By: Mike Rankin
After two years’ worth of negotiations, it was announced Wednesday, October 16 that the independent Frontier League of Professional Baseball will absorb five organizations from the Canadian American Association (Can-Am), which will result in 14 teams operating under the Frontier League title.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor that the Frontier League and Can-Am League are merging to join forces and play in 2020 in the Frontier League,” commissioner Bill Lee stated in a press conference Wednesday. “Bringing the 14 teams from basically the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, we want to make sure this thing can grow and watch our industry grow with it. It is a move for growth and its strength for all of us.”
From 2012 to 2015, the Frontier League operated with 14 teams. In what will be its 28th season, the oldest independent professional baseball league in the country will also be recognized as the largest in independent baseball, as they implement 14 teams for the fifth time in league history.
The New Jersey Jackals, Quebec Capitales, Rockland Boulders, Sussex County Miners and Trois-Rivieres Aigles will transition from the Can-Am to Frontier League and will be a part of the Can-Am division. Joining the group will be the Lake Erie Crushers and Washington Wild Things. The remaining Evansville Otters, Florence Freedom, Gateway Grizzlies, Joliet Slammers, Schaumburg Boomers, Southern Illinois Miners and Windy City ThunderBolts will compose the Midwestern Division.
A full 2020 schedule is set to be released Monday, October 21 with the continued tradition of a 96-game season that will run from May through September. Discussions are ongoing as it pertains to playoff formats and roster construction, as the Can-Am and Frontier Leagues operated under contrary requirements and restrictions prior to the merge.
“We’re working on some of that right now,” Lee said regarding regulation adjustments. “It’s all coming under the Frontier League banner. We will be working on some of these things and compiling these rules – age limits, those kinds of things – to blend everything they did and some of the things we did. That will be coming out shortly.”
Regarding the league schedule, Lee stated: “Games are scheduled to maximize geographic rivals while still allowing each team to play each other club.”
The League’s geographic restructure will represent the most influential change. Located in Avon, OH and Washington, PA, the Lake Erie Crushers and Washington Wild Things were forced to do the majority of their road trips to the Midwest, which ultimately accumulated to the lengthiest distances traveled among the former 10 Frontier League teams by season’s end. Now, the Frontier League will employ two concentrated divisions which will offer travel conveniences related to intra division play for both the Can-Am Division located on the east coast, and Midwest Division.
Following 17 seasons of independent operation, the Can-Am will serve under the Frontier League umbrella. The two parties see this newly formed relationship as an opportunity to progress independent baseball and maintain an ambition to grow.
“We are very excited to be a part of the Frontier League and I speak for all the members of the Can-Am League,” Al Dorso, Can-Am League Chairman of the Board said Wednesday. “It’s been a vision of the Can-Am League to be a part of something bigger and to expand in the Northeast. We’re 14 teams strong. We’re the biggest, the best and the brightest independent league in the country right now. In two years, we’ll be a 20-team league. That’s our vision.”
“It has been my honor to be a part of this groundbreaking deal and I can’t thank all parties involved enough for getting us to this historic moment,” Kevin Winn, Executive Director of the Can-Am League said. “I look forward to seeing where our newly formed alliance heads next and all the Independent Professional Baseball history that is yet to be written.”
The merge acts as a bit of a homecoming for some, as New Jersey Jackals manager Brooks Carey and Evansville Otters manager Andy McCauley each have experience in both the Can-Am and Frontier Leagues. Carey managed the Frontier League’s Normal ConrnBelters from 2013 to 2017, while McCauley took the Quebec Capitales to the postseason in 2002.
“I’m really looking forward to going back to Quebec City; I still have very fond memories of my time there,” McCauley said. “Patrick Scalabrini played for me there and Michel Laplante was my pitching coach.”
McCauley went on to say, “Initially I thought it would be great to merge with the Can-Am League. There are some really great markets and I have close ties to some of the managers and owners of the Can-Am league. Of course, it will require quite a bit of travel, but to have 14 strong teams the competition will be exciting.”
“I think the merger is going to be a positive move for both leagues,” Carey said. “It is going to put us all on firmer ground than what we already are. Many times, change is good. It should create more excitement for the fans as well as the players. There will be an adjustment period for managers [in the Can-Am] as far as roster rules, age limits, salary caps and other issues. It will definitely be different. But in the end baseball will still be baseball.”
As baseball remains the same, the professional independent landscape continues to adapt in order not only just to grow, but to survive on its own. Market opportunity for all involved propelled the merger to legitimacy. In the deal, major markets such as New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Quebec City, and St. Louis will be represented.
Florence Freedom manager Dennis Pelfrey called it, “a positive impact in independent baseball across the country.” Pelfrey went on to say, “I’m excited about this merger as I think it takes a huge step in a great direction of independent baseball. This is not only going to be good for the Frontier League and Can-Am League, but the respective fan base as well.”
The press conference Wednesday hinted at continued development. Can-Am Chairman Al Dorso offered his ambition of growth within the league across two years, as Pelfrey echoes Dorso’s sentiments by offering his own form of optimism as the new 14-team organization embarks on its initial trial run.
“In the next few years, as long as this shows success, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a couple other leagues that merge with us,” Pelfrey said. “To make a united front to maximize opportunities for players, coaches, front office staff, and most of all fans in professional baseball.”
The next step for the league will be to undergo its necessary procedures to prepare for Opening Day on May 14, 2020. The regular season will conclude on Sunday, September 6th. The full 2020 Schedule will be released on Monday, October 21st.