Post by Kiersten Vuorimaki
Old timey baseball personality Bill Veeck once said, “There are only two seasons: winter and baseball.” In Ottawa, it may feel like those two seasons are winter and road work, or hockey and patios. But increasingly, people in the capital have been counting down to the first pitch of the season since that last glacier finally melted from the end of the driveway. The Ottawa Champions begin their third season this Victoria Day long weekend at Raymond Chabot Grant Thorton Park (RCGT), with full intentions of repeating last year’s dramatic underdog Can-Am Championship win.
In only their second year as a franchise, the Champions came from behind in the playoffs to beat the league bully Rockland Boulders in a major upset that even this diehard fan did not see coming. The hunger is real this season, as team Manager Hal Lanier, a baseball legend in his own right, went after some top shelf talent in the offseason to give fans another winning team to get behind. CanAm baseball is incredibly competitive, and compares to affiliated AA ball, if you’re asking. Players are regularly getting scouted into major league systems after performing well in the league, and Lanier’s personal goal is getting the best of the best players in independent baseball all the way to the bigs. This bodes well for our boys of summer this year.
For many Canadians, baseball games mean sunshine, beer, hotdogs, and silly dancing during the seventh inning stretch, or the Seventh Inning Itch, as one baseball newb friend mistakenly calls it. Since not all of us are die hard, score-keeping, stat-spewing, superstition-bound baseball purist fanatics, let’s talk game day experience. The Champions are the only professional sports team to have a craft beer brewed and sold exclusively for them—and it’s a light beer, at that. Champions Light is the local craft brewer’s fantasy: a collaboration of Clocktower and Kichesippi, it is sold exclusively at RCGT Park in branded tallboys, and on tap at Ottawa’s oldest bar, The Laff. This brew is Ottawa to its core.
Light beer not your style? The park offers local craft pints or tall boys in all levels of refreshing. If ice cream is your drug of choice during the summer, Lois ‘N’ Frima’s serves up their most popular flavours in scoops and shakes in their only location outside the Byward Market. Gabriel’s Pizza is the sponsor of the uproarious Pizza Scream, when fans scream their heads off in order to win a free pizza. You read that right: free pizza.
The team has also confirmed that favourite promotions from last season will continue to brighten our summer days. Tuesdays are Baseball Bingo nights–bring a pen, a friend, and your attention span. A self-explanatory fan favourite, Dollar Hot Dog nights will take place every Thursday. It may or may not be my favourite night of the week. For those of us who would rather arrive at the game fed and ready to relax, the Clocktower Brew Pub in New Edinburgh is launching their Triple Play promotion this week which includes a beer, a burger, and a game ticket for $25 on Friday game days. Saturday nights are for fireworks, so every Saturday night home game, stick around afterwards for pretty excellent fireworks to celebrate summer, baseball, and everything good in the world.
To coincide with citywide 2017 celebrations, Ottawa is hosting the Can-Am/American Association All Star Game July 24 and 25. Some of the best players in independent baseball will be here participating in skills competitions, a homerun derby, and an intense interleague All Star game. Our 2016 All Star pitchers Daniel Cordero and Austin Chrismon are both back with the Champions this year, and looking to repeat their performances on home turf.
The Champions are also holding two great international series against both the Cuban National Team and the Dominican Republic National team. Last season’s series against the Cubans was electrifying, with the local Cuban community filling the stadium with drums, trumpets, and dancing, unlike anything Canadian baseball fans have seen before. Frankly, we felt a little outdone and this year we need to be prepared. Note to self: bring drums.
This Thursday May 18, the 2017 season kicks off in a big way against the Trois Rivieres Aigles. The 2016 Can-Am Championship flag will be raised at RCGT Park and fans will be introduced to returning players from last year as well as the new talent carefully curated by Hal Lanier for our winning pleasure. Friday night, members of the 2016 Championship roster will receive their rings on the field before the first pitch. Game time both nights is 7:05pm with the pregame ceremonies beginning around 6:30pm. Saturday night is the first fireworks game of the year, and Sunday and Monday are day games beginning at 1:35pm. Bring the sunscreen and kick back for some day ball. There really is nothing like it.
The Ottawa Champions play home games at Raymond Chabot Grant Thorton Park, located at 300 Coventry Road, directly off the 417 with access to the Max Keeping pedestrian bridge. Tickets are $14 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, and $5 for youth. Parking is $5, making it the most affordable professional sports event in town. For more, follow the Champions on Twitter, Snapchat (@ottawachampions) or Instagram.