Niagara Gazette

August 5, 2013

BASE PATHS: Another chance for pro ball in the Falls?

By DOUG SMITH pollyndoug@hotmail.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Could professional baseball deal Niagara Falls a diamond?

It wouldn’t take much.

A new league is forming in the Northeast and it’s trolling for cities exactly like Niagara Falls.

Yeah, we’ve all heard this one before. The North Atlantic League folded like a garage sale lawn chair. But there’s method to this particular madness, and if Falls officials can overcome their tendency to step on their own feet, they could be in line for a franchise.

The Can-Am League, featured in two recent columns, is hanging on by its hyphen. It has just five teams and one of those, the Newark Bears, is drawing crowds smaller than the worst night the Niagara Power ever had, in a stadium that seats 6,000.

So Frank Boulton, who as one observer put it brought the Atlantic League from a pipe dream to the prominence of being an answer in a New York Times crossword puzzle, has left that thriving organization to try to help form the Diamond League, a “feeder league” – in other words, a minor league within the loose structure of independent baseball.

Boulton gets things done. He argued a franchise into York, PA, when most declared it impossible, even putting down a taxpayer rebellion over a stadium. The Atlantic has seven solid East Coast franchises, plus another in Texas. It sends players to the majors. It makes money.

Now, Boulton has the notion of taking the Can-Am’s strongest franchises and blending them with a few others that didn’t quite make the grade in the Atlantic and other leagues – Atlantic City, for one, whose lovely Sand Castle ballpark stands idle; Brockton, MA, where Bill Murray once served as Director of Fun, and Sussex, NJ, one-time home of a thriving New York-Penn League team.

But he’s seeking a few more “host cities,” as he calls them. Applicants must have a 2,500-seat stadium and lighting suitable for affiliated minor-league ball. Niagara Falls is halfway there, and this would be a league with not just professional ballplayers, but players on a track to promotion.

Niagara Falls would need to put it all together. Obstructionism and self-interest would need to go to the sidelines. (Base Paths has another essay on this topic on deck; watch this space.) But wouldn’t it be lovely? We’re just what they’re looking for, if only we can stay out of our own way.

THIS WORKED: “It’ll never last,” professional pessimists may pronounce, but we heard words like that 54 years ago this coming Thursday and we’re still together. Happy anniversary, Mrs. Paths.

Doug Smith offers his take on local baseball with Base Paths every Monday. Email Doug at pollyndoug@hotmail.com.