A few weeks back, I bought a small knick knack on eBay - an Ottawa Lynx paperweight. At least I think it’s a paperweight. It doesn’t seem to serve any other kind of purpose that I can see.
Ibought it because, come Labor Day, the Ottawa Lynx will be no more, andthe Vancouver Canadians will be the last remaining Canadian minorleague baseball team.
Think about that for a second - no affiliated minor league baseball anywhere in Canada… except for Vancouver.
Ofcourse, this is a shameful course of events, and one that could havebeen avoided with just the minimal amount of care and concern, but careand concern aren’t words that sit well with baseball executives.
From today’s Globe and Mail:
On Labour Day, the Ottawa Lynx will play the final game of their15-year existence when they close out a six-game homestand against theSyracuse Chiefs, ending an era during which minor-league teams weredotted across Canada.
Less than a decade ago, there were Triple-A teams in Vancouver,Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. In addition, Canada played host toseveral other major-league affiliates in places such as London, Ont.,Welland, Ont., and Medicine Hat.
Yet when the Lynx depart after this season for Allentown, Pa., theSingle-A Vancouver Canadians will become the only Canadian outpostamong the dozens of major-league farm teams in North America.
Granted, the game isn’t as big up here now that the Blue Jays aren’t incontention and the Expos are gone to Washington, and the ridiculousborder line-ups (mostly heading in a southerly direction) haven’thelped the situation.Nor has the fact that, up north, during April and May, it’s usually either raining, has just rained, or is about to rain.
Andthe fact that US towns and cities are happy to pile loads of taxpayermoney into building stadiums while Canadian cities view socialinfrastructure as something to be avoided is another factor.
Butif you want to know the REAL reason that there’s no minor league ballin Canada, I can sum it up in three words: the Blue Jays.
The Lynx were born when baseball interest in Canada was peaking. The franchise played its first game only five months after the Toronto Blue Jays captured their first World Series, as baseball participation, television audiences and attendance hit record highs.
Ottawa sold out most games during those early days, setting an International League attendance record in their new 10,000-seat facility and becoming the jewel of Canada’s minor-league scene.
But when interest in both the Blue Jays and Montreal Expos began to decline in the mid-1990s, so do did the minor leagues suffer in popularity.
Then there were the economic forces. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, a low Canadian dollar made teams more valuable in the United States than Canada.
Economics, schmeconomics. The failure of baseball at the minor league level in this country is down to the Jays.
And not their lack of results so much as their lack of resolve.
Put simply, the Blue Jays could have seen the game failing in their own backyard and done something about it beyond compelling people in the cheap seats to "Make some noize!" They could have showed a little charity, and helped out surrounding areas to keep their teams. They could have played exhibition games outside of Ontario, or even the occasional in-season game. They could have made their stars into nationwide heroes on the same level as Joe Carter or Larry Walker once were. They could have drafted more local kids, or traded for one or two. They could have dragged a minor league team or two BACK to Canada.
But they did none of this. Instead, they figure wall-to-wall Blue Jays coverage on Sportsnet is enough to keep the kids in Nunavut and the oldies in Thunder Bay interested. The result of that misguided thinking? If Vancouverites want to see a ballgame, they go to Seattle. If Calgarians want to see one, they go to the independent Northern League. If Regina folks want to see one, they’ll head for Chicago.
Sure,there’s no law that says the Blue Jays have to spend money or exacteffort in helping keep minor league ball in Canada. There’s noprovincial or federal directives that say they should sling a fewmillion to cities to help them build stadiums that could have helpedthem keep their teams. There’s nothing in the bible that says "thoushalt build the sport in your own backyard if you want people to give adamn when the Yankees and Sox own your ass."
But the fundamentals of business dictate that, if you wantyour company to grow, your industry should grow too. and thefundamentals of sport management suggest that, if your team is playingaway for a week, but your Triple-A team plays just down the street, youkeep the locals interested in baseball ALL. THE. TIME.
TheMariners get this. Their minor league affiliates are as close as theycan be to Seattle, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. Do youhonestly think that Everett Aquasox fans don’t get to Safeco Field towatch the Mariners as often as they do the Flipperkids? Do you notthink Tacoma ball fans convoy past the airport to see their Triple-Aheroes playing in The Show?
Meanwhile, where do the Blue Jaysminor leaguers play? Not Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton and St Johns, butrather New Hampshire, Florida, New York, and Michigan.
The BlueJays love to call themselves Canada’s team, but where’s the incentivefor Canadians outside the 416 to give a damn about the Jays,when they send their kids to the US to play? Where are baseball fans inWinnipeg, Quebec, Calgary and Edmonton supposed to go to get theirbaseball fill, if the Jays aren’t concerned with supplying it?
Now,I understand how the minors work. I get it that decisions such as theone to move the Lynx to Pennsylvania are not made by the Rogers board,but that board can damn well have a say, and when the city of Ottawacouldn’t or wouldn’t raise the cash to upgrade the ballpark there (oreven build parking for it, or even not destroy the existing parking),the Jays could have ridden in like local heroes, offered to build a newballpark, and taken over the affiliation of the team while doing so.
For$10-25m, the team could have exploited a great real estate opportunity,anchored itself among Ottawa’s ball fans as ‘their team’, and securedthe ability to have their call-ups a short drive away, rather than ashort flight - for decades to come.
But they don’t. And themotards who don’t think these things through will say "Canadians don’tlike baseball", even as the Vancouver Canadians attendance figures spikeup dramatically (for Low-A short season ball, at that), and thousands of Vancouverites tackle the bordercrossing every weekend to see Mariners games some four hours away.
City officials will say "I won’t waste taxpayer money on stadiums",even as stadium developments across the United States, from Memphis toBalitmore to Albuquerque to Round Rock, rejuvenate downtrodden areasand bring in millions of dollars (and thousands of jobs) to localeconomies, as well as giving local populations some 70 nights ofentertainment every summer that they otherwise would have spentwatching TV.
As for the economics reasoning that Ottawa’s owners are trotting out as the logic behind their move, it’s funny that as they leave, the Independent Can-Am League is looking to not just move in to the city, but take over the stadium lease.
[Can-Am League ‘Quebec Capitales’ owner Miles] Wolff is also betting that Canadians still have plenty of appetite for baseball. Right now, he’s bidding to take over the final two years of the Lynx lease and operate a Can-Am League team in Ottawa next spring, with a schedule that runs from late May to September.
"There is and has always been great baseball interest in Canada," Wolff said. "People 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."
The Ottawa Lynx are dead, just as the Edmonton Cubs,Dodgers, Drakes, Eskimos, Grays, Legislatures, Navy Cardinals andTrappers died off. They’re dead like the Calgary Cannons, or theMedicine Hat Blue Jays, or the Pulaski Blue Jays, or the St CatherinesBlue Jays, or the Montreal Royales, Royals and Royals Accomplishments.Extinct like the Victoria Rosebuds. Gone the way of the VancouverAsahi. Fallen off the twig like the Winnipeg Maroons and Whips. Or like the entire ill-conceived, ill-fated, corruptly-run Canadian Baseball League.
May the baseball gods have mercy on their souls.
And ours for letting it happen.