You are probably the biggest baseball fan we have ever met. Has it been a challenge bringing baseball to Ottawa?
I am proud to be among the hundreds of thousands of our neighbours across Ottawa that support baseball !
Similar to Ottawa’s other professional sport franchises, the Ottawa Champions must constantly evolve to grow fan loyalty and corporate partner support with a vision of community identity, a fun and affordable family entertainment product and a competitive on-field team.
In 2012, I embarked on my journey to return a professional baseball franchise to our city and I faced naysayers head-on. My vision was to establish a franchise that reflects our community and brings family and friends together through a welcoming environment of a natural grass baseball park in the summer months to enjoy fun entertainment together. I believe a ballpark is a community gathering point, from the little league parks in each neighbourhood to RCGT Park, it is where we come together to spend quality time. I addressed the challenge ahead of bringing baseball by establishing the Champions for Ottawa Baseball to drive interest through fan support, local business buy-in and a charitable organization, the Miracle League of Ottawa, to showcase how baseball builds community. The partnerships demonstrated the passion we have as a city for baseball and now, the Ottawa Champions, are playing in their fourth season.
It’s baseball season. Where can one take someone out to the ball game?
RCGT Park is the home of the Ottawa Champions at the corner of Coventry Road and Vanier Parkway !
Aside from your personal love of the sport what was the inspiration for Champions?
I am a born and raised Kanata North kid and chose to stay here as I love the community we have become to raise a family. My Father was a career Diplomat and taught me the value of public service, giving back and the importance of self-respect and being a champion to educate others about our community. As a young adult, I wanted to make a difference and baseball emerged for me as that opportunity when few others believed in it based on past failures. My inspiration came in making a direct connection between the game of baseball and the idea of community. It is best reflected in a quote by former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo in Ken Burns documentary, “Baseball”; "Baseball is a community activity. You need all nine people helping one another. I love bunt plays. I love the idea of the bunt. I love the idea of the sacrifice. Even the word is good. Giving yourself up for the good of the whole. You find your own good in the good of the whole. You find your own individual fulfillment in the success of the community”
Baseball as community and the community is a group of neighbours engaged to achieve public good. I believe the sport of baseball accentuates community and I was empowered by that to pursue a dream of working with people to deliver a reinvigorated baseball culture.
Many people don’t think of Ottawa as a baseball town. Do we have a history in the sport?
We sure do! Professional baseball has a long history, from the Wanderers in the 1890’s to the Ottawa Giants who played in 1951 at Lansdowne Park and then in 1952, Ottawa’s next minor league team affiliated with the Philadelphia Athletics also played at Lansdowne Park.
Over the past 25 years, Ottawa’s focus on professional baseball has delivered 3 teams; the Lynx, the Rapides and the Fat Cats. The arrival of the Ottawa Lynx in 1993 resulted in what we now call Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park.
We also know that locally, legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig visited the Ottawa area for baseball activities. It is also known that The Say Hey Kid himself, Willie Mays, and legendary pitcher Satchell Paige visited Ottawa for exhibition games in the mid 1950’s. Thanks to the City of Ottawa Archives, we have photographs of Paige’s visit to Ottawa on July 7th 1954 when Paige’s Harlem Globetrotter’s played the House of David at Lansdowne Park in an exhibition game.
Plus, from Ottawa, retired player Doug Frobel played for the Montreal Expos and Pittsburgh Pirates. Local teacher Mike Kusiewicz was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 1994 and played for several organizations over his 14 yr professional career and most notably, pitched for our Team Canada in the 1994 Olympics.
Finally, Ottawa is home to SamBat that is a local success story that manufactures bats right here in the National Capital Region. Sam Holman learned to make maple bats from loaning books from the Ottawa Public Library and started production in his garage! Now, SamBat provides bats for over 100 players in the major Leagues including such prominent names as Barry Bonds, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun. Over the past 18 years, Sam Bats have helped win 79 Silver Slugger awards, 4 Rookie of the Year Awards, and 12 MVPs.
Have any famous ball players played in Ottawa?
I love this question – I did a lot of research on this topic when we were launching the Champions in 2014 and I designed the “Golden Moments” campaign to celebrate our baseball history in the community. Thanks to my insatiable hunger for information, I discovered that Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente played a few games in Ottawa in 1954 as a minor leaguer for the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple A team, the Montreal Royals.
Clemente was a relative unknown that early in his career, but he would go on to an incredible career securing 3000 hits and dying tragically on New Year’s Eve in 1970 on a plane that crashed off Puerto Rico delivering relief supplies to Nicaragua. Clemente became an icon due to his early passing with his immense commitment to children, youth and charity.
I blogged about it here !
So, you have hung up your baseball hat and are running for city council. Have you always had political aspirations?
I love people and in Kanata North, we are a community of vast and fascinating interests. Having been born, raised and now living in Kanata North, the opportunity to be give back and help make our neighbourhoods stronger together is very inspiring to me. After all, I learned how to swing a bat and throw a ball here, so I understand how important this community is to future generations.
I love meeting people at their doorsteps and across the community talking about their dreams, hopes and aspirations for Kanata North. I hope to have an opportunity to make a difference with my knowledge, experience and passion for our neighbourhoods.
Will politics mean you make it to less baseball games?
Yes, but I have been to the Park a few times so far this season including a team tribute to my past role on May 20th. I love the ballpark – there are now so many memories for me celebrating success and community. Plus, I enjoy running the bases with my 3 yr old daughter Sophia !
When you aren’t busy meeting people and being active in the baseball community what do you do for fun?
My family is so important to me and spending quality time with my wife, Danielle and daughter Sophia is my fun time. We enjoy the many nice events and aspects of our city and being outdoors. I also coach Sophia’s soccer team with the Kanata Dragons !
I am also a baseball card collector and Star Wars geek !
The Kanata Baseball Clubhouse is quite the facility. How many baseball players use it?
The Kanata Baseball Clubhouse is amazing ! It’s so important for communities to have sport/ recreation facilities where youth can improve their skills from professionals and the Clubhouse provides this opportunity for local youth in Kanata North and beyond. We’re so lucky to have dedicated volunteers in the local baseball landscape dedicated to the sport.
What do you see as the future of baseball in Ottawa?
The future is to have a strong, viable and sustainable professional product that is locally owned and supports our community in the business and philanthropic context. It is crucial that a franchise is deeply connected to our community and is an affordable, fun time to spend quality time outdoors enjoying a game or their family/friends.
Are there any Ottawa Businesses that have partnered with The Champions or the baseball community in general here in Ottawa?
Yes, in particular I am proud of four strong partnerships that I championed for the franchise with local businesses; Kichesippi Brewery, Clocktower Brewery, SamBat and Ottawa Hydro. Together, we enjoyed a partnership that accentuated the value of collaboration and providing our fans with top quality baseball entertainment. In addition, the team enjoys great support from other businesses like Ottawa Special Events, East Coast Limos, Lois N'Frima Ice Cream, Hintonburger and Gadar Sportswear.
In addition, the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce has been a passionate advocate for not only the Ottawa Champions, but the local sports sector recognizing our economic development footprint and contribution to the employment base in Ottawa.
I am grateful for the leadership each of these businesses and many others provided to the Ottawa Champions.