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Here's how the Star covered the CBL launch, and here's the Clutch Hits discussion that (not surprisingly, given the timing of the undiplomatic "Bush is a moron" slur) kind of wandered away from baseball in Canada to a political debate that nearly went nuke-you-ler.

I did a little market research last night. One of my best friends is a musician, who doesn't "get" sports. When he attends a Jays game or two with me every year, he likes the JumboTron and the dancers and the vibe of a decent crowd, and he roots for the home team, but doesn't know, or care, whether a player is a star or a bum. He likes fun; the baseball is irrelevant. This guy, if he lived in the Niagara Region or London, is the customer the CBL needs to survive. When I promoted tiny Orangeville Raceway in the giant shadow of Woodbine, I knew my "regulars" by name and didn't need special events to get them in the door. So I did wacky things to attract -- and entertain -- newcomers. My suggestion to the new league and each of its teams is to follow the Veeck blueprint and sell the sizzle; the steak figures to be a bit tough.

I am not very optimistic about the CBL, though I hope I'm wrong. I would have avoided Montreal and Calgary; they haven't supported higher levels of baseball and let's face it, these rosters are coming from the shallow end of the talent pool. And I would certainly not have begun with four-team divisions, a continent apart. How do you generate rivalries, and fan interest in them? The hoped-for parity is unlikely, at best -- it will take no more than a month to identify contenders and also-rans -- so the "competition" angle is a sham. I prefer the concept of three (or four) divisions with eight teams, and wouldn't have launched with less than 18 teams nationally.

Admittedly, that would "water down" the talent level even more, but so what? It will be a rare and exciting event when any CBL player gets signed by a big-league organization; if the idea is to present this as high-level sport, it's doomed. Properly promoted as entertainment, in medium and small Canadian markets, it has a chance, with the illusion of meaningful competition secondary to giveaways, concerts, and other attractions. Again citing the "bush leagues" of harness racing, we needed races that were competitive -- the relative ability of the horses to each other, not to the sport's elite, was all the fans cared about. But even if I presented a great "card" of racing, the difference between 1,000 in the building and 2,500 was entirely due to the sideshow. Getting casual visitors to return depended not on the human or equine athletes, photo-finishes or the percentage of winning favourites, but making the "peripheral" stuff fun.

If the new league survives an inevitable shaky first year, vacates cities where it's ignored, and expands to a competitive size in greener pastures, it has a chance. The salary cap seems reasonable, and while I don't know what Jack Dominico pays Rob and Rich Butler or Paul Spoljaric to play 40-some games in the Intercounty League, I presume most teams will be sprinkled with similar "names" that are novelties, if not gate attractions. At least five Canadians on each roster will keep their baseball careers alive, which is a fine opportunity for talented young amateurs who go undrafted, and pros on their way back down the career path. Matt Stairs would be a draw in New Brunswick at 50, and I can imagine manager/pinch hitter Larry Walker of the 2020 Surrey Fringes. Please don't confuse my skepticism with negativity; I hope the CBL is a huge success and goes on forever.

Perhaps Craig B will join me on a Golden Horseshoe baseball immersion weekend next year: if the teams' (and our) schedules permit, we could scout those amazing Indians prospects in Buffalo, compare the new Stars to the established Leafs, maybe even attend a Jays game, then share our observations. Jordan can have his own excellent adventure in the Ottawa and St. Lawrence valleys, and we'll expect Western reports from Sean and Justin. Anyone else up for the Southern Ontario road trip?
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Craig B - Monday, November 25 2002 @ 09:49 AM EST (#102088) #
Craig B will join me on a Golden Horseshoe baseball immersion weekend next year

Well I'll certainly join you in Welland for a game; but given my firstborn's imminent arrival (conveniently timed to coincide with the start of the major league schedule in April) "immersion weekends" of anything except diapering are right out the window for a couple of years. :)
Craig B - Monday, November 25 2002 @ 09:56 AM EST (#102089) #
follow the Veeck blueprint and sell the sizzle

You have to. But we simply do not see enough baseball in these parts; and in Ontario at least there is a huge market for baseball at a local level... practically everyone I know likes a day at the ballpark, but won't pay big-league prices to suffer a trip all the way to Toronto.

There will be a surprising number of fans who come just for the baseball. In the end, though, every entertainment enterprise (outside of a very few constantly touring music outfits) depends on the casual punter, rather than the "fan", for its ultimate survival. That or tax dollars.

Matt Stairs would be a draw in New Brunswick at 50

Interestingly, Bill Lee (yes, the famous Spaceman himself) played for the Moncton Mets in the Maritimes version of the Intercounty League, into his very late forties. He was still a very tough pitcher who relished his turns at the plate.
_Kent - Monday, November 25 2002 @ 02:54 PM EST (#102090) #
Craig, the last one I put diapers on is now driving; I hope you're a lot younger than I am. We love babies (my partner is a pre-natal class instructor, doula, lactation consultant, and runs the post-partum depression program at Women's College Hospital) but at this point, with four teenagers, an empty nest has its appeal. Best wishes to you and your family, and I'll see you at the park when you catch up on your sleep.

Part of the reason people who once took mortgages with SkyDome scalpers now find the Jays too expensive has been the on-field product, which I think we all agree has been vastly improved in the past year. The casual customers may not return until the bandwagon effect of the next pennant race, so for another season or two, there may be a window of opportunity for the CBL in the Niagara region.

I'm a Port Colborne boy who remembers climbing the Fairgrounds fence to save a quarter and see the King and his Court vs. the local fastpitch allstars. When we moved to Toronto in '63, I discovered AAA baseball, and those Leafs, the Red Sox farm club, combined what would now be big-league skill with bargain entertainment. Yet even with the deep pockets and promotional talents of Jack Kent Cooke, they didn't survive in this enormous market.

Cities like Hamilton, Kitchener and Guelph would be natural rivals for Welland and London, and are ideal for the CBL, but unlikely to support two teams. If the new league's backers don't run out of money, they may prevail, so I fear the demise of the Intercounty League. Maybe there will be a merger, and a similar approach in the Maritimes, to re-package the existing product in a fan-friendly way.
_Sean Whittaker - Monday, November 25 2002 @ 08:07 PM EST (#102091) #
Once I get up to speed on the CBL I'll assuredly try to attend some games and report back if a team is placed in the Lower Mainland region of BC.

I'm still in mourning for the Triple-A Vancouver Canadians who got bought and relocated to Sacramento. A few years ago, back when I was an undergraduate at UBC, I got a first-hand look at Troy Percival, Jim Edmonds, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad. It wasn't hard for me to predict future success for California (now WSC Anaheim).

I'm intending to start following the Double-A team now playing out of the Nat. I'll pass along any interesting tidbits that I learn.

I'm more excited, however, about my plans for a trip to Seattle next season to watch a game at Safeco. Luckily I also have some friends in the Tacoma area, so I'll also have choice seats to watch some Mariners-in-training.
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