West Coast League pitching is a notch above what Canadian Liam Ballance is used to, but that’s what attracted him to the Cowlitz Black Bears in the first place.
“I love it down here, it’s awesome,” Ballance said. “I was going to play in the Wimble, but this is a better league.”
Ballance, a third baseman during the Vancouver Island University Mariners’ season known in Longview as ‘The Giraffe’, is the Black Bears’ starting first baseman and is hoping to hone his skills and confidence while helping CBB win games.
“You gotta have confidence,” Ballance said. “If you don’t have confidence, you’re screwed. You need the confidence. And it helped me hitting well in Canada.”
Ballance led the Mariners in hitting over his junior season this spring, going 47 for 117 with 15 extra-base-hits and 26 RBIs. It’s the leverage Ballance can gain with his 6-foot-5 frame, though, which has Black Bears manager Grady Tweit excited.
“He has a good swing path but he wants to push it right now,” Tweit said. “A big body kid like that, natural lifters that he has, he can get away with taking it an inside pitch and pulling it off the wall. I don’t think he realizes that yet.”
Tweit and Ballance’s college assistant coach Griff Andreychuk have known each other for a bit through the WCL and the latter recommended Ballance to Tweit.
“He thought it’d be a good experience for me,” Ballance said. “I just hope I can help the team win games, play a solid first base and get some hits.”
While he tries to adapt his timing to the increase pitching velocity, Ballance will also be learning a position he hasn’t played regularly since high school. All while playing his home games on a surface he’s never played on.
“This is my first playing on turf, actually,” Ballance said. “I don’t mind it. You can’t get a bad hop, pretty much good hops all around.”
That’s a lot to get used to for the young righty who Tweit considers unique due to his finesse style of hitting and large frame. Tweit, though, thinks he’s up for the task.
“The aptitude is there,” Tweit said. “He’s a run producer, not a run creator, so he has to be able to go gap-to-gap at any time, on any count, on any pitch.”