An Eastern League team may one day move to Ottawa. That day, however, is not likely to come next season.
Beacon Sports, the Boston finance group that says it is working on behalf of an unnamed Eastern League team, and the City of Ottawa have yet to agree on a lease for Ottawa Stadium and how to spend the roughly $7.7 million earmarked for renovations to the ballpark. That delay makes it unlikely the ballpark will be ready for a team next season.
"It's very ambitious thinking on the part of people not involved in the game," Eastern League president Joe McEeacharn said of the 2013 timeline. "It's hard to imagine a scenario (for a team being in Ottawa next season) at this point, the beginning of May."
Beacon Sports chief operating officer Richard Billings said the company hopes to have a renovation plan and stadium lease completed in the next 30 days and believes that will allow enough time to get that ballpark done before Opening Day 2013. However, he concedes, "If we don't get something accomplished in short order, it would make 2013 a tough situation. We're still operating on the basis that we are trying to relocate the team in 2013."
The team Billings speaks of is still a mystery. Billings insists that Beacon is working with one Eastern League team committed to relocating to Ottawa. He would neither reveal the identity of the team nor comment on whether Beacon hopes to purchase it if a move to Ottawa occurs.
"There is a team," he said.
McEacharn says no team has petitioned the league to explore the territory, which Minor League Baseball bylaws would require. Rather it is the league that is in exploratory discussions with Ottawa.
"No team has agreed and at this point the exploration is really kind of transferred," McEacharn said. "There are private individuals involved, local and nonlocal, working with the city and trying to come up with a plan that would satisfy the Eastern League and an Eastern League club."
Technically, both McEacharn and Billings likely are correct. No formal agreement with an Eastern League team and the city has been reached and no formal request for transfer have been presented to the league. Instead, Beacon is working on behalf of a team to work out a deal suitable for the Eastern League. That deal will need to include significant improvements to Ottawa Stadium, which hosted a Triple-A International League franchise from 1993-2007.
In February, the Ottawa City Council approved a plan for the city to spend $5.7 million on ballpark renovations. Beacon, on behalf of a team, has agreed to spend $2 million on renovations and another $2.5 million on the start-up costs for running a team. Little structural work is needed to the ballpark, Billings said, but instead upgrades like a new playing surface (which will be artificial turf), indoor batting tunnels, a new scoreboard, and the removal of some seating to lower the stadium's current capacity of 10,332.
"We've done some extensive studies and demographic studies and we think the stadium located where it is in downtown Ottawa, a market of over 1.2 million people which has a pretty good baseball following there, and we think with the right management team in place it will be a nice market in the Eastern League," Billings said. "It will represent one of the larger markets in the Eastern League."
So who is the supposed mystery team? The Ottawa Citizen has reported several times that the Binghamton Mets are working with Beacon, even after B-Mets owner Michael Urda passionately denied the report.
"The Binghamton Mets have not been sold, and we have not been contacted by anyone interested in our club," Urda told The Binghamton (N.Y.) Press & Bulletin in February. "There's 12 teams in the Eastern League and we have to address it every single week . . . Enough's enough."
A representative from the Erie SeaWolves, also a team frequently rumored to be on the move, has also said they are not involved in Ottawa.
While the league is open to exploring the Ottawa market, McEacharn has frequently suggested tempering any expectations until a plan is in place and approved.
"There is nothing on our desk, nothing in front of us, nothing to even review," McEacharn said on the status of the Ottawa project. "From a practical standpoint, I know what my opinion would be (on a team going there in 2013)."