What is up, everyone, thank you for joining me for the 4th installment of the 613 BSBL podcasts. The fourth episode is coming a week late as I needed to reassess the direction that I wanted to go with the podcast, now that the Ottawa Titans inaugural season has been delayed by 1 year. With the help of the 613sports blog, I am still going to bring you all Titans news and updates when they come up; however, I want to try to commit this podcast this year in trying to help out the local amateur scene grow and still get their names out there while we are in this pandemic. So without further adieu, let’s play ball!
Alright everyone, let’s get the disappointing news out of the way first now that we have had a couple of days to cope with it. The Ottawa Titans will not be playing in Ottawa in 2021. We had president and owner Sam Katz on the podcast in episode 2 and pretty much got the confirmation there that if the Titans were not in Ottawa this season, they would not be paying. (note: did not say it directly they would not be playing at all). However, with the current pandemic going on and the uncertainty of the opening of the borders, it would have been too much for the team and the league to afford to have 3 travelling teams in the Titans, Aigles and Capitals. The good news in all this, however, we are not losing any of the players that we have signed to date, this was confirmed a couple of days before the draft by the Vice president of the team, Reagan Katz, who joined the boys on the morning show on TSN 1200. Yes, they will not be playing in the Titans uniform; however, they have joined other teams in the Frontier League through the dispersal draft that took place on the 22nd of April. In this dispersal draft, we saw 15 Titans find a temporary home in 2020, including our 4 Canadian players (Mateos Kekatos, P, Elliott Curtis, IF, Alex Nolan, P, and Taylor Wright, IF) joining the Capitals (also known as the All-Canadian team) in playing. The Capitals will spend the majority of the summer (hopefully not too long into it) travelling around the conference playing on the road, with hopes of returning home after Canada day. IF we are lucky enough to see the borders open back up this summer the Capitals will be splitting time between Quebec City and Trois-Rivière.
Ottawa Titans player profile
For today’s player profile, we have a look at one of the players that were picked up by the Quebec City Capitals in the dispersal draft, right-handed pitcher Alex Nolan. The 24-year old was born in Burlington, Ontario and did his university baseball at Brock University, in St. Catherines, ON) and played in the Northwoods showcase league for 3 seasons, for the Thunder Bay Border Cats and the Kalamazoo Growlers. During his time in the NWDS, he had a 5-4 record, with a 4.14 ERA in 67.1 innings pitched. These stats in the league was enough to get him a look by his hometown team the Toronto Blue Jays. He had joined the Blue Jays system for 1 season, playing for the low-A ball team the Vancouver Canadiens. While playing for the Canadiens, Alex posted a 1-3 record and a 3.22 ERA in 58.2 IP. Unfortunately, he was not a part of the long-term plan for the Blue Jays at this time. Alex has struggled with his velo in recent years, however has worked on it non-stop over the last couple of seasons, hitting 90mph for the first time in 2019 with Vancouver. Other than a 90mph fastball, he has a straight change-up, curveball and a splitter.
This is a great start for Alex’s young career, having gotten a look from the Toronto Blue Jays system out of a Canadian university institution and program opens the eyes of scouts. This is something that has been a misconception, that if you do not get to D1 as a Canadian then you have no shot at being viewed as a prospect by major league scouts. When I was at Viterbo University, which was a small NAIA school in the middle of nowhere, we had pro scouts at a couple of our games to have a look at a teammate of mine or other players. So just because you are not being seen by the top universities in the USA does not mean you are at a roadblock in your career. Alex is the perfect example of that so far. Having only hit 90mph at 25 years old, and having had a look by the Blue Jays. Spending time in a league like the Frontier League, where you are still getting that exposure from MLB teams, as an affiliated league, he might get another shot in the future. Alex was picked up by the Quebec City Capitals and will be helped by one of the best organizations in independent baseball. Can’t wait to see what his young career blossoms into here in Ottawa.
Ottawa Baseball, a history.
Baseball has a very difficult past in the city. We have seen a lot of turnaround and teams coming and going over the decades, and fans have gotten discouraged. As I have alluded to in previous episodes, this team (despite the news of no games in 2021) is looking like a program that we can see in the city for years (and hopefully decades) to come. If I were to split the history of baseball in this city into eras, I would say that there are 4 eras of professional baseball in Ottawa, pre-WWII, post-WWII, the Canadian baseball success era and the independent roller coaster.
Baseball in Ottawa can go back to post-WWI, where they had a class-C league team in the city, splitting time between Lansdowne park and (what was called) Coney Island park for the Sunday games to avoid the Blue Sunday laws in the city. The team in Ottawa during that time period was actually a success. Drawing in the league-leading attendance and leading the league for the majority of their existence. Then the post-WWII era started in 1951 when the Ottawa Giants had started in the International league. The Giants were the AAA team for the New York (Baseball) Giants; yes! the same Giants that had moved to San Francisco and becoming the modern-day San Francisco Giants. Ottawa had gained the team after the big club opted to move the team to Canada from Jersey City, NJ. In their Innaugural season (and their only season) the team went 62-88 and fell 31 games behind the eventual league champion Montreal Royals (yes the Royals team that had the rights to Jackie Robinson but 4 years earlier). So the reason this is the start of what I am calling the Lansdown era of baseball in Ottawa is because of the field they played at. The Ottawa Giants played at Lansdown park and drew over 117k fans in the lone season the Giants had in Ottawa. So why did the New York Giants opt to bring their AAA team to Ottawa from Jersey City? A city that was only a hop skip and a jump away from the big club. Over the span post-WWII, the Ottawa area had entertained a few other low minor league teams for the Nationals and Senators organization, drawing a solid growth during the time in the city. So why not? The parent club opted to partner the team with a fellow American Association league team, the Minneapolis Millers. However in 1951, despite the great attendance for the season, the big club opted to only keep 1 AAA team, so the New York Giants sold the team to the Philidelphia Athletics (yes another team that ended up moving out to California). That team had stayed in Ottawa for the next 3 seasons, posting a record of 194-264 over that span. Thanks to the capacity that can be reached in Lansdown, the team reached good attendance numbers reaching 150k over the first season. During this period the most notable player to play in an Ottawa Athletics/Giants uniform was Hector Headley Lopez Swainson. Swainson went on to play 12 seasons in the MLB (1955-1966) with the Kansas City Athletics (MLB team of Ottawa at the time) and the New York Yankees, winning 2 World Series championships with the Yankees. Lopez would be most known for however in his role in the managers’ duty, being the first man of colour to be the Manager of a AAA affiliated team when he managed the Buffalo Bisons in 1969. He also managed the Panamas national team during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The end of the Lansdown era of professional baseball in Ottawa came in 1955 when Kansas City decided to relocate the team to a closer city in Columbus, with that the city would not see professional baseball for nearly 40 years.
This marked the beginning of the baseball boom in Canada. With Montreal finally getting an MLB team, after spending most of the time with a AAA team (including the AAA team of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 40s during Jackie Robinson’s historical development and emergence in the MLB), in 1969 when the Expos began to play, followed 8 years later with the Toronto Blue Jays. The game of baseball got exciting in the late 80s and 90s with both Canadian teams really making a push for post-season success and keeping up with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL and the Phillies and Braves in the NL. This brought (then owner of the 67s) Howard Darwin the idea of bringing an affiliated team to the city, and for the low price of $5-million was awarded the team in the condition that the team would not be playing out of Lansdowne like their predecessors in the 50s. In 1993, the team opened Lynx Stadium and began their path as the AAA team of the Montreal Expos and were the affiliate until 2002. During that time we saw players like Matt Stairs, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, Jamey Carroll, and F.P. Santangelo, the last two having their numbers 24 and 3 retired by the Lynx). This was an exciting time to be a baseball fan in Ottawa, not only were the Blue Jays and the Expos among the league-best, but their farm systems were also among the best. Even though the Expos never won a championship (thank you MLBPA), the Lynx were not as unlucky, winning the Governors’ Cup in 1995. They did this while supporting a 72-70 regular-season record. Overall, however, the Ottawa Lynx supported a 1001-1138 record during the time in the city, only making the post-season in 2 seasons.
As much of a success baseball in the city was in the 90s, was the complete opposite in the early 2000s. The financial troubles that were plaguing the Expos since the 1994-1995 players lock-out was not received positively around the league, more so in Montreal. With the ownership came the decision of whether to ride the sinking ship that was the Expos and see where it led or get out from under the team and join another MLB team and becoming the AAA team. This came in 2003 with the first team the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, even under new management and a surging Baltimore team, the interest was not there in the city anymore (as well as the lack of parking with the deal for the hotel on Coventry rd). In 2006 the orioles opted to associate themselves with Norfolk. The team was sold to a group out of Allentown, PA and become the affiliate team of the Phillies. Right from the beginning of this ownership group entering, it was clear that 2007 was going to be the final season for the Ottawa Lynx. After their final game in Ottawa, they were shipped out to Lehigh Valley, PA to be the new home of the Phillies AAA team, they have been there since. During this time with the Orioles and the Phillies, we saw players in the likes of Eli Whiteside, Fernando Tatis Sr, and J.A. Happ.
2008 would mark the beginning of the independent league era. Between the years 2008 to 2020, the professional baseball scene was inconsistent. The interest of using the former AAA stadium and bringing a professional team back to Ottawa went through several different interactions and leagues to try and get something to stick. Can-Am was the first league to attempt some success in Ottawa, as the Ottawa Rapidz made their debut in 2008. This team did not last very long on the scene. After their inaugural season, posting a record of 31-63, the ownership group declared bankruptcy and the team was bought out by the league, with the rebranding of Voyageur. It was then fully dissolved before the beginning of the 2009 season. The next attempt for professional baseball in Ottawa was the semi-pro league Intercounty Baseball League (IBL), and the birth of the Ottawa Fat Cats. The Fat Cats were Ottawa’s “professional” baseball organization from 2010-2012 and played in the IBL that features teams from all over Ontario. This team was a decent success in their time in RCGT park, posting a 45-61 record and making it to the final and losing to Brantford in the final in 2011. In my opinion, the attendance success of the Fat Cats was more the fact that it was a Semi-pro league, and most of the players were local talent. The quality of baseball in this league is a good one. You find a lot of talent come out of the league and move on to other independent leagues like the Frontier League, Mateos Kekatos is an example that was going to play with theTitans this season from the Toronto Maple Leafs of the IBL. The Fat Cats time in the city had run its course when the new tenants of now RCGT park moved in. This was the return of professional baseball in Ottawa, and the arrival of the Ottawa Champions of the CAN-AM league. The way this team was constructed was built for success in a league that was struggling. Do not get me wrong, this team struggled to get fans in the stans except for the 2016 playoff run (when they won the championship). The Champions (221-269) built a program with a lot of solid talent through it including two of the most successful players to have come out of the Ottawa system, Seb Boucher and Philippe Aumont. It is hard to miss the impact these two local boys had for the program and for baseball in the city, Aumont having the only professional perfect game pitched in Ottawa history and Boucher becoming the assistant manager of the Ottawa Titans. The Champions only had a .500 record in one of the five seasons that they were in the league, this was in 2016 when they went to the championship round and won the title, being the first title for Ottawa baseball since the 1997 Ottawa Lynx.
So what does this mean for the future of professional baseball in Ottawa? First things first we need to be able to play games in RCGT park. But once the pandemic is settled and games can resume in Ottawa, the team is going to have an uphill battle getting the fans in the building. In the final season of the Champions, the team only averaged 1,632 fans. This is, on average, 200 people less than the rest of the Can-Am league. On the plus side, the partnership with OSEG, a very successful organization for both professional and amateur sports in the city, should give an open channel to more ears and eyeballs with some of the partnerships in the city that they bring to the organization. The other thing that the team needs to provide is a competitive product on the field. Ottawa baseball in general has a record of 1,554-1,883 in the regular season with only ever seeing one season over 0.500, this was the 1997 championship Ottawa Lynx season. From the way that the team had started to construct the team and the type of owner that Sam Katz appears to be from what he build in Winnipeg (1,397-1,093) with only finishing sub-500 in 5 out of the 26 years that the team has been in existence; winning 4 championships including in the inaugural season. Combining that baseball success with the rooted success that OSEG has in this city, as a baseball fan in this city am very excited to see Ottawa get to the same level as cities Winnipeg and Quebec City as powerhouse independent league organizations.