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 zip.ca, 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!