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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Minor League Moves, Olympic Edition: The Demise of Canadian Baseball

When Olympic curling takes the ice this Tuesday, it will do so with the help of the home of the short-season Athletics-affiliate Vancouver Canadians.

According to, the Canadians' Nat Bailey Stadium is being used as a support venue for the curling events being held next door at the new Vancouver Olympic Center.

That a Canadian major league-affiliated baseball team could offer any help to anything is remarkable, given the direction Canadian baseball has gone in the past two decades.

In 1990, there were no fewer than eight affiliated teams in the minors calling Canada home, a ninth was added three years later.

There were the Calgary Cannons, the Edmonton Trappers and the old Vancouver Canadians, all AAA members of the Pacific Coast league and the 1990 CMC set. There were also the AA London (Ontario) Tigers of the Eastern League, also represented in the CMC set. The short-season NY-Penn League had two teams in Ontario, in Welland and St. Catharines. The rookie-level Pioneer League had two teams itself in Alberta, one in Lethbridge, where HOFer Andre Dawson once made a stop on his way to the majors, and one in Medicine Hat.

Ottawa joined the party in 1993, with the AAA Lynx, making nine Canadian minor league teams that summer.

Then came the slow decline, all the teams relocating to the states. The Tigers left for Trenton, NJ, after 1993; The old Canadians to Sacramento after 1999; The Cannons for Albuquerque after 2002; The Trappers for Round Rock, Texas after 2004. The Trappers schedule to the right is one I sent away for when I was younger.

The Pioneer League was void of Canadian clubs by 1999, with Lethbridge moving to Missoula, Mt. after 1998 and Medicine Hat lost its team after 2002, when the Blue Jays pulled out.

Welland lost the Pirates after 1994, eventually making their way to Fishkill, NY. The St. Catharines team left after 1999, as well, eventually becoming the Brooklyn Cyclones.

By 2007, only the Ottawa Lynx and the reconstituted Northwest League Vancouver club remained in Canada.

When we heard that Ottawa was leaving after 2007 for Allantown, Pa., my wife and I got up for the second to last AAA game in Canada. A photo from that game is up top. There was a good turnout, but the crowd still looked sparse. Lynx mascot Scratch (Right) put on a brave face days before being put down.

Baseball, however, remains alive in Canada through the independent circuit. Edmonton and Calgary, along with Victoria, BC, each have teams in the Golden Baseball League. Thunder Bay, Ont., has a team in the Northwoods League, Winnipeg has one in the Northern League. Quebec City, also a one-time stop for Dawson, has its own team in the Can-Am League.

With the Canadians, minor league baseball is expected to keep its Canadian toehold for some time to come. The stadium has been updated in recent years. The Olympics have also brought an upgrade in the electrical systems. A long-term lease for Nat Bailey Stadium was signed in 2007.

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