Tigers tamed, Monarchs
London's new ball team opens with bravado
By David Lee
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
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
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
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."