It was reported in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday that a local councillor has been having some discussions with the Toronto Blue Jays about locating a minor league affiliate here in Ottawa. According to the Councillor, the Blue Jays are interested as well.
Now most of you probably remember the Ottawa Lynx were the Montreal Expos Triple-A affiliate and were fairly successful here playing out of Lynx Stadium. Once the Expos met their fate, the team became Baltimore’s affiliate for three seasons before one season as the Phillies’ affiliate before leaving town. Once the Expos left for Washington, interest in the Lynx definitely dropped off from what my friends and work colleagues tell me. In fact, they say, interest in baseball altogether dropped off as this was pretty much an Expos city given its proximity to Montreal.
Now the question to ask is would a Blue Jays affiliate be successful in Ottawa? Lets start to why it might not work.
First, as I mentioned in the above paragraph, interest in baseball is quite low in Ottawa. Much like most Canadian cities, it’s a hockey town. After hockey, I’d say soccer was next in line in terms of popularity. Besides myself, I can count on one hand the number of actual baseball fans that I’ve met in my four years here. I know there are more out there but they’re hard to find. When I tell people that my favourite sport besides hockey is baseball and that I like baseball as much if not more than hockey I get very strange looks. I get even stranger looks when I tell them I’m a Blue Jays fan. So baseball is not on the forefront of the Ottawa sports scene.
Secondly, a non-Expos minor league baseball team has been tried here and was not successful. Despite no other major sports team being present in the summer months here in Ottawa, people just weren’t that interested.
However, there are reasons why this team could be a success. One, there is a beautiful ballpark built for a Triple A team already here and in a good state of repair. The former Lynx Stadium sits just off Highway 417 in the east end of Ottawa. It’s easy to get to, parking is a bit of a problem but not too bad and I believe there is decent transit to get to the ballpark. I’ve seen a number of games there and it’s a great place to watch baseball. Even non-basball fans enjoy a night out at the ballpark on a warm summer night, even if it is just to drink beer and eat hot dogs.
Second, Ottawa being a federal government town, people from all over the country now live here. Like myself, who grew up in Southern Ontario and moved here for my career there are many who have done the same. Go to any Senators game when they are playing another Canadian team and the number of fans for the other Canadian team (Leafs, Canadiens, Oilers, Canucks, and Flames) is significant. Now the Blue Jays being the only Canadian team in the major leagues and televised nationally leads me to believe that there are a significant number of Blue Jays fans residing in Ottawa. Some may not be as passionate as me about the team but I’m sure there are a great number of casual fans out there who would be interested in watching future Blue Jays plying their trade here in Ottawa.
Third, this is a city of XXX million people and should be able to support a minor league baseball team. Because the major employer in the city is the federal government, the economy here remains relatively stable at all times. Also, being the nation’s capital, it is a tourist destination and tourists just may want to spend one of their nights here in Ottawa at the ballpark. It may not be number one on the list but at least it’s a possibility. I know of a good number of my friends in Toronto who would make the drive up for a weekend to take in a couple of games when the Jays are on a road trip.
Third, we have the Ottawa Fat Cats. It’s an Inter-County League team and it was quite successful in its inaugeral season here, and I believe led the league in attendance. More proof that baseball fans do exist here in the nation’s capital.
What I don’t think will work is if the Jays park a Class A team here. The quality of baseball isn’t quite there and you don’t get the organization’s top prospects. Double-A for me would be my first choice given the team usually puts its top prospects at this level to develop and often these prospects skip Triple A altogether and jump to the bigs. Triple-A would also be great as it’s the top professional level besides the majors in North America. You get prospects that are on the cusp of being major league ready plus a number of fringe major leaguers who have either had a cup of coffee in the show or even a few big league seasons under their belt as a fourth outfielder/utility infielder.
As a Blue Jays fan and a baseball fan, I’m very much hoping that there is some truth to this story and the Blue Jays are in fact considering locating one of their minor league affiliates here. If minor league baseball is ever to work in Ottawa again, it would be with a Blue Jays affiliate. It makes sense, I think the business case is there and I imagine the City would offer very favourable lease rates for the stadium to welcome a new tenant.
Heck we could even call them the Lynx again…I hear Lenny the Lynx needs a job!