the stuff you hate, after it’s really taken away from you, you just want to breathe it all in and enjoy it.”



Goldeyes looking like ‘stacked’ team for 2020 season

A day ahead of the start of the American Association season, members of the Winnipeg Goldeyes are feeling very good about their team’s chances.

“Our team’s really good,” relief pitcher Dylan Rheault said. “Our lineup is stacked, our pitching staff is really good. It’s gonna be fun.”

Goldeyes manager Rick Forney has assembled quite the array of talented players, including some returnees, players from AA teams that are sitting out the season and cuts from major league organizations.

Among the players the Goldeyes have this season are former Toronto Blue Jays infielder Darnell Sweeney, former AAA player Eric Wood and Canadian third baseman Wes Darvill, who spent many years in the Chicago Cubs’ and Los Angeles Dodgers systems.

“It’s tough to say how we’ll do because we’ve only had a few days really,” Nester said. “It seems like we’ve got a really strong defence and some strong bats to go with it. Everything I’ve seen from the pitching side, they seem pretty polished and ready to go.

“One of the biggest issues is gonna be if guys are not ready because of the short spring training and all the uncertainty about what was gonna happen with the season in the first place.”

— Wyman

News Near Kincardine

This Week in Flyers