As was discussed in the first entry to this blog, the Maritimes is unknown territory to the baseball world. No professional leagues have operated here since before the First World War (the Cape Breton Colliery League folded in 1939), and no semi-pro leagues have operated since Diefenbaker was Prime Minister (the H&D League folded in 1959). So, anyone bringing baseball to the area is pretty much starting from scratch. Also, finding a league to join may be problematic. The only two affiliated leagues that cover the area the region is in are the Eastern League (AA) and (maybe) the New York-Penn League (short season A). The closest team in the EL to the Maritimes is the Portland Sea Dogs, affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The closest teams in the NYPL are the Vermont Lake Monsters (Oakland A’s) and the Lowell Spinners (Red Sox).
As stated earlier, the Maritimes is virgin territory to Minor League Baseball and both the EL and NYPL cover areas that have long minor league histories. So, when one of these leagues expand (which in all likelihood would only happen after Major League Baseball expands) or needs to relocate an existing franchise, they will look at a city that has a proven record supporting baseball before taking their chances in an unknown market.
This leaves us with the independent leagues. The league of best fit here is the Can-Am League which already has two Canadian franchises (Quebec Capitales & Trois-Rivieres Aigles). The league’s three other franchises are located in the New York Metropolitan Area. This could be an option for cities like Halifax, Moncton and Saint John to join, but the league has proven to be unstable (a familiar story to local basketball fans where the Rainmen & Millrats were members of the ABA and PBL before helping create the NBLC). The regions best bet to have successful professional teams, could be to start our own league (which could expand beyond Maritime borders by including teams in Quebec, Newfoundland and/or New England). But in independent ball you’re on your own financially with no subsidies from the parent club to cover expenses like player salaries.
But the regions best chance at fielding competitive baseball teams (at least to start) is starting a collegiate summer league for the Maritimes. In college summer leagues, the players receive no payment (as it would disqualify them from NCAA eligibility) and many of the top leagues operate as an independent league would, the best example of which is the Northwoods League of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Ontario. Three other leagues operate in Canada; the Pacific International League and West Coast League both have teams in B.C. While the Western Major Baseball League operates out of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Players in such leagues are in a similar stage of their careers as players in major junior hockey and tend to be around the same age as such athletes. If marketed as “the major junior of baseball” or “see future Major Leaguers today” such a league can be successful in the Maritime market.
Also, building appropriate parks isn’t a real issue as most teams in collegiate summer leagues play in parks similar to the regions current ball fields that are utilized by local senior or junior teams. To attract better players (which in turn means a better product) smallish upgrades to current ballparks would help. Such as clubhouse facilities, bigger & improved grandstand, concessions & press boxes.
Next blog, I will detail how my proposed Maritime Baseball League (or whatever you want to call it) would look and operate.