Ottawa Back In The Game

Miles Wolff left behind spring-like Durham and the Can-Am League headquarters today and headed north to Ottawa—where the forecasted high Tuesday was a mere 28 degrees—and the home of the indy league’s newest affiliate.

Wolff is hardly off on a holiday, nor is he going to bask in the glow of saving baseball in the Canadian city just months after the Lynx left town to become an IronPig in the Lehigh Valley. Rather, Wolff has the unenviable task of building a baseball team virtually from scratch with Opening Day looming just five months in the distance.

Wolff has quite a to-do list ahead of him: name the team, hire a manager, find players and build a front office, are among the most pressing.

"Normally, you’d hope to have the fall to do all these things," said Wolff, the former Baseball America publisher who owns a Can-Am club in Quebec. "But basically we’re getting started in January."

The Can-Am League’s interest in Ottawa was hardly a spur of the moment decision. Wolff began petitioning local officials about placing a team in Ottawa soon after the struggling team was sold to the ownership group headed by Joe Finley and Craig Stein with the intention of moving to Allentown.

In fact, with their future in Ottawa seeming so bleak, the Can-Am League held a dispersement draft of last year’s road team, the Grays, in November, meaning Ottawa is left with an empty roster with the season set to begin May 22.

"We didn’t think Ottawa was going to happen," Wolff said. "The Grays had some decent players that were going to start the season as the base (for Ottawa). But we were so doubtful that this was going to happen that we had a dispersal draft, now Ottawa is going to start with zero players."

The groundswell of interest in the Can-Am League began soon after the Lynx closed out its era in Ottawa, drawing 7,500 fans to its finale—its biggest gate in several years. Wolff stepped up his campaign in November as residents petitioned the city council for a baseball team, culminating in the council’s unanimous 23-0 approval of the Can-Am League absorbing the final two years of the Lynx’ lease on Lynx Stadium. The league will run the team in 2008 before an ownership group can be put in place.

The new team will operate under the final two years of the lease while the city works out a lawsuit with Lynx owner Ryan Pecor. The city contends Pecor owes $3 million on the lease, while Pecor is suing the city for $11 million over lost parking spots.

"There was a lot of pressure from fans that wanted baseball to stay," Wolff said. "An agreement was reached with some pressure or help from Can-Am that we could take over the last two years of the Lynx lease while the city and Lynx still and try solve their problems. The legal problems are not solved, but both agreed to let the Can-Am come in while they solve their problems."

Wolff had hoped to lure former Lynx manager Tim Leiper to run the club, but he is under contract with the Pirates to manage Double-A Altoona. Wolff said former Expos great Gary Carter would have been an ideal fit as manager, but he signed a contract to manage in the independent Golden League soon before the Can-Am League signed on in Ottawa.

Wolff said the league hopes to fill out the roster with a wealth of Canadian players to help boost local interest in the team. He also feels the team will have better success at the gate, noting that the Can-Am’s schedule is a better fit for the area rather than beginning the season in still chilly April temperatures.

"This is their team," Wolff said of the Ottawa fan base. "We want to sign as many Canadians as we can."