OTTAWA - Local baseball fans will have to wait at least two years for a chance at a Blue Jays double-A affiliate, after the team extended their contract with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats through the 2014 season.
The player development contract extension was announced Wednesday.
Champions of Ottawa Baseball had been campaigning for support to bring the affiliate to Ottawa.
“Obviously we are disappointed to hear the news,” said COB founder David Gourlay. “We had just gone through a very comprehensive and very successful community engagement process for AA baseball in Ottawa and we remain fully committed to the process.”
The city had been banking on the Blue Jays agreeing to take on an Ottawa minor-league affiliate ever since council agreed to sign a stadium lease with Beacon Sports Capital Partners.
Beacon identified City-owned Ottawa Stadium as a potential destination after an unnamed Eastern League owner expressed interest in selling a franchise.
Gourlay said the Jays have always been the preferred affiliate, saying Ottawa has a “natural affinity” with the club, but the group may now explore other options.
“I haven’t heard anybody say professional baseball in Ottawa is dead, so as long as there’s a negotiation between the City and the Beacon Group, whether it be for 2013 or 2014, we will continue to give the people that supported us that voice,” said Gourlay.
College Coun. Rick Chiarelli has been one of the main forces behind pro baseball coming back to Ottawa. He said he’s disappointed the Blue Jays have decided to keep their double-A affiliation in New Hampshire, but there is time for Ottawa to woo them here.
“It’s not a blow to bringing baseball back. It would have been certainly more exciting if we were affiliated with the Blue Jays, but that’s something we can prove ourselves and work our way into, I think, if we can manage to bring a team here and be affiliated with somebody else and be in a position to take on that affiliation by the middle of 2014,” Chiarelli said.
Mayor Jim Watson said the city must know by June if a double-A team, in fact, will be playing in Ottawa.
The city has committed $5.7 million in renovations to the stadium, while Beacon has agreed to spend $5.5 million.
“Unless we have a double-A team, we’re not going to do all the extensive renovations for a double-A team,” Watson said.
“To have a Jays affiliation with our double-A team is very positive. The Jays have now become Canada’s team. Certainly the Jays understand marketing and they understand if they had a double-A team in the second-largest city in the province, it would be good for them and it would be good for us.”
Watson still wants to keep the stadium standing, regardless of the Blue Jays’ decision.
“I’m the eternal optimist, but if we’re not able to land a team in 2013, then we roll up our sleeves and start working towards 2014.”
Now in their ninth season as the Jays’ affiliate, the Fisher Cats have won two Eastern League championships, including the 2011 title, and have graduated 55 players to the Major Leagues.
Current Blue Jays pitchers Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez are among 10 former Fisher Cats on Toronto’s active roster.
“Working with the Blue Jays has been a pleasure for our team,” said Fisher Cats president Rick Brenner in a statement.
“The players provide our fans with excitement on the field while representing the Blue Jays, the Fisher Cats, and themselves with class in the community. We look forward to two more great years with Toronto.”
Blue Jays director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson said the team is “pleased” to extend the player development contract by another two seasons.
“The Fisher Cats represent the best of Minor League Baseball with state-of-the-art ballpark and facilities, passionate baseball fans, and a great front office led by (owner) Art (Solomon) and Rick (Brenner). This is a great arrangement for us for another two years.”