The State of Baseball in Ottawa
Back in 1992, baseball was the big thing in Ottawa. Some say that the Lynx’s first few years even over-shadowed the Senators’ return to Canada’s Capital. It’s hard to imagine that baseball would even come close to the popularity of Hockey at any time in Ottawa. Well, at least now that’s a hard thing to imagine.
Don’t get me wrong, though. 2010 is definitely not the lowest point in Ottawa’s baseball history. I would definitely say that that prize would belong to the late 90’s, where attendance plummeted despite the fact that in 1995, the Lynx won their league championship.
You would think that winning the top prize possible would give your baseball team’s fans a motive to come out to games, however instead, 1996 was the year when it became apparent that the Lynx wouldn’t last. After ’96, the Ottawa Lynx average attendance would never again reach 5,000, and slowly but surely, they drifted into oblivion.
Others may suggest that the lowest point in baseball history for this city, was the last year that the Lynx were around, 2007. After all, at that point all the interest and energy that AAA Baseball had brought to this city was gone, plus attendance and sales were the worst in the franchise’s 15 year history.
However, while baseball wasn’t exactly the hottest ticket in town, one Lynx game showed me that Ottawa Baseball still had some life in it. Ironically enough, it was the last game that the Ottawa’s AAA ball team ever played. September 1st, 2007 was just another ordinary day, however with 7,468 fans in the stands, it was a great day for Ottawa baseball. In fact, when you looked at the Lynx demise in a positive fashion, it was a door opening to reveal a closet full of possibilities.
It wasn’t the same thing as AAA, but the next spring, Ottawa still had baseball in town. It was in the form of the Can-Am League’s Ottawa Rapidz. The Rapidz were an Independent ball club, which meant that they weren’t affiliated in any way with the MLB. This was another positive step for baseball in Ottawa, as the The Rapidz opened up to a crowd of 4,246. This was a great feat, considering the weather that day, and it seemed like a lot more then that were on hand to root for the Rapidz.
Despite the 6-0 loss, and the dismal 31-63 record that season, baseball had found new life in Ottawa. After the end of the season, the Rapidz were in the middle of the league in Attendance and seemed to be looking forward to another great season in 2009.
But then, the unthinkable happened.
Rob Hall, the team owner at the time, declared bankruptcy about 3 weeks after the season’s end claiming that the Can-Am League and the City of Ottawa owed him 1.4 Million dollars. Great season finale.
However, Miles Wolff managed to save Ottawa’s baseball team and the Can-Am League took over ownership of the Rapidz. They too, were looking forward to a great 2009 and even started to make some trades. One trade even included a ‘future considerations’ stipulation on Ottawa’s end, so it was clear that the now-Voyageurs meant business.
Or, at least, that’s what I thought.
In March of 2009–a few weeks away from opening day at the Stadium–the Atlantic City Surf had declared bankruptcy and handed the team’s ownership into the league. Wolff and the Can-Am League said that it was too much to run 2 teams, so the Surf ceased to exist after all that drama. It didn’t end there, either. According to the TEAM 1200 among other local news sources, Wolff and his cronies decided that it would be much easier schedule-wise, to go with 6 teams in the Can-Am League, rather that 7.
Since the Voyageurs were a League-owned team, Wolff had the power to shut the team down, and that’s exactly what he did.
So, once again, there were more questions than answers, and Ottawa Stadium was without a tenant. I expressed my interest in how this situation would be handled by the city council, by sending a letter to my riding representative at City Hall. I expressed my concern at possibly losing one of the best baseball stadiums in Canada, for a shopping mall.
In the Councillor’s reply, he agreed with me, stating that we have a beautiful stadium here in Ottawa, and that he’d hate to lose it. That, plus the efforts later in the year from Bob Monette and the Acting Mayors proved to me that this council is fairly pro-baseball.
Earlier this year, the doors of possibility opened again, and for a few weeks it looked like the Voyageurs were coming back. Ottawa and a couple other cities were in the hunt for a Can-Am league team. Those other towns included Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Trois-Rivieres, Quebec; and Burlington, Ontario. If you add Ottawa to this list, it’s pretty clear that Can-Am is trying to emphasize the ‘Can’ in their name–if you know what I mean.
While Ottawa didn’t get the team–which went to Pittsfield–a second ownership group looking to bring baseball back, managed to find a gem of a league, called the IBL. OSG and Duncan MacDonald found this semi-pro league, and in 2010 we would have baseball again!
The Fat Cats aren’t having the greatest year on the field, but off the field, it’s a completely different story.
See, most IBL Ballparks can barely hold 1,ooo people. Do me a favor and Google, “Jack Couch Baseball Park”. That is what Ottawa Stadium is up against. So, the Fat Cats obviously lead the IBL in attendance, but taking a look at the average attendance for the Can-Am League in 2010, Miles Wolff didn’t make a very good decision shutting down the old Voyageurs franchise.
If the Ottawa Fat Cats were an Indepedent ball club in the Can-Am right now, they would be in 2nd in league attendance, only behind the league’s powerhouse, Quebec. Oh, and the Pittsfield Colonials? They’ve pulled in a whopping average of 593 people per-game. Imagine how much more money that Can-Am could be making in Ottawa right now. It’s quite mind-boggling.
However, take a look at the positive side of this. Baseball in Ottawa has undergone a complete rebirth, and could be a star in the Indys in the near future. Another interesting fact, is that the Cats’ current average attendance–2,261– is the best in Ottawa’s baseball history since 2005. It’s a sign that baseball is alive and well here.
While I hope to see a Can-Am, GBL or SIB team call Ottawa Stadium home in the future, I definitely don’t want our current baseball team, the Ottawa Fat Cats to leave the city. What could happen to the Cats’ if a pro team returns to Ottawa? I would think that we could squeeze 2 teams into Ottawa Stadium. After all, the 10-home-date schedule that the Fat Cats had this year, isn’t exactly taking up this stadium’s time. We could even manage two games a day if they’re a few hours apart.
If keeping the Fat Cats at Ottawa Stadium would be seen as competition for the new Pro team, or other reasonings that could kick us out, I would like to tell you guys about a nice little place called Heritage Park. It’s a nice ball field in Orleans, that could have it’s bleachers expanded, a ticket office added, and bam, you’ve got the Cats a new home.Oh, and that’s only an example. There are so many expandable ball fields in Ottawa, that would and could welcome the Fat Cats with open arms.
Bottom line, is that Ottawa Baseball is in great shape to keep both the Fat Cats, and add on a little bit of Pro action to the mix.