A new team is coming to continue Ottawa’s baseball tradition, and it will begin on a completely blank slate.
Before it was announced that Sam Katz signed a new 10-year lease for Ottawa's RCGT Park, rumours were that he planned to simply move the baseball franchise he owned in Winnipeg to the capital, but he is now confirming that Ottawa will be home to a brand new franchise.
There will be no holdovers from the Champions, including the team name, says Katz. He is currently organizing a ‘name the team’ contest.
Ottawa will join the Frontier League, which is home to teams in the Northeast and Midwestern United States and Eastern Canada. It launched in 1993 and is currently the longest-running independent baseball league in the U.S.
“I think it would be a combination of two words – ecstasy and a little bit of agony. The ecstasy because we are really excited about bringing professional baseball back to Ottawa,” Katz said. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t making this easy but we have a lot of work ahead of us and we are happy to do it.”
Katz says the process started well over a year ago. He describes the communication with the City of Ottawa as a positive experience, as they negotiated the lease.
“There’s been a lot of dominos there. Once we knew we had the lease, we made our application to the Frontier League and we were accepted. Everything came together. I guess it was one of those situations where all the stars lined up.”
Part of the allure of an Ottawa baseball franchise for Katz was what RCGT Park offers. It is located on the LRT line and it has a crowd capacity of 10,000, which is large for an independent-level baseball team. That capacity will also better-allow for social distancing at games next summer if COVID restrictions continue.
“That is an absolute fact. With that type of capacity, we can accommodate good crowds if we still have to follow all the protocols of COVID-19…You have to plan for the worst-case situation, absolutely.”
Katz’s Winnipeg Goldeyes had to relocate to North Dakota this summer in order to be able to play their U.S.-based opponents. The Goldeyes are the only Canadian team in the American Association.
Katz says he likes that there are two Quebec teams in the Frontier League for potential on-field rivalries as well as off-field support for the Ottawa franchise.
Support will also come from Major League Baseball (MLB), which announced last month that they will partner with the Frontier League and other independent baseball leagues.
“Is [COVID] a challenge? Absolutely, but I have seen it done. I experienced it. I actually went through it. My players were getting tested on a regular basis and you know what, it worked and we didn’t have that many issues whatsoever.”
Katz is in the process of hiring on the baseball and administration sides of the franchise. He says he has begun interviewing managers and hopes to have the office open sometime in October. The franchise is operating out of Winnipeg until then.
“The realties are, just about everything that we have done – the lease, the franchise, the partnership with Major League Baseball – it has all happened with COVID-19. You have to know what you are facing.”
“I very much believe that we can make this happen. I know people will always follow the protocols if they exist and no question, priority one is to make sure that your fans and your players and all your staff are always safe.”
The lease Katz signed was in partnership with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) – the owners of the Ottawa Redblacks and Ottawa 67’s.
Ottawa baseball was in purgatory after the Can-Am league merged with the Frontier league following the 2019 season. The Champions were not taken on by the new league.
“I think Ottawa is a fantastic city. It deserves to have access to all professional sports there,” Katz said. “When they leave the ballpark, [we want fans to] say 'this was so much fun, I can hardly wait to come back.'”