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 three-year 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 first-come, 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.
Under the Bright Lights
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.
Ballpark Franks & More
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.
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.
In the Bullpen
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.
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.