Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Will the cats come back? A final decision on the 2023 Northwoods League season is yet to come. CBC News

The commissioner of the Northwoods League says a final decision has not yet been made on the return of the Thunder Bay Border Cats to Ball Diamond in 2023.

The Cats have been on hiatus for the past three seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And when things are opening back up, and The Cats organization has said it hopes to field a team in 2023.Pandemic border restrictions remain an issue.

“The only thing that is of concern is the vaccination mandate along the border from the US and Canada,” said Ryan Woese, president and commissioner of the Northwoods League and co-owner of the Wilmer Stingers.

“Right now, not all players are required to be vaccinated in order to play in the Northwoods League,” he said. “So we’re still trying to navigate through it.

“Hopefully, with the help of Border Cats, we are able to drop the mandate for vaccination to the country of Canada, and that will certainly increase our chances of being able to play there.”

Northwoods League president and commissioner Ryan Woz said on Monday that a final decision on whether the Thunder Bay Border Cats would return for the 2023 season would be made by November. (Kathy Alex / CBC)

The need for vaccinations is an issue, as not only are the Cats the only Canadian team in the league—all other teams are based in the United States—but the Thunder Bay team’s roster includes several American players.

The Northwoods League is a collegiate summer league made up of players who want to get some playtime in during the college off-season.

Border Cats vice president Brian Graham said in a statement to CBC News that the league’s fall meetings are taking place on October 11-12.

“We hope there will be more clarity in next month’s league meetings,” Graham said.

Woz said the Northwoods League schedule is usually put together in November, so a decision on the Cats will take place earlier.

As for the league itself, Woz said the plan is to have a full schedule for 2023.

This is a departure from the past three summers, which saw some changes due to the pandemic.

In 2020, Woz said, the league ran on a pod system, which was essentially a mini-league spread across several US states. A new traveling team, the Minnesota Mud Puppies, was formed to meet the schedule while the Border Cats were on hiatus.

The lack of Border Cats games has also meant that their home ground, Port Arthur Stadium, has been vacant for three summers.

“We had no tenants, no other requirements for different uses,” said Franco Marches, the city’s manager of facility services. “We had no revenue for three years since the pandemic began.”

Marches said the Cats only lease the stadium when the team is actually playing.

“Due to lack of use, it was pretty much in storage condition,” he said of the stadium, which was built in 1954. “We drive the basic functionality of the building.

The Thunder Bay Border Cats logo in front of Port Arthur Stadium. The team hasn’t played in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Keatonen/CBC)

“We keep the lights on, the heat is going, the eye wash, the fire system, all that stuff is functional, so it’s safe to reopen,” Marches said. “However, we don’t put in the effort that we would normally do each spring, on a winter-off basis.”

He said that the staff who normally work at the stadium were also deployed in other departments of the city during the pandemic.

Marches said the pitching mound and infield will be reinstalled this fall, and over the past three years the stadium has addressed any wear and tear in anticipation of the Cats’ resumption of play in the spring.

“We also did a condition assessment this summer, just to make sure there are no major structural problems with the facility,” he said. “Nothing was picked up except normal maintenance.”

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