There was a time when baseball teams in the Northwest could rely on their bank of local players to excel. In the case of the Cataractes de Grand-Sault and the Frontière FM of Edmundston, it was essential to look elsewhere in order to set up formations that could rub shoulders with the other teams of the Ligue Puribec du Bas-Saint -Laurent.
In the case of the Cataractes, this is a first this year since the team has always counted on a good pool of players from the surrounding area. The organization was therefore looking for promising young players from American colleges.
François St-Amand, one of the coaches of the Cataractes, admits that the formation had to make this choice in order to be able to compete with the Quebec teams which have several players who have played in the professional ranks.
“I’ve been involved with the Cataractes for 22 years and this is the first time we’ve done this. To date, we are very satisfied.”
After having a more difficult season last year, the Cataractes have explored the idea of bringing in those players who have the potential to have an immediate impact on the team’s results.
“We had no choice, because the Puribec League is a very strong circuit. It took us these guys to compete.
“In Grand Falls, we are quite bilingual, so we thought that if we could find an American player, even if he is English-speaking, he would not be too out of place.”
Corbin Paxton, from the University of Toledo, was the first player to sign with the Grand Falls baseball team at the end of April.
“We agreed on a structure to put in place with him, which concerns accommodation, food and things like that. It was worth it, because we don’t hide it, he’s our best player. He came to replace Matt Curry who was our best player for several seasons, but who was not back with us this season.
Just before the start of the season, pitcher Koby Midgley also signed with the team.
Mr. St-Amand recognizes, however, that the members of the organization had some apprehension about inviting foreign players into their group. After all, more than half of the lineup is made up of players who live about ten minutes from the baseball field.
“We are a group of veterans and we must have been playing together for 10-15 years so we were afraid that it would break the team spirit. However, we were very lucky that our two new players integrated well.
François St-Amand believes that this support has ensured that the Cataractes are in the thick of the fight as the playoffs approach.
In Edmundston, Frontière FM kicked off this trend in 2019 when it added a few players who played in the United States on Major League Baseball teams.
Elixander Fernandez, Ricardo Bautista and Bryan Collazo had been important cogs in the 2019 edition which took top honors that season.
The president of Frontière FM, Jean Lebel, maintains that the recruitment of these players of Latin origin was necessary for the survival of the Edmundston team within the Puribec League.
“At the start, when the team decided to play in the Puribec League, it was difficult. The League even issued an ultimatum. If we did nothing to change the team, it was going to be removed from the league.
“We realized that if we wanted to perform well, we had to get players from outside. The Puribec League gave us permission. We acquired three players who made the difference and who created a craze.
At this time, Edmundston was floating on a cloud. However, COVID-19 brought everyone down to earth early.
After missing the last two seasons, Frontière FM was back in 2022 wishing to repeat the same formula. With that in mind, the team has signed three new players in Kevin Pena, as well as Mario and Reol Alvarez.
“It was difficult, because we had to start from scratch. Our three players imported from 2019 had other plans so we had to turn to other players.
Although the three newcomers represent trumps at bat, the big difference from the three players who made the team in 2019 is that they are not pitchers.
“Baseball is played a lot with the pitcher. Offensively, they are very strong, but our shortcoming is on the mound.
But why hire players from Puerto Rico, Cuba or the Dominican Republic, instead of sourcing from Canada?
“We could get guys from Montreal, for example, but they won’t want to come and settle in Edmundston to spend the summer there. They are ready to come and play a few games, but nothing more. Whereas an imported player who comes from another country, we find him a place to stay and we accommodate him with certain things. He doesn’t really have a choice to stay around. We know that they will play all their games with us,” explained Mr. Lebel.
“We also all know that people who come from countries like Cuba or the Dominican Republic grew up playing baseball. They know the sport well.”
In addition to allowing the team to be competitive, Jean Lebel believes that adding professional or semi-professional players is also a good way to attract spectators.
Very different results
As for the classification of the Puribec League, the teams of the North-West are poles apart. While the Cataractes are currently in third place with a record of 10 wins and eight losses, Frontière FM has experienced a little more difficulty, as evidenced by its record of 3 wins and 13 losses.
According to François St-Amand, Grand Falls’ goal was to finish in the top four in order to have the home field advantage, at least in the first round of the playoffs.
“Barring a disaster at the end of the season, we should achieve this objective. We are very satisfied with our season and what is also interesting is that we have three young people from the Grand Falls region who have made the leap full-time and who are slowly making their way.
“We have a good group of players.”
In Edmundston, after the ecstasy of the championship in 2019, we experienced a day after a delayed watch following the two-year COVID break.
“Two years without activities, it seems. We lost a few players. Our oldest players are even older. Our young people are good, but they lacked experience,” said Jean Lebel.
Despite everything, the president of the Edmundston baseball team remains optimistic. He believes that the pool of young players, who will eventually come to relieve the current players, is improving.
“In a few years, they should ensure a good succession, but for the moment it is difficult to rely on our local players, because we do not have enough of them. It is easier to have players at home games than outside.
As for the rest of the 2022 campaign, Mr. Lebel believes that Edmundston can cause some surprise.
“The record we have is not necessarily representative of the way we played. We lost a lot of games by one or two points. The playoffs are another season. If we can line up a good core of players, I see that in a positive way.