Thursday, October 02, 2008

Blog blast past: Ottawa fans' hearts were full of hope once, and will be yet

The latest lame excuse from the Ottawa Rapidz is the city would "only" offer them a five-year lease. Never mind the league's best-run franchise has never had more than a three-year deal. (Sense of entitlement, much?) Hope does remain, and just to affirm that, from Carl Kiiffner of the Ottawa Lynx Blog on Dec. 1, 2007, here's a reminder of how full our hearts were before Rob Hall and Rick Anderson came out of the woodwork.
Way back on Media Day, after we’d finished up for the day, Lynx Director of Media Relations, Mr. Riley Denver smiled and said: "So, now you know how the hot dog is made." My first thought was that while I’d seen a lot of the Stadium I’d not seen previously, I was pretty sure that none of us had been taken on a tour of the concessions. Sometimes I’m a little slow.

I first met the man Neate has dubbed "Deep Fly" back in mid-July, during the Tribute to the Expos weekend. Deep Fly (DF) was also a friend of assistant blogger, Patrick Shanks, and our paths would cross again, late in the season. DF, Patrick and I, first discussed the Can-Am League issue during the Lynx final home stand while watching an evening game from the Rogers Television suite. DF suggested that working together, we might be able to find a way to get the Can-Am League here after all; the news that the deal that both the Lynx and Miles Wolff thought they’d secured had been scuttled was filtering out during that time. Shortly after the final game of the season, and spurred on by the anger of witnessing my son’s confusion and tears over losing any hope of baseball in 08, I picked up the phone and called Miles.

That was September 5, 2007. It turned out that DF was one of the others who’d called -- but while I was blogging, he was organizing, arranging to have Miles in front of as many City councillors as he could on September 13. What would become a lengthy series of meetings, emails, phone calls, faxes and a friendship had begun. Our goal was simply to get that original plan back on the table, and then get Council to vote on it. It seemed so simple.

A preliminary meeting scheduled for September 11 was cancelled when DF’s wife went into labour -- poor planning on his part, and with Miles coming into town on September 13, we were now officially scrambling. We had no choice but to postpone to the 12th. September 12th rolled in and we got together, some of us having had more sleep than others, and began to map out a strategy. DF thought that having reps from the Booster Club, Baseball Canada and the "petition people" in attendance would be important -- necessary actually. Media was invited -- and I guess that was where I fit in; I sent the first of many "media releases" and contacted the larger news outlets in town by phone, giving them a "heads up."

We first met Miles on September 13, just a couple of hours before the meetings at City Hall. DF picked him up at the airport and together with Jim Baba and Andre Lachance from Baseball Canada, Wayne Sollows (one half of "the petition people"), and Patti representing Cat’s Pride, we sat down to discuss strategy before heading over to Laurier Avenue. "The plan" was that this was to be an informal "meet and greet," a chance for Miles to discuss his vision for a team and why it would be good for the City -- taxpayers and baseball fans alike.

Keep in mind, City council had not had the pleasure of meeting with Miles beforehand; the earlier meetings (Editor's note: Where the Lynx were present) had been held quietly and few if any councillors were aware of the original plan.

The first meeting was, in my opinion, one of the worst. Miles, a tall man, leaned forward in his chair, his arms resting on the table, loosely clasping his hands. He spoke confidently, with a deep voice that resonated clearly in the small room. He laid out his plan for the two councillors in the room, touching briefly on his own past and his experience with Independent League baseball. The councillors, while respectful, seemed unimpressed. What about parking? What about the legal issues currently facing the City and the current occupant of Lynx Stadium? The discussion, while candid, seemed more about the past and why this proposal couldn’t work. It was deteriorating, becoming less about the art of "the possible" than just pure negativity and defeatism. The councillors then listened to Jim Baba and Andre Lachance as the two presented their hopes for Baseball Canada. Jim struck me as a quiet person, but he was confident and spoke well -- he clearly knew his material and his passion for baseball was undeniable. Andre made his contribution in French, engaging the councillors on a different level as they listened and asked more questions of him directly.

The attention returned to Miles. What about the debt? The commissioner outlined how he understood the debt and lease agreement and why he thought he could get it to work. One councillor disagreed with the interpretation and proceeded to lecture explain to Mr. Wolff that he didn’t have the "whole picture." The facility, explained the councillor, was not yet paid for. I clutched my copy of the operating agreement tighter, but held my tongue.

Then, something truly impressive occurred. Perhaps irritated by the councillor’s tone, Jim Baba stepped in and spoke again. While pointing a finger at Miles, he addressed the two elected officials with a direct voice, laying out the commissioner’s credentials and achievements -- a strong decisive statement which said, in essence: Do you know who this guy is? All eyes turned back to Miles, who, appearing embarrassed by the accolades, lowered his gaze to his still clasped hands. Jim was unrelenting. This man is considered the guru of Independent Baseball.

My money’s on him.

After meeting briefly with a reporter from CBC, we carried on to the second and third round of meetings, and they got progressively more positive. During a break between the two last meetings of the day, I turned into a motivational coach, gently suggesting to Miles that the intensity in his voice had drained a bit -- not surprising given the fact that he’d likely been up since very early that morning and he’d effectively delivered the same speech for several hours. While Darren Desaulniers of the Ottawa Citizen took notes, DF chatted with the councillors. The Sollows broke the day up between them with Carol covering the morning sessions and Wayne handling the afternoon. I had completely underestimated the importance of that petition; politicians, I discovered, are moved by numbers and opinion. Several of them examined it closely, paying particular attention to the postal codes beside each signature. Patti and Tricia (who showed a little later in the day), spoke convincingly about the history of the team and its importance in their lives and of the value of the park. Neate attended the afternoon sessions and quietly added his voice, during the session and afterward.

I pulled Jim Baba aside and made a quiet suggestion. "Jim, Miles isn’t going to blow his own horn here, somebody’s going to have to do it for him. What you said this morning, the 'guru of Indy ball,' that was beautiful!" Jim smiled, probably amused by my enthusiasm and lack of sophistication.

"Seriously, every meeting we’re in from now on -- you’ve gotta keep saying what you said."

God love him, he did - with the same passion, fervor and conviction in his voice as the first time he spoke.
All hope is not lost. It's brutal to have had one's worst fears about the Rapidz ownership confirmed, i.e., "Who's going to hammer out a longer lease that the team can live with if Anderson, 'a mover and shaker in political and business circles most all his adult life' (The Citizen, April 29) is no longer around?"

Not to get too flowery, but there's always hope. Shame on anyone who cries over red ink. It's onward and upward, but with feet firmly on the ground.


RD said...

Little did I know that my hot dog metaphor would live on in the blogosphere (TWO blogs and counting!) for all eternity.

Jordie Dwyer said...

What doesn't surprise me in the least is Jim Baba.
i knew him for a few years when he was in charge of amateur baseball in Saskatchewan.
He was always passionate about the sport, about the people and the kids for which the game was for. And he has done the same thing for the country since he took the job at Baseball Canada.
If anyone can get things done down'll be Jim.