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Higgins returns to Bearcats mound after five years away from baseball


TRURO – “He threw me six sliders in a row,” a dejected Dartmouth Dry batter said, making his way back to the bench.

Craig Higgins of the Truro Bearcats delivers a pitch during Monday’s NSSBL game against the Dartmouth Moosehead Dry. It was the first start of the season for Higgins.

He’d just popped out midway through a scoreless game, puzzled by a pitcher most of the Dartmouth bench was familiar with at one point.

But that was years ago, and Monday night was a different story.

Craig Higgins was back in Bearcat black.

“I didn’t expect to go that long,” he said of his eight-inning performance, in which he gave up one earned run. “I didn’t really know what to expect. If things went well, I’d just keep going out each inning.”

The 40-year-old Higgins announced his retirement five years ago, after a 19-year career with the Bearcats. He was a four-time Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League MVP, four-time all-star position player and four-time batting champion.

Higgins then spent five years away from the game, watching the Bearcats from a distance. Last season, when the team made the playoffs for the first time since his departure, he started to feel the itch.

“It gets more difficult when the playoffs start,” he said. “When the fall comes around and the air just feels like baseball.”

The itch led to his commitment to the provincial club hosting the national oldtimers championship in Yarmouth next month. To get in shape, he started practicing with the Bearcats in early June.

Over the first weeks, he progressed better than he’d hoped, and began talking with Bearcats coach John Chapman about the team’s needs.

“He said they had a good team but they needed pitching,” Higgins said. He agreed to do it on two conditions – if his arm felt good, and if they really wanted him.

Higgins is one of the last remaining pieces of a Bearcats team familiar with the feeling of a long playoff run, having won the league championship in 2002. With his return, along with the return of Kevin Matheson as bench coach, the Bearcats will have a boost in experience moving forward.

He’s wary, however, of disturbing a young team with an old boy’s club.

“The biggest thing for me was to not disrupt the chemistry in the group,” Higgins said. “Johnny really did a good job building this thing from the ground up a couple years back and I don’t want to take anything away from that group.”

For now, the former batting champ will limit his role to the mound, saving the lumber for the batting cage. If they need him in the order, Higgins said he’d step in if it feels right.

In the meantime, he’ll work on his command and try to keep his pitch counts low. Balancing the new commitment with work and family means Higgins will likely only pitch at home – a fact that won’t hurt the Bearcats in July, as they remain home for five of the next seven games.

“I think it’s going to take two or three more starts to get back in the saddle,” Higgins said. “I felt good out there, though… It feels in some ways like I never left.”

 

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