Whiskey Jacks set to play at Bechtel

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* Mississauga’s Colin Cummins hopes to bring the Waterloo Whiskey Jacks of the independent East Coast Baseball League to Bechtel Park stadium this spring. ….

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Letters of Intent

New league wants to bring professional baseball to Waterloo

By Greg Mercer

WATERLOO – They may have little more than a name right now, but the owner of the Waterloo Whiskey Jacks says his plan to bring professional, independent baseball to Waterloo will be complete within a few short months.

Mississauga’s Colin Cummins,director of the upstart East Coast Baseball League, says he’ll have a roster, general manager, schedule and coaching staff in place for the Whiskey Jacks in time for spring.

By May, his new league hopes to kick off its inaugural season with a four-team circuit that includes clubs in Welland, Ont., Newburgh, N.Y. and Watertown, N.Y. The Whiskey Jacks will play a 60-game schedule, calling municipally-owned Bechtel Park stadium their home, he said.

If Cummins can pull it off, it’ll be the first time since the 1950s that professional

baseball has been played in Waterloo – going back to when teams in Ontario’s semi-pro Intercounty Baseball League had the money to lure players away from minor league clubs in the U.S.

Finding players won’t be an issue, according to Cummins. Tryouts are scheduled for Myrtle Beach later this month. Prospects will compete for the chance to earn between $500 to $1,400 a month.

“Everybody grows up wanting to play professional baseball,” said Cummins, the former head coach of the York University Yeomen who played outfield in the independent Frontier League in the mid-1990s.

“There’s a ton of players who are released ever year from organizations, and they’re looking for places to play. We’re going to try to get as many Canadian players on that roster too.”

He said the level of competition will be as good as high-A affiliated baseball, and will draw in ex-college players and castoffs from independent and minor league teams in the U.S. The league’s two Canadian teams must carry at least six Canadian-born players, according to the ECBL’s website.

Relying on American League rules and using designated hitters, Cummins said the ECBL is also looking to add other franchises, too.

While professional, independent baseball has tried and failed in Ontario before (most recently with the Frontier League’s London Rippers, who lasted half a season) Cummins is confident there’s a business case for indy ball here.

“I really think we can make this work. We’re going to start a new buzz, and give fans something new to cheer for,” he said.

He thinks if the Whiskey Jacks can draw a minimum of 300 fans per game, they’ll break even. Tickets will cost between $7 and $15 apiece, he said. The ECBL will rely on billeting to house players at home and use hotels when on the road.

The neighbouring teams in town, the Intercounty Baseball League’s Kitchener Panthers, isn’t worried about the competition for fans.

But they’re doubtful the economics are there to make professional baseball, and its roster of paid players, succeed in the region.

“There’s not enough talent or fan base to support two teams in Waterloo Region,” said Bill Pegg, the Panthers’ president. “But if they can find someone with deep enough pockets willing to take a loss, then more power to them.”

The ECBL is bringing baseball back to communities that haven’t seen independent, professional ball in many years.

In Welland, the Niagara Wild plan to bring semi-pro baseball back to Welland Stadium for the first time since 2003, when the Niagara Stars folded after a half a season with the independent Canadian Baseball League. The Welland Aquaducks were in the independent North Atlantic League in 1995-96 and before that the Pittsvurgh Pirates has their class-A New York-Penn League affiliate in town … the Welland Pirates from 1989-94.

The club in Watertown, N.Y., another New York-Penn outpost, says it’ll be the first professional team to play at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds since the Watertown Indians left for Staten Island after the 1998 season.

In Newburg, N.Y., the Newts are bringing pro ball back to Delano-Hitch Stadium for the first time since 1998, when the Newburgh Black Diamonds of the Atlantic League went bankrupt after one season.

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