15 and Out for the Lynx

Ottawa Lynx Leaving Town

The last Canadian based MiL affilatedteam probably played its last game at the end of August. The Lynx have been rumoured to be moving for years due to terrible attendance and operating losses. Thisshould be the end as the Phillies plan to move their AAA affiliate to Allentown, PA for the2008opener.

The Lynxstarted their life as an expansion team in 1993 in the International League. Thiscame aboutwhen the Expos moved their AAA program from Indianapolis to Ottawa (not really an expansion team but relocated from anther league) The new IL entryplayed at 10,500 seat JetForm park, built brand new for theclub.JetForm was full, for the most part in the Lynx’ first couple seasons asbaseball in Canada was extremely popular ever. ManyMiL teams in theNY-Penn, Pioneer and PCL based in Canada did extremely well. The 1993 Lynx gave the Ottawa faithful much to cheer about, perennial fan favourite F.P. Santagelo was a solid player and was coupled with future major league workhorses Cliff Floyd,Matt Stairs went 73-69 to finsih 1.5 games behind Rochester. They then lost to the Red Wings 3-2 in the playoff.

The club averaged almost 10,000 paying customers that year which set MiL records for average and total (which have since been surpassed). Baseball was hot in 1993 in Canada as the Jays won the WS and the SkyDome was full everynight. The Lynx parent club in Montreal finished a close second in the NL East and with a young lineup of stars were expected to get better.

The strike of 1994 cost the Expos a probable playoff spot, the Blue Jays struggled and the Lynx were not as strong as they were in ’93. They led the IL in attendance for a second time but did not qualify for the post-season.

For 1995, the Expos cleaned house and took alot of the Lynx good young talent. TheLynxhad a very old (avg 27yrs) team and in a very competitve if not strong East Divison they qualified for the playoffsfinishing 72-70 and a game behind Rochester. They returned the 1993 defeat bybeating the Wings 3-2 before defeating heavily favoured Pennant Winners the Norfolk Tides who finished 86-56, 3-1 to win the IL Championship Governors’ Cup.

The Expos organisation was incrediblygood at scouting and developing young players, however, the parent team would always haveone of the lowest payrolls andyoungest teams. The latter especially crushed the Lynx. For the rest of their tenue as the Expos primaryclub theLynx were cellar dwellars. They never had a winning season and were rarely wellbehind theIL leaders. Attendance also plummeted. Which was once thestongest drawing team,by 2002, the last year Montreal was theML affiliate the Lynx attendance droppedto 191,000, by far the worst in the league.

For the 2003 season the Baltimore Orioles ended their very long relationship with the Rochester Red Wings and became the Lynx ML affiliate. The Lynx fielded a strong team 80-61 and qualified for a Wild-Card spot. They lost to the pennant winning PawSox to end their season. Attendance took another hit, drawing only 175,000. This seemed to spell the end of the Lynx. The Baltimore experiment in Ottawa, after2003was a disaster as the team were consistently in last place. They had only one winning season after their 2003 playoff appearance.

With the reshuffling of franchises and affiliates before the 2007 season the Orioles gave up on the Lynx and took up ties with Norfolk. The Philadelphia Phillies took the Ottawa club with the intention of moving them to Eastern Pennsylvania where they hadfound saggingattendance in SWBover the last decade.The2006 season saw the 74-69 Lynxdraw only 122,000, less than 2000 per game in a league averaging 6700, by far the lowest, all other IL teams were over 4500 on average.

With doom looming over the franchise the 2007 season opened without much hope. It was well known that the Phillies would be moving the team to Allentown who are building a brand new park to be ready for the 2008 season. So with no breath of hope with a new affiliate the Lynx limped to a 55-88 record, the worst in the IL and the worst in their history. Attendance increased very slightly in the Lynx last season, perhaps bouyed by a 7500 showing on the last game – the largest showing in almost three years.

The Lynx decline can be attributed to the fact that the 1994 players strike affected interest in baseball across Canada. However, the Lynx arrival on the sporting scene in Ottawa coincided with the arrival of the Ottawa Senators. By 1997 the Senators were establishing themselves as a yearly contender. With the Sens playing well into May or June sporting interest was diverted from baseball. Also, the junior Ottawa 67’s club are very popular and usualy stong. That OHL club usually leads the league in attendance, consistently drawing 8,000+. The twin towersof hockey in Ottawa crush any othercomers including two CFL teams.**Note theSenators almost failedandbut are now stable.

Yes, those winter sports have some overlap with the baseball season but it should not hurt the attendance that much. When JetForm Park (now Lynx Stadium)was built it was situated away from the city on the 417 freeway, much the way the Sens Corel Centre was built in neighbouring Kanata. The city of Ottawa experienced a population boom in the late 1990s. The flood of people to the commuter cities clogged highways and made 7:00 starts hard to get to (Sens fans realise this too). This, I am sure hurt the dedicated fan who worked in the city but didn’t want to fight traffic out to the suburbs. With fewer fans, the Lynx sold adjoining parking lots to developers, again, hurting any commuters. Parking was always aproblem, even when their were 1000 people in the park. The city grew, and the infastructure could not keep up, taking a bus to and from the park needed an hour committment both ways.

The Lynx decapitated the club during the Baltimore days, moving much of the club operations to Baltimore, thus killing any offseason announcements, ticket drives etc. Also, like many of the Canadian based sports teams who competed with US markets the terrible exchange rate in the 1990s and early 2000s led to unrecoverable operating losses. Established, strong drawing lower MiLteams in Southern Ontario moved south. Established PCL teams in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary lasted longer probably due to the large size of the cities. The Ottawa franchise, who remained 15 years in the ILwere in limbo for most of them. While with the Expos, the parent club had worries of their own and eventually failed. When Baltimore, one of the worst managed ML clubs, foolishlytook on the Lynx they tried to get out as soon as they could.

Perhaps the Phillies were the anwser the franchise needed. They have a solid plan for the club – moving it south.

This doesn’t mark the first time that Ottawa has lostan IL team butseeing at how far behind in attendancethey were andfor so long, it doesn’tlook likean affiliated MiL will be returning soon if ever. It seems the independantCan-Am League will assume the remaining two years on the Lynx lease. The city as plans to turn the stadium into a 25,000 seat amphitheate that may be able to accomodate concerts, conventions, trade shows, etc..

All-Time Lynx team

P – Javier Vasquez

RP- Ugeth Urbina

C – Chris Coste

1B – Matt Stairs

2B – Jose Vidro

SS – Orlando Cabrera

3B – Jeremy Carroll

OF – Rondell White, FP Santangelo, Cliff Floyd

Mgr -Pete Mckanin (great Expo organisation man)

The chapter of baseball history that ends with the OttawaLynx in 2007 wil begin with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (yuck)in 2008.

check out ottawalynxblog.com for more

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6 replies on “15 and Out for the Lynx”
  1. says: Kman

    “The club averaged almost 10,000 paying customers that year which set MiL records for average and total (which have since been surpassed).”

    This is a lie that I’ve seen or read by a few Canadian sports outlets, including TSN & the CBC. At the time, they set the International Leagues attendance record with 693,043 (since beaten by the Buffalo). Eight of the top 9 all-time single season records are held by the Buffalo Bisons (in the American Association at the time), including six seasons over 1 million fans.

  2. says: Kman

    I have to agree with your rational about the changing demographics, geographical layout and addition of the Senators as the downfall of the Lynx. The strike did hurt the team, as did the success (or lack thereof) the Toronto Blue Jays. Canadian baseball fans are fickle at best, and when the hype of the Jays started to simmer down, I would assume so would the attendance figures of the Lynx.

    Also, the addition of the Sens would now make others perceive the Lynx as “minor league”, as they now had a “big league” outlet for their fandom and entertainment dollars (plus a rivalry with Canada’s “capital” in Toronto).

    I’m pretty sure the O’s knew what they were doing from the get go and most likely were disappointed that it took this long to move the club. Minor League baseball is now a big business, and with no flow the ball had to go.

    Nice article.

  3. says: Early

    I stand corrected on the Buffalo Bisons behalf. They beat the old IL record the Lynx set, but they were drawing over 1million when they reentered AAA ball. I wasn’t lying in the article, just mistaken. I have read and heard that the Lynx hold the MiL record.

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