By IAN WILSON
More than a century of baseball in Edmonton’s historic river valley could be lost to the wrecking ball as the area faces a major redevelopment.
At the team’s annual gala fundraising dinner on Feb. 24th, Edmonton Prospects owner Pat Cassidy sounded the alarm about the future of ReMax Field, which is home to the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) club.
“This is an extremely important year, a critical year, for the ballpark because this is the year the City (of Edmonton) is going to determine its long-term fate,” Cassidy told those in attendance at the Blatchford Field Air Hangar in Fort Edmonton Park.
Several concept plans for the River Crossing area – which includes the Ross Flats lands that provided the birthplace of baseball in Edmonton – are expected to be released to the public in the coming months, at which point the City of Edmonton will gather feedback before making recommendations to city council.
“There is a proposal, I am told, by certain developers in this town to demolish the ballpark and build condos in its place,” said Cassidy.
“I say we can’t let this happen, and it is our responsibility and mission – and when I say our mission, I mean anyone and everyone who cares about baseball, the river valley and the future of both. We simply can’t let this happen.”
HISTORIC BASEBALL DIAMONDS
The sport of baseball in the Ross Flats area dates back to the 1880s. The Edmonton Legislatures became the city’s first team in 1884 and they were succeeded by the Edmonton Grays, who played out of the 1,500-seat Diamond Park stadium that was built by businessman Frank Gray in 1907.
The Edmonton Eskimos baseball club also played at Diamond Park, which served as the city’s primary baseball field until Renfrew Park was erected nearby in 1935. It was later renamed John Ducey Park in honour of Edmonton’s “Mr. Baseball” and it welcomed the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers in 1981.
That 6,500-seat facility was torn down in 1995 and replaced by Telus Field, which was built on the same site and saw capacity increased to 9,200, including the addition of 30 executive suites. Telus Field provided a home to the Trappers, Cracker-Cats, Capitals and the Prospects and it was renamed ReMax Field last year.
“Some really great professional baseball players spent time developing their game and skills at what was then Telus Field and John Ducey field before that, many of whom spent time in the big leagues,” said Cassidy.
“Having been to many ballparks throughout my life, I can tell you that the magic that is this scenic setting of ReMax Field is simply hard to duplicate and when man – by design or by accident – conspires with nature to create a masterpiece, you should not mess with it.”
‘MORE THAN JUST STEEL AND GLASS AND CONCRETE’
Cassidy went on to discuss the vital cultural and societal role of sports, particularly their impact on young people, and pointed out the importance of providing a proper home for athletes to grow and develop.
“These venues are more than just steel and glass and concrete,” he said.
“ReMax Field represents the pinnacle of success for many kids in this region, this province and this country, for that matter. It is one of Canada’s top five ballparks. Summer college baseball is a platform that gives every Canadian kid the opportunity to reach levels that are achievable while doing so playing in front of thousands of fans who respect their accomplishments. It is a jump that is not too far to reach but a necessary link that completes a chain in their own life story.”
The Prospects owner acknowledged a new ballpark could be built elsewhere – such as Northlands grounds, as has been suggested by some – but he added that the Oilers new home, Rogers Place, was built downtown for a reason.
“We want the same for our sport, a sport too often treated as the weak sister and kicked to the curb. We see a vibrant ballpark district built around ReMax Field that enhances everything that sport embodies,” said Cassidy.
He then urged those in attendance to make their voices heard and reach out to Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and city council.
“Words mean nothing without action,” said Cassidy.
“We must let them know that anything less than a ballpark district at the River Crossing is unacceptable. Show up in large numbers to Prospect games this summer so the city administration and council can see for themselves what baseball means to us and to the baseball and sports fans of Edmonton.”
HALL OF FAME SUPPORTER
Toronto Blue Jay great and Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, in attendance as a guest speaker, supported Cassidy’s call to action.
“I’m with you,” Alomar told Cassidy and the crowd, adding that his sports marketing agency, Alomar Sports, will be following up with a letter to the mayor in support of ReMax Field (see below for full letter).
Before the event officially got underway, Alomar told Alberta Dugout Stories that he has seen tremendous growth for baseball in Western Canada.
“I think that baseball here in Canada, especially on the West side, is growing up a lot. I see a lot of talent and they have a lot of great programs,” said the all-star infielder, who has come to Alberta on several occasions to teach young baseball players through Blue Jays Baseball Academy Honda Super Camps.
“I know hockey is the number one sport but baseball has become big here in Canada, so hopefully they can continue to have the programs so the kids can learn the game of baseball.”
“They have a great program … great coaches and you can compare that academy with any one in the States,” he said.
Meanwhile, the 50-year-old product of Ponce, Puerto Rico endeared himself to Edmontonians by declaring Edmonton Oiler legend Wayne Gretzky as his favourite hockey player.
“I loved the way he competed, even though he was a short guy for hockey … he loved to win, and I loved the way he went about his business,” said Alomar.