It's not the start to the 2021 season they may have expected, but the Vancouver Canadians are hitting the field Friday, April 30, at their new temporary home ballpark of Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.
The Canadians were slated to hold their first team workout on the field Friday, as Opening Day looms on Tuesday, May 4. Before that workout, team manager Donnie Murphy held a virtual press conference with members of the media to answer questions and share his thoughts on the season to come.
"This last year has thrown a lot of curveballs at us," said Murphy, noting that the Canadians' major league parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays, spent the shortened 2020 season playing across the border in Buffalo, New York, because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions — just as his High-A team is doing in Hillsboro this year.
While Murphy said the Canadians would love to be able to play at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia, their focus right now is on getting acclimated to Ron Tonkin Field and figuring out accommodations and logistics in Hillsboro.
"We want to, but I think that's kind of the thing that we're not really thinking about right now," Murphy said. "If it does happen, we'll be prepared and ready to go there."
He added, "What we do know right now is we're going to be playing here."
The Canadians are sharing the facility with the Hillsboro Hops. From a scheduling standpoint, the arrangement works out well, since the Hops will be playing on the road during the Canadians' homestands and vice versa.
Murphy said the Canadians are working on a routine for how they will spend their days at home, and he indicated that routine is coming into focus.
"We're trying to get as comfortable as possible, as quickly as possible, as we get here," Murphy said, adding, "I think going on the road is going to be our biggest challenge."
While the Canadians' roster has yet to be announced, Murphy said he knows most of his players already, since they were in his working group at spring training in Florida.
This will be Murphy's first season as a manager. He worked as a hitting coach and was tapped to coach the Blue Jays' High-A affiliate last year in Dunedin, Florida, but the minor league season was canceled due to the pandemic.
The Blue Jays reassigned Murphy to Vancouver when the Canadians were promoted to High-A. The Dunedin Blue Jays will play this year in the new Low-A Southeast league.
Murphy is one of two former major league players on the coaching staff, along with development coach Taylor Hill, who pitched in parts of two seasons for the Washington Nationals. Murphy played for five major league teams during his career, mostly as a utility infielder, before retiring in 2015.
Not being able to manage last season was difficult, Murphy said, but he and his coaches took the opportunity to get to know each other on a personal level. Those relationships aren't always easy to form during the season, when team personnel are "in the trenches together" and focused on winning ballgames, he noted.
"We mesh well," he said of the Canadians' coaching staff. "We collaborate well."
Murphy is looking forward to showcasing High-A baseball, which he described as a "big jump" from the Canadians' previous level. Both Canadians and Hops fans are accustomed to watching Class-A Short Season play. With those teams now promoted to High-A, most of the players at Ron Tonkin Field this year will have more professional experience and a more advanced skillset.
"I think that the type of play you'll see is more fundamentally sound," Murphy said.
The Canadians open their season in Pasco, Washington, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 4, against the Tri-City Dust Devils.
After playing six games against Tri-City, the Canadians will return to Hillsboro for their "home opener" at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, May 11, hosting the Spokane Indians.
The Hops will open their season at home on Tuesday, May 4, hosting the Everett AquaSox. They'll head down to Eugene for a six-game series against the Eugene Emeralds the following week, leaving Ron Tonkin Field to the Canadians, before returning to Hillsboro to "host" the Canadians in the first series of 2021 scheduled between the stadium-mates.
By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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