Ex-Lynx Boucher to Ottawa’s Double A backers: think beyond the game
*Denis Boucher (Montreal, Que.) says Ottawa’s Double-A backers need to think of each game as a family-themed event, if it wants to build a solid fan base.
By Michael Hammond
OTTAWA – Denis Boucher can still hear the cheers from the fans at Lynx Stadium after all these years.
The Montreal-born former major league pitcher, still fondly recalls the Triple A team’s debut season in the capital in 1993 and its championship in 1995. The club routinely sold out Ottawa Stadium during its first few years and set a minor league attendance record in the process. Boucher, one of a select few Canadians to have played for both the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos, spent parts of four seasons with the triple-A Ottawa Lynx between 1993 and 1996, when the club was Montreal’s top affiliate.
Boucher returned to Ottawa to teach young baseball players the basics of pitching as part of the three-day Blue Jays Super Camp. Boucher was joined by former Jays Duane Ward, Candy Maldonado, Jesse Barfield and Frank Catalanotto at the camp, which drew 125 kids aged 10-16.
T.J. Burton, co-ordinator of amateur baseball for the Blue Jays, said was pleased to see the camp attract a high level of interest in the city for the second straight year, without the need for major promotion.
Boucher, a lefthander, also saw action in various stops throughout the U.S. in his 10-year career. He said if double-A ball is to succeed in Ottawa, the team’s backers need to think of each game as a spectacle, where the product on the field is sometimes secondary to what happens off the field. He sees examples of this mentality throughout the minors today, in his work as a scout for the New York Yankees.
“I was covering some teams in the Midwest leagues where the ballparks are nice and there are big festivities (on game nights),” he said. “You need to have stuff happening between innings and make it fun for the families. You have to have the players be out with the fans and be involved with the community so people will want to come out and identify with the players.”
Another crucial step toward stability is to engage young players through camps like the Blue Jays camp, which made its second yearly stop in Ottawa.
“You have to get the minor baseball associations involved,” he said. “You have to get them to the ballpark.”
Not only Boucher involved with the Jays camp and the president of a regional baseball association in Montreal, he is also involved at the national level, where he has served as the pitching coach for the Canadian national team in the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics.
Having seen the Canadian game in all its forms for years, Boucher said Ottawa’s baseball fans hoping for a double-A team should be encouraged by recent trends.
The most obvious, he said is that the game has seen a steady resurgence since bottoming out following the major league strike in 1994-95.
“I kind of saw the drop and I think we hit the bottom,” he said. “And now, it’s on the way back up. More kids are getting involved and wanting to play.”
Some of that rebound can be attributed to the fact that Canadian-born major leaguers like Joey Votto, Jason Bay, Russell Martin and Justin Morneau have had successful careers. He said this latest batch of Canadians stars can trace their interest in the game to former stars like Larry Walker, arguably the one of the best Canadian hitters to play in the major leagues.
“We’ve had more and more Canadians who have played and have come out of (the game),” he said. “They’re getting involved in coaching, which helps a lot and their kids are playing.”
Boucher is a prime example of a former major leaguer who gives back to the game. Later this year, Boucher will work with the Canadian national baseball team, which will play in a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in September in Germany.
Ottawa’s baseball fortunes have improved in recent years. Spurred by the success of the Intercounty League Ottawa Fat Cats, Beacon Sports Capital Partners agreed to jointly fund $11 million in renovations to Ottawa Stadium with the city while trying to lure a double-A team to town. After efforts to attract the Toronto Blue Jays double-A affiliation were unsuccessful, Beacon said it intended to find another team in time for the 2014 season.