Volume 97, Issue 2
Thursday, May 29, 2003

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Tigers tamed, Monarchs royal

London's new ball team opens with bravado

By David Lee
Gazette Staff

London Monarchs
"WILD THING, I THINK I LOVE YOU." Unfortunately, Charlie Sheen wasn't pitching for the London Monarchs but Londoners got their fill of baseball at the Monarchs' home opener at Labatt Park.

Baseball is back in London.

The London Monarchs are the newest incarnation of baseball by the forks of the Thames. As part of the new eight team Canadian Baseball League, the Monarchs hope to revive London's interest in baseball while providing a stepping stone for players who hope to eventually crack a Major League roster.

The CBL premiered on Wed., May 21, as the Monarchs cruised to an easy 13-3 victory over the Montreal Royales in front of a near sell-out crowd of 5,100.

However, it was the pageantry surrounding the league premiere that drew the most attention. The game was broadcast nationally by The Score and Michael Burgess (the first person to perform O Canada in a World Series game) was called upon to perform the national anthem. The crowd was also treated to a performance by a bagpipe band and a brief pyrotechnics display. To cap it all off, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds performed three fly-by's over Labatt Park.

Despite the buzz surrounding the Monarchs, some Londoners remain cynical about the viability of professional baseball in the Forest City. "I thought Montreal seemed really under-prepared," said Kyle Wasko, a fan in attendance at the premiere. "Once the novelty wears off, the fan base will only remain if the quality of the game merits it."

Nevertheless, the Monarchs are quick to point to one of the league's biggest advantages. "First of all, it's the Canadian Baseball League," said Monarchs assistant general manager Tim Smart. "People have a connection to the cities. [The Monarchs] aren't playing a team from Canton, Ohio – we're playing against cities that Canadians know and recognize."

Monarchs manager Willie Wilson is also confident about the on-field product. While the CBL touts itself as an equivalent to AA minor league baseball, Wilson believes the league will prove to be even better. "I think we're comparable to AA and above," Wilson asserted. "We've got ex-Major Leaguers here, we've got guys that have been in AAA and we've got guys that have played in Japan."

Following a dispersal draft that divided its players across the eight clubs, the CBL recognized there would be a greater focus on speed. With casual fans craving the long ball, this could potentially be a concern, since the Monarchs are largely built around speed and defense. However, Wilson is unfazed. "I think baseball fans will be entertained no matter what, whether it's home runs, triples or doubles."

In terms of the team's longevity, Smart believes the Monarchs are here to stay. With a variety of creative promotions scheduled for future games (including a Fergie Jenkins bobble-head giveaway), it seems the Monarchs are poised to provide London with a lasting baseball experience.

The Monarchs hope to create a loyal following in London and its surrounding area. "We're offering affordable family entertainment," Smart said. "If we [sell between 1,000 and 1,500 tickets per game], then we're ahead of where we want to be."

But for Wilson, the CBL is also about second chances. "There's not enough scouting up here to bring out some of the good ballplayers. I think this new league gives guys an extra opportunity to be seen and be given a chance to do something even better than what they're doing here."

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