Ottawa’s baseball history dates as far back as 1898, when the Eastern League’s Ottawa Wanderers took the field in the nation’s capital, just 29 years after the British North American Act was adopted in 1867, creating the Dominion of Canada with 4 provinces; Quebec, Ontario, New Bruinswick and Nova Scotia.
The Wanderers transferred to Ottawa in the middle of the 1898 season from Rochester, NY. Their time in Ottawa was very brief as the team folded at the end of the season, but it opened the door for future clubs to find their way into Ottawa.
It took 14 years for baseball to find its way back into Ottawa, this time in the form of the Ottawa Senators. The Senators became Ottawa’s traditional baseball brand for many years, lasting in different forms from 1912-1948. In each of their first 4 seasons, the Senators won the Canadian League championship, beating out the likes of the Brantford Red Sox and London Tecumsehs to do so. After their Canadian League days finished, the Senators returned for separate stints with various amateur leagues in 1922, 1936, 1939 and 1948-1949.
Modern professional baseball made its’ brief debut just a few years after the departure of the Senators. The International League’s Ottawa Giants/Athletics franchise made their home at Lansdowne Park from 1951 to 1954, never posting a record above .500. Their only multi-season manager was Frank Skaff, who went on to become the manager of the MLB’s Detroit Tigers. Interestingly, the franchise still exists today – after multiple relocations and affiliation switches, the franchise currently lingers as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees. After the departure of the Ottawa A’s, baseball disappeared from Ottawa at the professional level for nearly 50 years.
Reincarnation in the 1990s
That was until 1991, when an Ottawa group was granted another International League franchise, it was set that baseball would return to the nation’s capital in grand fashion. A state-of-the-art 10,000 seat ballpark was built and dubbed Ottawa Stadium, later JetForm Park and Lynx Stadium, that at the time was regarded as one of the nicest minor league parks in North America. Today, Ottawa Stadium remains Canada’s largest minor league ballpark.
The Lynx first season went down as one for the history books, as Lynx fans packed Ottawa Stadium. Baseball was at peak popularity in Canada, with Blue Jays fresh off of back-to-back World Series titles and the Expos embarking on a successful season. The Lynx took full advantage of that, pulling in a record full-season attendance of 693,043. The total went down as a single season attendance record in the International League, surpassing a mark set by the minor league version of the Baltimore Orioles 47 years earlier. With the NHL’s Senators arriving the fall prior to the Lynx, the sports craze had hit Ottawa hard.
Ottawa won their first and only International League championship in 1995, when they handed the Norfolk Tides a 4-0 shutout in the final game of the championship series on a rainy day in September. The championship acts as the proudest moment in Lynx history and a similar feat hasn’t been accomplished by any Ottawa professional sports team since then. After the 1995 season, however, attendance for the Lynx began a fast descent, resulting in the team eventually relocating. In 2006, the Lynx were purchased by a Pennsylvania group and were slated to relocate to Allentown, PA after the 2007 season. The Lynx played out the year in 2007, finishing with a 55-88 record and last place in the International League. As a final send off, Lynx fans came by the thousands to watch the Lynx play their final game in Ottawa, losing 8-3 to the Syracuse SkyChiefs. Lynx Stadium was packed with 7,368 fans on the final game day, leaving baseball executives wondering if Lynx Stadium had really seen its final pitch.
That answer came at the end of 2007, when the Can-Am League announced a deal had been made with the City of Ottawa – the Ottawa Rapids were on their way to the Ottawa baseball scene. Shortly before the season began, the Rapids were bought by local ownership and renamed the “Rapidz” to coincide with their new parent company, Zip.ca.
The Rapidz represented Ottawa’s introduction to the independent baseball scene. While the Rapidz did not fare well on the field, posting a record of 31-63, they did somewhat rejuvenate baseball in Ottawa, boosting the attendance up from the 2007 Lynx average to 2,150. Local players such as Tanner Watson, a former Seattle Mariners draft pick, Danny Desclouds and Mike Kusiewicz populated the Rapidz roster and the mood was good after the 2008 season. However, at the end of the season, ownership declared bankruptcy and the Ottawa Can-Am franchise was never able to live up to its potential, as they did not return for a 2009 season.
The abrupt ending to the Rapidz era left baseball’s future in doubt. The City of Ottawa left Ottawa Stadium vacant in 2009, which marked the first season that no team would play at the stadium since its opening 17 years earlier. However, as a quick fix to this problem, the city sold off the lease of the ballpark to the Intercounty Baseball League, a semi-professional league based mostly in southern Ontario which includes teams with a long history such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Brantford Red Sox. The team was announced as the Ottawa Fat Cats.
While the Fat Cats were intended to be a quick fix, with a year-by-year lease on the stadium, they experienced a rapid surge in 2011. After a modest 16-18 regular season record, the Fat Cats ripped through their first two playoff opponents, embarking on a miraculous run to the championship series against the powerhouse Brantford Red Sox – a storied franchise almost 100 years old. The underdog story gave Ottawa a ball team to love again, as fans packed Ottawa stadium to near capacity in the playoffs, a feat that hadn’t been seen for years prior to the arrival of the Fat Cats. While the Fat Cats lost the championship series to the Red Sox, the spirit of the Lynx had been found again in the form of a semi-pro team. The 2012 season saw the Fat Cats return to impressive crowds and drove up the interest in the market from professional leagues.
With the help of the Champions for Ottawa Baseball campaign headed by David Gourlay, professional baseball would make a return to Ottawa, as in 2013 the city signed a landmark 10-year lease agreement with the Can-Am League. The ownership group headed by Miles Wolff is set to contribute its own notable story to the Ottawa baseball scene, in the form of the Ottawa Champions. The Champions once again take the field in the 2016 season.