By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
Although the Border Cats will remain in Thunder Bay for the duration of the upcoming 2016 campaign, the future is anything but certain for the North Woods League’s Canadian instalment.
Officials announced that the team ownership group, headlined by Thunder Bay’s Brad Jorgenson, had sold its franchise to the Florida-based Superior Baseball Club on Monday.
Included in the new ownership consortium is Border Cats founder (2005), John Wendel and Kyle Smith, the acting general manager of the Brevard County Manatees, class-A Florida State League home to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Formed in 1994, the NWL serves as a 72-game collegiate circuit similar to that of the prestigious Cape Cod league. Boasting the title of most attended collegiate league in North America, such former standouts as Ben Zobrist, Max Scherzer and a trio of ex-Blue Jay relievers in Jeremy Accardo, Mark Lowe and Casey Janssen have all passed through its ranks prior to establishing themselves in the Show.
Seperated into a pair of rival divisions, the 18-team association has outposts in Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Ontario respectively. As of 2016, the Border Cats represent the NWL’s lone Canadian franchise, creating an unforgiving disadvantage for the northern-based ball club.
“We felt the difference, in regards to the disparity of the Canadian dollar, was just too big” explained Jorgenson in a post sale interview with the TB News Watch on Monday.
Like the Toronto Blue Jays, the NBA Raptors, and all of the Canadian NHL franchises, the Border Cats generate the majority of their revenue in Canadian funds, while paying out a large portion of their expenses in American dollars.
A 3 1/2 drive from their closest opponent, overall logistics have put a strain on the clubs operating budget, and with 36 of their games coming outside of the friendly confines of historic Port Arthur Stadium, it’s been difficult to remain financially viable in a time of general economic uncertainty.
Since joining the NWL in 2004, Thunder Bay’s purveyors of the “American Pastime” have captured two league championships (2005/2008), hosted an All-Star Game in 2009 and served as a launching pad for a trio of future big leaguers in Matt Mangini, Blaine Hardy and former Blue Jays utility man, Jonathan Diaz.
Ranking second-last in terms of overall league attendance last season, fans of the Cats will get an opportunity to hear from the new ownership group via a press conference slated for early March.
Jorgenson says he would like to see the team remain in Thunder Bay, but admits that he won’t be privy to what happens after the 2016 season.
“Owning the Border Cats over the last eight yeas has been an absolute privilege” expressed the outgoing club owner in a league issued announcement of the sale.
“The ball club was much more than just a business for us, but a passion. We look forward to assisting the new ownership group through this transition.”
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By Andrew Hendriks