Ottawa’s Triple-A Baseball Team Wrapped Up Its First Season 30 Years Ago
By Dan Lalande

“You can open the book you’re writing with the most cliché line of all time and you would be perfectly justified,” I advised Mark Sutcliffe, then not lording over our city but calling games, along with myself, for the Ottawa Lynx on community TV. After he shot me a puzzled look, I elucidated: “’It was a dark and stormy night.’”

Indeed, it was—both that fateful night in 1995 when the Lynx improbably won the Triple-A International League championship, and two years before, when the team wrapped up its first season, an occasion marking its 30th anniversary.

While the players warmed up for Ottawa’s first professional baseball game since the 1950s (the short-lived Ottawa Giants, a National League affiliate that played at less-than-ideal Lansdowne Park), another team, comprised of carpenters, electricians and painters, toiled to finish the still unnamed stadium. You’d walk by an empty room in the press area, only to walk by again a half-hour later and find it equipped with all the necessary bells and whistles.

Finally, after a soggy exhibition of pre-game festivities, the patient, sold-out crowd heard a battle cry that hadn’t echoed through the city in decades: “Play ball!”

What ensued was a new love affair: Three years that set an International League attendance record, culminating in the equally enthusiastic (and wet) crowd that witnessed the pile-on of players after manager Pete Mackanin and his light-hitting foot soldiers clinched the Governor’s Cup. The title to Sutcliffe’s book—which, sadly, never got published—perfectly framed the fate of that punch-above-their-weight team: Minor Miracle.

It was good baseball in those years—sometimes even great baseball. Not only that history-making night but the annual exhibition game between the parent club Montreal Expos and their future stars. While the Ottawa Rough Riders were in their death throes and the Ottawa Senators were still learning how to play, the Lynx were the top sports ticket in the city.

Then, Year Four. We dumbfounded diehards asked ourselves: What’s with all the empty seats? Had the honeymoon run its course? Did the Lynx peak too early? Did the momentum of the Sens affirm Ottawa’s status as a hockey town? Did Lynx owner Howard Darwin underestimate what it took to keep fans hooked on baseball? Did MLB’s fall from grace due to the crippling strike of ’94 trickle down to Ottawa? These are questions, three decades after the team’s much-ballyhooed inaugural season, still being asked, as the public failed increasingly to show.

Today, the ballpark on Coventry Road is home to the Ottawa Titans. It’s the third independent league to man the turf. Baseball purists are happy—better independent ball than no ball at all—but those who appreciate the game at its highest level can’t help but drive by the place and, in a fit of nostalgia and heartache, sigh.

Dan Lalande is a writer and baseball fan still mourning the Lynx.

The last game was a less than auspicious, or even sentimental, occasion. The PR arm, busy with the team’s move to the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, wanted no public lament for the Lynx, should it detract from the enthusiasm for the team’s new identity. The Lynx went out, then, not with a bang or even a bunt.

But like that mile-high homer I once saw star player Cliff Floyd power completely over Coventry Road, they won’t be forgotten.