Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’
In the summer of 2007, the worst kept secret in Ottawa was the impending loss of minor league baseball. The Ottawa Lynx, triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, were lame ducks set to move to a new stadium already under construction in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Lynx’ departure was contentious – the team had two years to run on its lease at Lynx Stadium. Lynx owner Ray Pecor and the City of Ottawa traded multi-million dollar lawsuits while the Lynx played out their 15th and final season.
Enter Miles Wolff and his independent Can-Am League. The former Baseball America publisher is best known as the man who purchased the Durham (NC) Bulls for $2,417 in 1979 and helped turn the team – and with it, minor league baseball itself – into a cultural phenomenom thanks to the 1988 Kevin Costner-Susan Sarandon film Bull Durham. In the 1990’s Wolff sold the Bulls and played a pivotal role in reviving the long-dormant industry of independent baseball – modestly budgeted leagues and teams which operate without subsidy or oversight from Major League parent clubs.
Wolff secured permission from the Ottawa City Council to take over the two remaining years on the Lynx’ lease in November 2007. The move marked the second time in recent years that the Can-Am League had entered a market immediately following the departure of a long-time affiliated baseball club. The league swooped into New Haven, Connecticut in early 2004, immediately after the city lost its Toronto Blue Jays farm club. The Can-Am’s New Haven County Cutters failed in 2007 after four seasons of red ink and community apathy. By contrast, the Can-Am League established strong followings in virgin markets like Brockton, Massachusetts or in places like Quebec City (owned by Wolff himself) where fans had waited decades for the return of professional baseball.
Wayne Scanlan of The Ottawa Citizen provided an apt description of the adjustment that Ottawa baseball fans were in for with the arrival of independent ball:
If the International League, to which the Lynx belonged from 1993 to 2007, was one level below the major leagues, the new Can-Am League is one level above oblivion, which is not to say that the baseball is awful.
In a nod to the area’s bilingual heritage, Wolff gave the club a dual English/French identity: the Ottawa Rapids/Rapides. Local designer Mike Eby designed a sharp set of primary and alternate logos in a blue/black/grey/white scheme. But these designs were mothballed when new ownership materialized just weeks before opening day.
In late April of 2008, Rob Hall and Rick Anderson and of Canadian online DVD rental house Zip.Ca purchased the Rapids. In an nod to Zip.ca’s corporate identity, Hall and Anderson changed the club’s name to the “Ottawa Rapidz” complete with a new logo that incorporated the Canadian maple leaf.
The Rapidz debuted in Ottawa on May 22nd, 2008. The club struggled mightily to compete on the field, finishing the first half of the season with a last-place record of 13-34. In late July, 68-year old Manager Ed Nottle returned briefly to Evansville, Indiana to be with his wife Patty, who was awaiting cancer test results. While Nottle was gone, the Rapidz reeled off a five-game winning streak. When Nottle returned to Ottawa a few days later, Hall dismissed him, attracting negative attention from fans and media due to the circumstances. Despite the shake-up, the Rapidz finished with a league worst 31-63 record.
Off the field, the Rapidz finished fifth in the eight-team Can-Am League with announced average attendance of 2,197 per game. Rob Hall later told The Ottawa Sun that actual turnstile figures for the Rapidz in 2008 were 1,256 fans per game, with attendance boosted by aggressive distribution of comp tickets.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Rapidz first season in September 2008, Hall announced he was shutting the team down. Hall claimed an eye-popping $1.4 million in operating losses for just over four months of ownership. The figure was stunning given the extremely lean (less than $100K) player payrolls in the Can-Am League and the team’s moderate $108,000 annual rental fee for Ottawa Baseball Stadium. Hall cited those lease terms as the straw the broke the camel’s back. With the original Lynx lease set to expire after the 2009 season, Rapidz ownership met with city leaders in September to negotiate a long-term extension. Hall chose to interpret the city’s negotiating position – later characterized by Ottawa officials as offhand remarks – as a demand to increase the team’s annual rent burden from $108,000 to $1 million dollars per year starting in 2010. He subsequently cited this “demand” on the Rapidz website and in press interviews as the primary justification for shuttering the franchise. The Ottawa Citizen accused Hall of using the City as a “scapegoat” and both Wolff and City officials denied that the City imposed such terms.
At the end of September 2008, Can-Am League owners voted to revoke Hall’s membership and draw down his $200,000 letter of credit as a result of his failure to enter a team for the 2009 season. Just like the Lynx a year earlier, the Rapidz would now leave Ottawa under a cloud of lawsuits. See our downloads section below for .PDFs of several court records from these cases.
In November 2008, Wolff announced that the remaining Can-Am League members would provide $50,000 each to operate a team in Ottawa for the 2009 season, tentatively to be named the “Rapids” with the original pre-Zip.ca artwork. Wolff later scrapped that idea and held a name the team contest, with “Ottawa Voyageurs” announced as the winning entry in February 2009. In late March 2009, less than two months before opening day, the Can-Am League’s Atlantic City Surf folded. Without the Surf – and with no new local ownership for Ottawa on the horizon – the rationale for operating Ottawa as a ward of the league evaporated. Ottawa was no longer needed to ensure an even number of teams for scheduling purposes and the Voyageurs operating expenses would now have to be split among a smaller pool of owners. Can-Am League officials therefore announced that the Voyageurs would fold along with the Surf, thus ending the brief and chaotic tenure of independent baseball in Ottawa.
Rebuild it and they will come. Wayne Scanlan. The Ottawa Citizen, May 23, 2008
Ottawa’s Can-Am “run” not over yet. Don Campbell. The Ottawa Citizen, November 14, 2008.
The Ottawa Sun, November 26th, 2008