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 The Ottawa Rapidz played its first game in the independent Can-Am League and a former Blue Jay farmhand was the winning pitcher.

Former Lansing/Dunedin/New Hampshire hurler Aaron Tressler got the "W" with six shutout innings as he helped the New Jersey Jackals spoil the Rapidz home opener with a 6-0 win last night at Rapidz Stadium, formerly Lynx Stadium/Jet Form Park/Ottawa Stadium.  The Rapidz had just two hits and two walks in the game.  Watching Tressler from the Rapidz dugout was his former teammate, Orlando Trias, who spent last season in Dunedin and New Hampshire.  

Over 4,200 fans were at this game, more than quadrupuling the attendance of the Ottawa Lynx home opener last year when just 1,025 folks showed up.  However, that's a far cry from the Lynx inaugural season in the International League, when they set a league attedance record in 1993 when over 690,000 fans went through the turnstiles.

It's been said that "image is everything" and the Rapidz underwent a logo change before they even took to the field.  The team was to be called the Ottawa Rapids/Ottawa Rapides but the name was changed when Rob Hall and Rick Anderson, the owners of, purchased the club from the league late last month.  I'm not a big fan of the current logo, they should've stuck with the original one.  Besides, adding a Z at the end of a team's name belongs in something like roller hockey, not baseball.

Will independent ball succeed in Ottawa?  At least the team will have a Canadian rival in the Quebec Capitales, who are celebrating its 10th year of existence.  It's also felt that a mid-May start to the independent league season will be more conducive to drawing fans as opposed to the early April start of Triple-A ball, when games are rained or snowed out.   The team has also struck a deal with the local transit system to make it easier for fans to come out to the ballpark.  A lack of parking at the stadium was cited as one of a number of reasons why the Lynx suffered attendance woes.

Another factor will be roster stability as the Rapidz will not have a major league affiliate to answer to.  Fans will be able to identify with the players at the independent level instead of the "here today, gone tomorrow" scenario of affiliated ball.

I hope the people in Ottawa support the Rapidz and not waste this second opportunity to enjoy professional baseball.  Speaking from personal experience, I enjoyed watching the Cracker-Cats here in Edmonton last season and I'm looking forward to their home opening weekend series against the Calgary Vipers.  No, it's not the same as watching the Jays at the Rogers Centre but as far as I'm concerned, baseball is baseball and the calibre of ball in the Northern League was pretty good.  Now I'll get to compare the Northern League to the Golden League, where the Cracker-Cats and the Vipers reside this season. 

One of the things I enjoy about independent ball is that it's really "Last Chance Saloon" for players who still dream of making it to the bigs one day.  One player who I got to see take a step closer to realizing his dream was Scott Richmond, the ace of the Cracker-Cats staff who was signed by the Jays and now pitches for New Hampshire. 

If you want to get a quick primer on independent baseball, pick up the latest issue of Baseball America (the Reds Johnny Cueto graces the cover) because it contains a season preview and an interesting article about the players who have made the jump to the bigs and some of the hopefuls who look to follow in their footsteps.

Opening Day is tonight in Edmonton and I can't wait!  Play Ball!

Pro Ball Returns To The Nation's Capital (And Alberta Too!) | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
rpriske - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 11:10 AM EDT (#185779) #

I look forward to cheering on the Rapids (I refuse to use that stupid z) this year.

I find it interesting that you consider the lack of an affiliation with an mlb team a positive. I consider that a big negative. While I'm glad we have baseball here again, I would prefer a single A team to an independant.

#2JBrumfield - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 11:47 AM EDT (#185786) #

I find it interesting that you consider the lack of an affiliation with an mlb team a positive.

I didn't say that it was a positive.   I do enjoy independent ball but in a perfect world, I still wish the Trappers were still here in Edmonton and that I would've had a chance to see someone like Scott Downs, who pitched here in the team's final year in 2004.

I had a conversation with some fans in Ottawa a while back and they felt one reason they couldn't draw fans to the park was the fact the roster underwent a "revolving door" policy.  In Jim Bouton's back "Foul Ball" (fantastic read, highly recommend it!), he was looking to land an independent team to save Waconah Park in Pittsfield, Mass. He said one of the selling points of having an independent team was the lack of an major league affiliation as an independent club wouldn't be at the mercy of big league clubs when it comes to call-ups.

Sure, it's a step down from Triple A but it's still baseball and you can't go wrong with that.

John Northey - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 11:52 AM EDT (#185787) #
Great to hear the team has started out decently. To my way of thinking AAA teams are the worst because you get the rotating roster and zero stability with no real incentive to win as every player is so close to the majors they can taste it thus will do anything to look good rather than to win.

Indy ball makes a lot of sense in Canada. Outside of the Jays (maybe the Mariners/Twins/Red Sox/Yankees depending where in Canada you are) ML affiliation means little. The CFL gets fans without a direct affiliation with the NFL (ie: players don't get promoted/demoted to the NFL directly) and I suspect independant baseball will work the same. The Winnipeg Goldeyes do well I think.
ChicagoJaysFan - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 12:26 PM EDT (#185792) #
I had a conversation with some fans in Ottawa a while back and they felt one reason they couldn't draw fans to the park was the fact the roster underwent a "revolving door" policy.

It'd be interesting to see a study on that.

I remember when the Tigers AA team moved to London, my thinking was the opposite of what you're saying.  I though having guys move on from the local team to the majors would be a cool attraction.  With the AA team close to the major league city, fans in London would get to see guys on their way up and still be able to follow them when they moved on.

Unfortunately, London didn't have a team long enough for that to really happen.  Fryman was really the only player I can think of that ever came through London and he was still very early in his major league career when the Tigers left London.
#2JBrumfield - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 12:41 PM EDT (#185793) #

Indy ball makes a lot of sense in Canada.

It sounds good in theory but I think the folks who ran the Canadian Baseball League would disagree.  However, the Golden League is looking to expand to Kamloops and Victoria next season and create a Canadian division with Edmonton and Calgary.

Fryman was really the only player I can think of that ever came through London and he was still very early in his major league career when the Tigers left London.

I remember getting to see Jose Lima pitch a couple of times at Labatt Park.  I think the only former London Tiger still in the majors today is Chris Gomez.  I miss the London Tigers!  They were my introduction to minor league ball.

John Northey - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 01:15 PM EDT (#185798) #
The CBL (a more detailed set of info is here) made a lot of mistakes that doomed them.  Putting too many new teams into place, putting a team into a city without a park to play in (Montreal), putting teams in towns without a pro-baseball background, spending too much on players to start, etc.

That league felt really weird from day one.  Intentional walks were done automatically (just say you want to walk the guy and he walks), pinch runners for catchers with two out, 5 Canadian minimum per team, talk of doing a lot of other non-traditional baseball rules. 

It could've worked if they took their time and built slowly.  Start with a west coast division and stabilize it then add an eastern division a few years later.  I'm sure a lot of other things could've helped too.  Some demand existed as per the big opening day crowd and all-star game crowd to end it (both over 5k when 1.5k was needed to survive per game).  Just too much ambition and not enough patience or local marketing.
#2JBrumfield - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 03:41 PM EDT (#185808) #

I look forward to cheering on the Rapids (I refuse to use that stupid z) this year.

I wonder if they'll change their scoreboard to read ballz, strikez and outz as well as hitz, runz and errorz.  The P.A. announcer can emphasize the "Z" when he speaks.  I wonder if the team is looking for more promotions staff :).

Brian W - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 06:30 PM EDT (#185817) #
Well, the Vipers are working hard to get some headlines here in Calgary:
Theo Fleury will be a Viper for a day
Pitcher John Odom was traded to Laredo for 10 maple bats

As far as the independent versus affiliate debate goes, I grew up with the Calgary Cannons AAA team and greatly enjoyed it.  For most of my youth they were the Mariners affiliate and I remember Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Omar Vizquel and Danny Tartabull passing through on their way to the majors.  Edgar in particular spent far more time in AAA than he should have, which will play a role in keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.  A-Rod also was a Cannon briefly, but I don't remember if I saw him play.  You'll note that no pitchers are on that list as the high altitude tended to destroy the confidence of all the pitching prospects (Erik Hansen was probably the best of the lot).  The problems here started after the Mariners cancelled the affiliation and we passed through the White Sox, Marlins and Pirates in short order.  With the team changing completely from year to year a lot of the fans lost interest (and the Mariners were more convenient to follow from here - I've made a couple trips to Seattle to watch them).  The Vipers will probably disappear fairly quickly.  The attendance is quite dreadful and I don't really see it improving.  Personally I went to one game last season.
Smithers - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 10:18 PM EDT (#185823) #
The Winnipeg Goldeyes do a rather respectable business playing in the Northern League.  As an independent league though there are a lot of other markets that do not draw as well and the number of teams in the Northern League has fluctuated significantly over the years.  The weather is not always the greatest here at the early part of the season as well but the Goldeyes still drew about 5500 for their opener this week. They have a great downtown ballpark and are owned by the mayor so that helps too.

There are a few characters in the league that have been around for more than a decade so it definitely allows fans time to build up pretty strong rivalries - for Winnipeg, especially against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.  Goldeye shortstop Max Poulin (born in Quebec) is starting his 8th season with the team and is probably the all-time greatest Goldeye.  But obviously the players would rather be playing in the big leagues and most plan on using independent ball as a stepping stone.  A few former Goldeyes have made it to the show lately, most notably Baltimore closer George Sherrill.  This past offseason Goldeye catcher Luis Alen was ranked as the #3 prospect in independent ball and ended up signing with the Mets.

As far as having a major league affiliation this has been a positive for a different local sports franchise, the Manitoba Moose, the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate.  Personally I feel that the opportunity to watch budding stars like Alex Edler, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, along with 3 time Cup winner Mike Keane (still playing out the string captaining his hometown team) are big draws in my choice to attend their games.  Sure, they aren't the Jets, but it's the second best hockey league in the world so it's a reasonable facsimile.  If the Goldeyes were instead an affiliate of the Jays (or some other MLB team) then it would increase my interest, being able to follow the players as they work their ways up the ladder.
VBF - Friday, May 23 2008 @ 10:59 PM EDT (#185825) #
On the topic of baseball fans in other Canadian cities, I do hope the Jays have plans to capitalize on the potential market that is the entire country of Canada. During the glory days, they would play the Expos at BC Place before the season started, and if I understand correctly, drew enormous crowds to those games. With a ridiculously huge number of fans making the trip from BC to Seattle to watch the Jays, I wonder if that's revenue that could be had, should the Jays play a game in British Columbia before the season starts.

And if British Columbia, why not Edmonton and Winnipeg who draw crowds higher than most Syracuse home games? The weather is cold, but so is Buffalo and Cleveland (I probably do underestimate the power of a Winnipeg winter). You could take a handful of starters and a bunch of minor leaguers and do a tour of Canada before opening up the season. This would generate revenue, and increase overall fan equity. Open up Jays team stores in all these stadiums, giving the local nine a small cut for the space. Heck, create a tour division that puts together relatively inexpensive baseball trip packages and fly a couple hundred fans from anywhere in Canada into the Dome each series.

Pat Gillick did a great job marketing the team as Canada's team, and I think overall fan interest throughout the nation is at a point where there's a lot of potential revenue to be made.

ChicagoJaysFan - Saturday, May 24 2008 @ 10:24 AM EDT (#185845) #
VBF - I'm pretty certain that now most revenue generated outside of Toronto is shared by the entire major leagues and does not come back to the Jays (I'm thinking of merchandise specifically). That kills the teams ROI for any ventures that look at expanding the brand outside Toronto.

I believe that tv might be an exception to this rule, but the start time for games in Toronto versus elsewhere minimizes any expected tv bump.

Lugnut Fan - Saturday, May 24 2008 @ 03:38 PM EDT (#185865) #

I believe that former Jays farm hand Luke Hetherington is playing in Winnipeg this season.

I have an independent team about a 1/2 hour from my house, but I have never been to one of their games.  I may remedy that however because I'm curious as to the caliber of play.  The Frontier League has an age limit I believe so it is hard to have a long standing relationship wth players out of that league.

Pro Ball Returns To The Nation's Capital (And Alberta Too!) | 12 comments | Create New Account
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