Last week, the Brantford Red Sox accomplished a seemingly-impossible feat, winning their sixth consecutive Intercounty Baseball League championship, and their seventh in eight years.
However, this particular title was arguably the most special for a couple of reasons. First, they managed to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to the Barrie Baycats, winning the last four games to stave off elimination and take the championship in dramatic fashion.
The other reason that made this win so memorable is that it marked the end of their incredible dynasty. That’s not to say the Red Sox can’t win again next year, but if they do, it will be with a vastly different roster of players and personnel.
For starters, their owner for the last 13 seasons, Paul Aucoin, is leaving the team. Aucoin has been instrumental in assembling a ball club of both players and management that together has transformed a struggling franchise into a full-fledged dynasty.
“This is it for me,” Aucoin told the Brantford Expositor last week after winning the title. “I’m going to miss it. It’s very emotional. This is pretty much my life but there comes a time.”
On the player side of things, it is expected that over half the team could be moving on for next season.
One of the biggest losses for the Red Sox will be that of their starting shortstop Lee Delfino, who has been with the club since 2006.
A former sixth-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Ontario native came to Brantford after injuries and inconsistency cut his minor league career short and left him contemplating retirement from the game altogether.
He was convinced by his former coach from the Canadian Junior National team to play one more season of baseball for the Red Sox, and ended up remaining with Brantford for their entire championship run, emerging as their clubhouse leader and one of the league’s best players.
This summer, Delfino made sure his last year would be a memorable one. In the regular season he racked up 12 home runs and 40 RBI in 40 games, including a stretch where he hit seven home runs in eight games.
In the playoffs, he won the award for postseason MVP, hitting .286 with six home runs and 18 RBI in 18 games.
But the 33-year-old, who recently became a father, has decided to move on from the game and many of the team’s other long-time players are following suit.
Among those also departing, are speedy infielder Tyler Burnell, designated hitter Hyung Cho, and pitcher Brad Hogeterp. Outfielder Josh McCurdy, one of the team’s best hitters, is unsure what his future holds.
Like Delfino, all four players have been with Brantford for their entire championship run.
Clearly, things will not be the same for the Sox, but luckily, one person who is expected to remain with the team is general manager Mike Bonanno.
Bonanno came to Brantford in 2010 (first as a player, then as their GM) and has been responsible for recruiting top-flight talent, including former Major League first baseman Scott Thorman, and former Minor League starting pitcher Jamie Richmond.
Although their tenures with the team have been brief so far, both players have been nothing short of dominant at their respective positions.
However, with Aucoin and so many crucial players leaving, Bonanno has a tough task ahead of him to keep the Red Sox an elite team.
Another factor working against the ball club is the new rule that the league will implement next season, requiring each team to have three local players on their roster.
This benefits teams that play in densely-populated cities like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Hamilton Cardinals, but for a city like Brantford with a population of under 100,000 (and therefore a smaller talent pool), it clearly puts them at a disadvantage.
“It definitely makes life more difficult,” says Bonanno. “The league is putting rules in place [to create more parity] and we’ll have to adjust.”
However, despite all the changes, Bonanno is not ready to concede anything.
“To be clear, it doesn’t mean the dynasty is over. In terms of this version of the team with the current players, it’s over in that sense. But we’ll rebuild and definitely still compete for next year,” said Bonanno.