Can-Am League handed Ottawa’s baseball dreams

Jared Lemieux gets set to bat for the Ottawa Rapidz in a 2008 Can-Am League game (photo courtesy Nicolas Rouleau)

Jared Lemieux gets set to bat for the Ottawa Rapidz in a 2008 Can-Am League game (photo courtesy Nicolas Rouleau)

In an unprecedented turn of events, the city of Ottawa has ruled against pursuing a double-A team at Ottawa Stadium.

It has been recommended that an independent Can-Am League team moves in to Ottawa Stadium.

Here is a portion of the press release from the city, full version can be found here:

 

Ottawa – A staff report to be considered by the Finance and Economic Development Committee on October 1 and by City Council on October 9 recommends approval of an offer from the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball to lease the Ottawa Stadium and return professional baseball to the capital.

If the offer is approved, international pro baseball would begin in May 2015 with an Ottawa team joining five others in the Can Am league – two in Quebec and three in the northeastern U.S. – including 50 home games at the Ottawa Stadium.

“I am pleased that this challenging two-year process is coming to fruition,” said Mayor Jim Watson. “Our goal was to secure a long-term professional baseball tenant for this important purpose-built facility, and do so while getting the best value for taxpayers.”

Through this process, the City has refined its vision for the long-term use of the Ottawa Stadium in a way that will preserve the facility, see professional baseball return to Ottawa, and open the doors for a variety of other community uses. In addition to being reanimated with 50 baseball home games in a professional international league, the Ottawa Stadium would also be used as a recreation and entertainment venue with 50 to 75 additional days of programming each year.

“The City has worked hard to find a solution that is fair for taxpayers, sports fans, community groups and the public,” said Orleans Councillor Bob Monette. “If this plan is approved, I hope all residents will join us in supporting our new Can-Am team and attending new activities at the facility in order to make the most of this important community asset.”

As you can most likely tell from my previous posts, this is a gigantic step in the right direction for Jim Watson and the city. Double-A baseball was not the way to go, as the cost for taxpayers was significant. A Double-A team would have been a decent investment of these tax dollars, however when handling the money of residents, less is usually better.

You’ll note that I italicised the word ‘usually’, as there are some obvious exceptions.

Miles Wolff stated that the cost for renovations under Can-Am requirements is much less than the term of approximately $30 Million that was announced as a possibility if affiliated baseball was chosen. “With the money that has been spent thus far on the stadium, I think it will take a lot less than $5 Million to bring it up to shape” Wolff said in an email.

Given that, and using the ‘less is better’ analogy in this situation, it really seems like a win-win. The other ‘win’ being that we still get good quality baseball in Ottawa.

I was in Quebec City earlier this summer and had the pleasure of taking in a Capitales game at the old Stade Municipal. The calibre of baseball was surprisingly good – I don’t remember the Rapidz being able to play at the level of Quebec and the visiting St. Paul Saints (albeit, these squads are a little better than the Rapidz were).

For the many in Ottawa who have not been to Double-A baseball games before, this calibre will be more than suitable, just as the Fat Cats were when they drew over 4,000 per game on average during the 2011 playoffs.

In terms of an ownership group, I wouldn’t worry too much. While we should see investors step into the role, Miles Wolff would run the team in the short term. Who knows, maybe he’d take the reins and run with the team himself in the event that there is no potential buyer in the first season or two. Wolff did the same thing with the Quebec Capitales, leading them into a championship dynasty that is now in its 5th year.

Another point to make – you can be sure that Wolff will be careful in choosing his new ownership group for this Can-Am team following the Rapidz fiasco in 2008. Zip.ca boss Rob Hall was handed the Ottawa Rapids franchise, butchered the branding and bailed after just one season leaving Ottawa Stadium to rot.

It appears that the majority of reaction from baseball to this development has been negative, as expected. Many were excited about the Double-A possibility.

I understand that Double-A baseball is a primary developmental league full of big-shot prospects and would be a great addition to Ottawa’s sports environment, but in the end it comes down to what works in this market.

The Can-Am League is a low-cost option with a business model that fits with the Ottawa market for baseball. Hopefully most fans that are caught in the moment step off their soapboxes and support this new club, if it does indeed materialize. With the right people in charge, the Can-Am League will find huge success in Ottawa.

    • Rob
    • September 25th, 2013

    I’ve said for some time that the Can-Am League is the best option for Ottawa. AA baseball would have brought the same problems that the AAA Ottawa Lynx faced, namely cost, player salaries, unstable roster, and a long season beginning too early in the year. As well, the city would be faced with renovating the stadium for many millions of dollars.

    In contrast, the Can-Am League, while similar to the quality of single A ball and thus significantly higher than that of the IBL’s Fat Cats, is a growing league with good attendance in all cities including the champion Quebec City. The roster should remain solid and the renovation cost will be a fraction of that considered for a AA tenant. The Can-Am League team should be like a professional version of the Fat Cats without the expense and high revenue requirements of affiliated ball. And truth be told, the Toronto Blue Jays were clearly disinterested in relocating AA ball to Ottawa.

    City council should accept the FEDC’s recommendation and prepare the stadium for a 5 or 10 year lease.

    Rob Alexander
    BigBob99

    • I wouldn’t say that the Can-Am League gets good attendance in all cities, but it’s a work in progress. I personally don’t see the Newark Bears around after this year, they drew about 500 ppl/game.

      However this doesn’t stop me from throwing my support to the Can-Am League and I’m glad you agree that it’s a better option. A lot of people aren’t taking much into account when it comes to the calibre of baseball, assuming that independent baseball is just as bad as the IBL, when as you said it’s pretty much on-par with the short season NY-Penn League. I was at both Can-Am and NY-Penn games this summer, can vouch for that.

  1. This is good news. I went to several Rapidz games in 2008, and I was disappointed when they folded. (Although I did enjoy the 3 seasons of Fat Cats.)

    I have to wonder how the $5 million (or so) will be spent. The obvious include field repairs, new scoreboard, new sound system, repairs and upgrades to washrooms and concessions. The dressing rooms are probably in desperate need as well. And the whole stadium could benefit from a total scrubbing and paint-job. 🙂

    I hope it works out!

    • Same here Paul. Fingers crossed.

      With a good ownership group, I don’t see why it wouldn’t.

      • Jayme
      • September 30th, 2013

      Where did you hear that $5 million will be spent on up grades?

      • Apologize – a bit of a misconception going on with this.

        I asked Miles Wolff in an email whether the cost would be around $5mil, and he said it would be lower than that. That’s the quote that was posted, the $5mil number came from me asking him about it. It’s since come out that the number will be around $750,000 if I remember correctly. Not a large amount.

    • Steven Clark
    • September 25th, 2013

    As much as I am a fan of the game of baseball, I also want to see names. I think one of the reasons that AAA failed in Ottawa, besides from the city of Ottawa doing absolutely nothing to keep the team, is because no in Ottawa could careless about the future of the Baltimore Orioles or The Phillies. It was quite popular when we were the AAA affiliate of the Expos. In Ottawa it’s the Jays, Yankees or Red Sox. There was perhaps the possibility of getting the Jays AA team out of NH but, I believe that the Jays signed an extension with the city for another 3 years. If you could spend the next year and a bit REALLY fixing up the stadium then it would make sense to bring in that team (maybe an IBL team in the mean time).

    I say either tear the stadium down and save us from all of the agony, money and bad memories of how the city pretty well destroyed baseball in the area OR do it properly and make baseball a viable, fun option in Ottawa again.

    I played on the field last week and at this point I would by no means even consider it close to being the best field in Ottawa anymore.

    • With the Can-Am League, baseball is viable. The IBL found success here with their calibre of ball. The level doesn’t matter, it’s the compatibility of the sport with the Ottawa market. That’s what the Can-Am League has – it’s a perfect fit and should stick pending on good ownership.

      In terms of the field, they’re most likely gonna rip it out and put in turf, so don’t have to worry about that. But yeah, the city has not done a good job maintaining the building.

    • Pierre
    • September 26th, 2013

    Michael, I’m surprised. I thought you were one of those “affiliated (with the Jays) or bust” guys. I’m happy too because, other than a short-season league (only one that makes sense would be the NY-PA league), the Can-Am is the only choice for Ottawa.

    >> I don’t remember the Rapidz being able to play at the level of Quebec

    That’s because the Rapidz were a poor team and Quebec has been a powerhouse in the Can-Am since the league started. I think that team still owns some league records such as most errors, set on opening night no less.

    There are however some questions and concerns in my mind.

    One, where does this $40+ million come from all of a sudden? I understand that an affiliated league would ask for (almost impose) certain things. But $40m is like building a brand new stadium. Don’t they know we already have one built to AAA standards?

    Two, not a concern just a curious fact: I just read the lease would be ten years with two optional five-year extensions. That would make it up to 20 years. I remember when the city balked at this from Rob Hall and they did not want to go over four years. I guess they changed their minds.

    Three, also a curiosity: the rent being exactly the same as it has been since the Lynx days. I expected the city not to give in to increasing the rent.

    Four, taxpayers paying $750k for upgrades. This is a concern. The figure was six times that before. All of sudden the stadium doesn’t need that many upgrades? Strange. The good part is the city paying $400k annually in operating costs. That’s a real surprise to hear although I’m not sure what exactly are those operating costs. It seems to me they forced the teams to pay for those which I take to be the power and other bills related to the stadium itself.

    As per Ottawa Sun, the league is asking the city to put in new lighting and consider installing artificial turf. OK but the artificial turf thing won’t happen. I actually don’t want it to happen. Everyone is moving away from artificial turf.

    The league is offering to buy a new scoreboard. Well, the league had to give something. It likely won’t be the super-video screen most everybody wants (a cost of almost $1 million) but to most people, that’s the most visible upgrade.

    I know many don’t like the idea of the Can-Am. Just read Ken Gray (to which I responded) and others in his Bulldog column. We just seem in the minority about the league that’s moving in. The trick now is creating a buzz, an appetite for the next year and a half and get this team started on a good note. I think that come the May 2015 long weekend, a likely date for opening night, there can be a big crowd at the stadium. After all, it will have been two full seasons without baseball in this city.

    >> you can be sure that Wolff will be careful in choosing his new ownership group for this Can-Am team following the Rapidz fiasco in 2008

    Of that, you can be sure. Smart businessmen like him don’t make the same mistake twice.

    Rob said:
    >> AA baseball would have brought the same problems that the AAA Ottawa Lynx faced

    Yes. The question is if the attendance and revenues expected from it would be enough. I have my doubts and tend to say no but then, I don’t know enough about these things. Note that affiliated baseball teams don’t pay player salaries. Also, rosters are set by the parent team. Players are brought up and down at their whim. This is not fan-friendly in a way. I thought last night to see if I can find the minors record since 1970 for most games played for one team by a player. I’ll bet it’s not much more than 250 games over two years.

    As for names, there are some players in this and other independent leagues that have played in the majors. Some get bought to play in the minors and a few make it to the majors, if only briefly for the most part. Remember Scott Richmond? He played in the Northern League before the Jays. Some former major leagues also manage and coach in indie leagues such as Gary Carter.

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