The End of Minor League Ball in Canada?
This Labour Day weekend, the Ottawa Lynx will play the final game of their 15-year existence when they close out a home stand against the Syracuse Chiefs, all but completing an era where minor league franchises spanned the nation.
Less than a decade ago, there were Triple-A teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. In addition, Canada played host to several other major-league affiliates in places such as London, Ont., and Medicine Hat. After the departure of the Ottawa franchise, all that will be left is the Single ‘A’ Vancouver Canadians who are affiliated with the Oakland Athletics.
What could the reason be? Could it be that Canadians have a bizarre fixation with a substandard game such as hockey that goes almost year round or is there something in the water?
€œI can’t speak for other leagues, said Randy Mobley, president of the International League, €œbut while there are challenges [in Canada] such as travel, if this club [the Lynx] was drawing like an average Triple-A club or better, then we’re not having this conversation.
€œIt all comes down to the fact it’s not a priority in the lives of folks in the Ottawa region to come out to Triple-A baseball. I’ve said many, many times: We love Ottawa. It’s not the kind of city Triple-A baseball wants to leave.
15 years ago, when the Lynx were founded, Baseball was at its pinnacle of popularity as the Toronto Blue Jays were a force to be reckoned with – winning back to back World Series in ’92 and ’93. (I can remember at that same time being a 12 year old kid playing peewee ball in a league of 16 teams. 10 years later I coached a peewee team in that same league in that same city [which doubled in population] and we were down to a 4 team league.) Ottawa was blessed with a jewel of a stadium and it was often filled to its 10,000 seat capacity in the early going.
Not long after, 1994 saw the Players’ Union strike which forced Canadian baseball fans (Expos fans especially – who had the best record in baseball at the time of the strike) back to that game played on ice with sticks and pucks.
As well economic factors were in play. The weak Canadian dollar made it more difficult to turn a profit where revenues were collected in Canadian currecy and many expenses were in American dollars. Factor in travel time/border issues and inclement weather cancellations during the months of April and May and it is plain to see the financial incentives to have a team in the states.
Now the dollar is strong again and with global warming lessening the likelihood of snow outs (jokes), will we see a resurgence or minor league baseball or have Canadians just lost interest in the greatest game ever played?
€œMaybe baseball has declined as a spectator sport in some situations, but this is not indicative of an overall decline in baseball, said Jim Baba, Baseball Canada’s director general. €œIn my mind, we’ve had a renaissance from 2000 to 2007 with players such as Jason Bay, Ã‰ric GagnÃ© and Justin Morneau and us qualifying for the Olympics. The response we got from that tells us there’s lots of interest in baseball. I find it hard to equate one with the other.
So what will become of Ottawa’s beautiful ballpark? Randy Wolff, who owns Can-Am league (independent) franchise in Quebec City is bidding for a lease on the stadium in order to add an Ottawa franchise to play a schedule that runs from May to September.
€œThere is and has always been great baseball interest in Canada, Wolff said. €œPeople say what can you do better than the Lynx? Well, we don’t have to play in April and May when the weather is terrible and the Senators are doing well.
Independent pro teams still exist in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Quebec City.