Take Me Out to the Ball­game

Our pitch for base­ball in Ot­tawa

Ottawa Magazine - - THIS CITY - By Lisa Wal­lace

You may not have re­al­ized it, but we are a city of cham­pi­ons. The Ot­tawa Cham­pi­ons, our Can-Am League base­ball team, won the league ti­tle last Septem­ber. How­ever, their vic­tory went largely un­no­ticed — in part be­cause, at the time, the Blue Jays were in a race to the play­offs. Be­sides, other pro­fes­sional sports teams tend to cap­ture the city’s at­ten­tion. But our lack­lus­tre in­ter­est is also due to the fact that the game has had a tu­mul­tuous his­tory in Ot­tawa, which has put a neg­a­tive spin on the sport.

Re­mem­ber the Ot­tawa Lynx? The Triple-A Mi­nor League af­fil­i­ate of the Mon­treal Ex­pos be­gan play­ing in 1993 in the newly built ball­park at Coven­try Road in the city’s east end. Fans flocked to the sta­dium. In­ter­est in the Lynx was at an all-time high when they won the In­ter­na­tional League Cham­pi­onship in 1995. But over the years, that ex­cite­ment waned be­cause of such fac­tors as poor per­for­mance, weather, and park­ing avail­abil­ity. At­ten­dance dropped, the af­fil­i­a­tion with the Ex­pos came to an end, and the own­ers lost mil­lions. The Lynx played their fi­nal game in 2007; the team moved to Penn­syl­va­nia for the start of the 2008 sea­son as the Le­high Val­ley IronPigs un­der new own­er­ship.

For the next six years, base­ball floun­dered. The Ot­tawa Rapidz gave it a shot in 2008, play­ing in the Can-Am League in that same sta­dium — but af­ter just one sea­son, the own­ers de­clared bank­ruptcy. A year later, lo­cal busi­ness own­ers in­tro­duced the Ot­tawa Fat Cats, a team that at­tracted de­cent crowds in its three­year life­span — but the Fat Cats did not have their lease re­newed for 2013 as the city at­tempted to se­cure a more cov­eted Dou­ble-A fran­chise. To this end, Ot­tawa mayor Jim Wat­son vied for a team af­fil­i­ated with the Blue Jays, but things fell through when the price tag of $40 mil­lion for ren­o­va­tions to the sta­dium came to light. The city needed a less ex­pen­sive op­tion.

In the fall of 2013, the city agreed to a 10-year lease of the sta­dium to the Ot­tawa Cham­pi­ons. The Can-Am team gave base­ball fans re­newed op­ti­mism. (Though far re­moved from Ma­jor League base­ball, a num­ber of Can-Am League play­ers have played at the pro­fes­sional level or as­pire to reach its ranks.)

Cer­tainly, the Ot­tawa Cham­pion’s league ti­tle in 2016 is rea­son for op­ti­mism, and fans filled the bleach­ers as the team got closer to the ti­tle. Even the mayor (who’s not the sporti­est guy around) ac­knowl­edges that the 10,000-seat Ray­mond Chabot Grant Thorn­ton Park is a fan­tas­tic place to watch a game — and he makes a point of at­tend­ing a few each sea­son. “The base­ball sta­dium on a sunny day is pretty mag­i­cal,” he points out.

Ex­actly. Who doesn’t love the idea of sit­ting in an open-air sta­dium on a warm sum­mer day, en­joy­ing the smell of pop­corn waft­ing, a cold beer in your hand, and the cheers of fans at the crack of a bat? Un­like Ma­jor League ball­parks, where fans are of­ten far away from the ac­tion, Ot­tawa’s sta­dium al­lows fans the op­por­tu­nity to see and hear play­ers up close. Most im­por­tantly, par­ents ap­pre­ci­ate that kids don’t need to stay seated for nine in­nings — seat­ing is on a first­come, first-serve ba­sis, and fans are en­cour­aged to move around.

From hot­dogs to pop­corn, ac­ces­si­bil­ity to af­ford­abil­ity, here’s our pitch for base­ball in Ot­tawa.

A fam­ily of four can get into the sta­dium for un­der $40 — about the same price as a trip to the movies, and the cheap­est of pro­fes­sional sports out­ings in Ot­tawa. Check out their group rates that in­clude tick­ets and an all-you-can-eat bar­be­cue. In ad­di­tion to evening games, af­ter­noon games, which typ­i­cally start at 1:30 p.m., are a great op­tion for fam­i­lies with young kids. As seat­ing is on a first-come, first-serve ba­sis, fans can ex­pe­ri­ence var­i­ous van­tage points through­out the game. Some might en­joy catch­ing a few in­nings down the first-base line as play­ers try to out­run a dou­ble play. Or why not take in the game be­hind home plate, where you can see first­hand how hard and fast pitches are thrown? The best seats might be by the Cham­pi­ons dugout, where you’ll likely hear play­ers and coaches in­ter­act­ing (which might not be suit­able for all ages!). An area for groups of 10 or more down left field lets fans en­joy the game while eat­ing at pic­nic ta­bles, loung­ing in one of the sta­dium’s Adiron­dack chairs, or just stretch­ing out on the grassy hill­side. Tick­ets Un­der the Bright Lights

Let’s face it — for many, live sports is all about the food. Eat­ing al fresco is even bet­ter, and noth­ing beats a ball­park frank, which the sta­dium serves, along with pop­corn, peanuts, cot­ton candy, and ice cream. Look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent? How about burg­ers, pou­tine, wings, and pizza? Wash it down with a cold one from Kich­esippi Beer Com­pany or Clock­tower Brew Pub, the sta­dium’s ex­clu­sive beer ven­dors. If get­ting to the sta­dium is a has­sle or if park­ing is a night­mare, then the whole no­tion of watch­ing live base­ball is a strike­out. For­tu­nately, the sta­dium is cen­trally lo­cated off the 417 and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble by bike. Park­ing, although lim­ited, is a steal at $5. Or bet­ter yet, take pub­lic trans­porta­tion — the LRT sta­tion should be ready for the 2018 sea­son. With the league cham­pi­onship be­hind them, the Cham­pi­ons and hope to see their fan base ex­pand. “We have a lot of play­ers com­ing back, and we want to con­tinue to build a con­nec­tion with the fans and would love noth­ing more than to win again. Ev­ery town loves a win­ning team, and if we could win again, I think our fan base will con­tinue to grow,” says Cham­pi­ons out­fielder Se­bastien Boucher, a na­tive of Hull. On July 25, the Cham­pi­ons will be host­ing the All-Star game, which in­cludes a Lit­tle League clinic; they be­lieve at­tract­ing young play­ers will be key to their fu­ture suc­cess. Teams of­ten score in ex­cess of 10 runs a game, mean­ing you’ll see plenty of hit­ting and lots of ac­tion. De­fen­sively, teams are solid, but be­cause we’re not talk­ing Ma­jor Leagues, the in­creased pos­si­bil­ity of er­rors adds a level of un­pre­dictabil­ity (read: fun) to the game. As for the play­ers, you might not rec­og­nize many names, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t elite ath­letes. Cham­pi­ons man­ager Hal Lanier is a World Se­ries cham­pion, and out­fielder Adron Cham­bers played for the St. Louis Cardinals. And the Cham­pi­ons want to get to know you, grant­ing easy ac­cess to play­ers, who are more than happy to chat af­ter games or sign au­to­graphs. Ball­park Franks & More In the Bullpen At Bat Get­ting There

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