ANOTHER Northwoods League baseball season, another rough ride for the Thunder Bay Border Cats on the field. The Border Cats, the lone Canadian entry in the U.S.-based summer college league, are wrapping up their regular season this weekend at Port Arthur Stadium. They are second-last in the North Division with a 22-49 record entering this afternoon’s finale.
And yes, for those counting in the stands that’s 10-straight years since the Border Cats have made the playoffs. In that span, they have cracked the 30-win mark just three times in a 70- to 72-game season.
In fact, Thunder Bay’s last postseason appearance resulted in the 2008 NWL title. Add playoff runs in 2005 (the Cats’ first championship) and 2006 and as Meatloaf says, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
Still, one has to wonder why the struggles persist — even with different players coming in every year.
Success in these leagues — similiar to the Ontario university conference where the Lakehead Thunderwolves compete — hinges mainly on recruitment during the winter. A highly-rated high school or junior hockey star coming to the Thunderwolves is just as important as a Division I or junior college standout signing with the Border Cats. It becomes even more crucial when players commit only one summer at a time to the Border Cats as the whole idea of the Northwoods League is off-season development for their respective U.S. college teams.
Financially, the Border Cats are also in a state of flux. The team draws its share of diehard followers, but they average only 794 fans per home game which is last in the 20-team league. To be fair, six other clubs are also averaging less than 1,000 per game.
It’s safe to say attendance and team performance go hand in hand in this city — not just in baseball. From the general consumer’s perspective, it’s completely understandable: Why pay money to watch the home team lose. The job of the spotlight franchises such as Thunderwolves men’s hockey squad, the North Stars junior A club and the Thunder Bay Chill soccer team is to give the consumer a product they want to return to more than once or twice a year.
Losing does not equate to happy faces and open wallets, no matter how exciting the games may be.
In June, Steve Muzzy, one of several Florida-based investors of the Cats, publicly asked the community if any locals would be interested in buying or putting money into the team, thus beginning the transition of investors.
Despite the losing seasons, the Border Cats have proven to be survivors. Now they need the success between the lines to spark interest in the community.