Thunder Bay

'Full steam ahead' for new Thunder Bay Border Cats owners

The new owners of the Thunder Bay Border Cats are hard at work in preparation for the 2019 Northwoods League season, but there's much left to do before the team retakes the Port Arthur Stadium field.

Port Arthur Stadium improvements in the cards

It's "full steam ahead" for the new owners of the Thunder Bay Border Cats as the 2019 Northwoods League season approaches. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

The new owners of the Thunder Bay Border Cats are hard at work in preparation for the 2019 Northwoods League season, but there's much left to do before the team retakes the Port Arthur Stadium field.

Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment recently purchased the Border Cats after the team had fallen back under Northwoods League ownership.

The league took over the team after terminating its agreement with the Cats previous owners — a Florida-based group — over unpaid bills.

"We're up and running and open for business," said Bryan Graham, vice-president of Grand Slam Sports Entertainment and the Border Cats.

Graham said recruiting of players is underway — the team has hired a new field manager, Eric Vasquez — and some player signing announcements will be coming soon.

Interviews are taking place to fill the general manager position, and some improvements to Port Arthur Stadium are planned. Those, Graham said, include enhancements to the party deck to better accommodate group outings, and the creation of a kids zone.

"We really want to have it as a family-friendly environment," he said. "We want to have more of that for the kids to go out and do other activities in the ballpark."

Graham said the group also plans to put premium seats back behind home plate, but that may not happen until the 2020 season.

"Still a lot of work to be done for sure," he said. "But, yeah, it's full steam ahead."

A proactive approach

The Cats takeover was a long time coming. In fact, it stretches back to the end of the 2017 season.

"That was the year the Border Cats lost 10 home games," Graham said. "I think some of us that were sort of close to the organization maybe saw the writing on the wall, that there may be trouble ahead financially for the owners."

That season was also complicated by a delayed home opener.

The Cats couldn't play on the Port Arthur Stadium field for the first two weeks of the season, as it was still being prepared to host the 2017 U-18 Baseball World Cup, which took place in September of that year.

Graham said the lack of home games, and increased travel expenses, over those two weeks cut into the Cats revenues for the season, Graham said.

Actual talks between the new Cats owners and the league began during the 2018 season, Graham said.

"We just wanted to be a little bit proactive," he said.

Graham says the ownership group is currently made up of 22 individuals, but he still hopes to increase that number to 25.

"We can sort of go on a case-by-case basis, and talk to individuals that may be interested and what they can potentially bring to the table as an owner and an investor in the team," he said. "So, we're in a good spot that way."

The Cats open the 2019 Northwoods League season on May 28 when the host the Duluth Huskies.

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