Prospects proving baseball belongs in the heart of Edmonton
How important is a Western Major Baseball League title to Edmonton Prospects owner Pat Cassidy?
You can see it his eyes, right through the tears.
If you’ve ever talked to Cassidy, you get the impression he probably doesn’t cry very often, but on Wednesday, ahead of Game 4 of the WMBL final, he had to fight them back.
“It will be a moment,” said Cassidy, dreaming ahead to the possibility of a Prospects series-clinching win at Re-Max Field.
“I’ve been pretty emotional after some games this year because we’ve had some really exciting finishes.”
None more exciting than the end of Game 3 on Tuesday night in Edmonton. Clinging to a 6-5 lead in the ninth, Derek Shedden made a sensational diving catch in left field to preserve a win and give the Prospects a 2-1 series lead over the Swift Current 57’s.
Watch below: The Edmonton Prospects are one win away from capturing a WMBL crown. Jack Haskins has more on tonight’s important game.
Close to 3,000 fans — 2,838 to be precise — were in the stands at Re-Max field and roared their approval after Shedden came to a sliding stop in the outfield grass. The roar continued as the players poured onto the field to celebrate, sounds scarcely heard around the old ball park in recent years.
“I think people are starting to realize this is pretty good baseball,” Cassidy said. “Matter of fact, it’s really good baseball.”
In 22 home games and five playoff games so far this season, the Prospects are averaging about 1,600 fans a game. That’s the second best gate in the league and a big turnaround from just a few years ago.
“In 2014, you could almost count the number of people in the stands,” said Prospects Head Coach Ray Brown, who took over the team that season.
That summer, the team was coming off back-to-back six-win seasons, since Brown and assistant coach Orv Franchuk took over the team, they have steadily improved. This year marks their second straight year in the league final.
And they’ve done it with a unique roster. In a league that allows 20 roster spots for imported American players, the Prospects have none. Brown and Franchuk are fielding a team of Canadians and one Australian. Most of the players are from the Edmonton area.
“It’s very important for us to go out there and win,” Brown said. “They want to show the WMBL that Canadian kids can play.”
Cassidy wants to show Edmonton that baseball belongs here.
Last year, he signed a four-year lease with the city for the newly renamed Re-Max Field.
“We were kind of given a mandate, that baseball has got to prove that it belongs here, that it’s relevant in the city and there’s a place for it here in the river valley,” Cassidy explained.
But, since the departure of the Edmonton Trappers and the failing franchises that followed (Edmonton Cracker Cats/Capitals 2005-2011), baseball has been a tough sell.
“Nothing will ever match what the Trappers did,” Brown said.
“It was the greatest thing that ever happened for baseball in Edmonton. The Trappers were great and the worst thing to happen was the Eskimos decided to sell it.
“That took away a quality of baseball in this city. I don’t think we’ll ever see it again, no matter what the Prospects draw for attendance, we’ll never see that quality of baseball, I don’t think.”
But the Prospects don’t pretend to be the Trappers.
The Trappers were one step away from Major League Baseball, Triple-A affiliated in the Pacific Coast League. The Prospects play in a collegiate summer league with amateur athletes, but the best baseball you’re likely to see.
And standing in one of the boxes behind home plate on Wednesday afternoon, Cassidy is ready to watch his team prove they belong.
“I think that bringing a baseball championship to Edmonton would be big for me for sure,” he said. “I think it would be big for the city as well.”
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.