By Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
The Hamilton Cardinals almost didn't take flight for the Intercounty Baseball League’s 100th season in 2018.
In the winter it appeared as though the former owner of the Cardinals had had enough. Issues with the stadiums playing surface and general upkeep were reasons the future of the Cardinals looked bleak. Not to mention being basement dwellers for a number of years.
Around the time news broke that Hamilton was ready to take a leave of absence, a plan was being put together. A group of owners, helped by the Carmen’s Group, looked to breathe new life into a franchise that is the second oldest sports team in the city of Hamilton. Instead of having a single owner, the Cardinals wanted to go with several that they hope will allow for sustainability. They went 15-21 in the regular season and finished sixth in the eight-team league in 2018. A six win improvement over their 2017 season. They will face the London Majors in the first round of the playoffs.
The negativity that was part of the offseason for the Cardinals should not overshadow their place within the league. They carried a 675-1215 record into 2018 and have a 1978 championship to their name.
Speaking of names, the Hamilton team has had a few. They were known as the Hamilton Beavers from 1958-1962, then the Red Wings, Marlins and Real McCoys before becoming the Cardinals in 1975. They switched to the Thunderbirds in 2005 before going back to the Cardinals in 2013.
When the league announced its Top 100 players for the 100th season, seven of them had donned a Hamilton uniform at one point or another during their careers. Raul Borjas, Larry Cunningham, Dean Dicenzo, Scott Gardiner, Richard Jack, Murray Oliver and Sean Reilly all have called Hamilton their baseball home.
The name Dean Dicenzo is one of the most well known around baseball circles in Hamilton. Dicenzo played in the IBL from 1980-1999 with Hamilton and Brantford and was one of the better players in the league during his time. He was a three-time All-Star, collecting the honours in 1982, 1984 and 1992. He led the league in stolen bases in each of those seasons.
At the time he decided to hang them up he was second all-time in hits, top 10 in doubles and third all-time games played.
Dicenzo, who is the 18U field manager of the Ontario Terriers, has never really left his Hamilton baseball roots. He was instrumental in helping resurrect the team from the brink of extinction and currently holds the position of President of Baseball Operations for the team.
The team caught a break heading into the 2018 season as the playing surface at Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium was replaced after it was damaged during the filming of The Handmaid’s Tale. This forced the Cardinals to play a heavy road schedule to start the year and even play some home games out of Welland Stadium. The Cardinals hope the new ownership and playing surface will serve them well heading forward. The 2018 season marks the 60th anniversary of the franchise. It is also the 40th anniversary of the only championship the team has seen.
The Cardinals seem to finally be heading in the right direction.