Canadian league ready for 2002, expansion

By Mark Derewicz
November 9, 2001

The Canadian Baseball League will open the 2002 season in eight towns May 9, with ambitious plans for expansion in 2003.

The West Division comprises Abbotsford, Nanaimo, Kamloops and Kelowna. All towns are within 200 miles of Vancouver, B.C.

Regina, Saskatoon, Southern Alberta (Lethbridge) and Central Alberta (Red Deer) compose the Central Division. Regina and Saskatoon were in the independent Prairie League in the mid-1990s and have long histories in pro ball dating back to the Western Canada League prior to World War I.

Lethbridge and Red Deer also played in the Western Canada League. Red Deer hasn’t had a team since 1912. Lethbridge had a franchise in the Rookie-level Pioneer League from 1992-98. The other entries are newcomers to pro ball.

Although two towns have ties to the defunct Prairie League, CBL chairman Tony Riviera said his league should not be compared to the indy ranks.

“That’s not what we are,” he said. “We are what Japan and Mexico are to Major League Baseball. We are to Canada what the Canadian Football League is to Canada.”

The CBL, which has been in the works for four years, will add two teams to each division in 2003, as well as six new teams for an East Division.

The Triple-A Calgary Cannons are leaving Canada and Riviera has already met with Calgary officials about putting a CBL team in Burns Stadium. Should the struggling Montreal Expos relocate or get snuffed out due to contraction, The CBL could move in.

“Montreal is definitely a city we’re looking into,” he said. “Thunder Bay (a former Northern League city) is on our radar screen.”

The most important thing for this centrally owned league, according to Riviera, is to give the fans what they want. Games will be played every Friday night, Saturday (double-header) and Sunday (day game). The speed of the games will be monitored closely and rules, such as a designated runner for the catcher, could be implemented before the inaugural season. Each team will have at least Canadian players on their rosters.

Riviera also said one game a week will be nationally televised.

“We’re waiting for the Toronto Blue Jays to work out their television contract,” Riviera said. “But we’re negotiating with three television networks. We’re close to finalizing a deal.”

The season will conclude in September with the Canadian National Championship. The prize will be the Jenkins Cup, named for league commissioner and former major leaguer Ferguson Jenkins.

“We think we’re onto something special,” Riviera said.