WATERLOO — The Waterloo Whiskey Jacks have hired city councillor Brian Bourke as the general manager who will help them bring professional baseball to the region this spring.
Bourke, elected to Waterloo council in October, is a former broadcaster and newspaper columnist who also has local coaching and umpiring experience. He said the chance to bring the upstart East Coast Baseball League to town was “a dream come true.”
He hopes baseball fans will flock to watch paid, young players trying to get their big break in the game — marking the first time professional baseball has been played in Waterloo Region in many decades.
“This is a good time to put a new product out there that’s providing opportunities for players to take the next step,” Bourke said. “If we provide good quality baseball and good entertainment, there’s certainly a big enough market in the area.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done for a club that hopes to begin playing as part of a four-team league by mid-May.
A schedule hasn’t been drafted yet, no players have been signed, and the team is still negotiating with the city for a one-year lease of the Bechtel Park stadium in Waterloo. Bourke hopes to have a coaching staff in place “as soon as possible.”
He is also tasked with attracting sponsors, drumming up interest in season’s tickets and finding local families willing to billet players for the three-month season.
“Obviously, funding this team is important. It’s a professional baseball team, and these people need to get paid to play,” he said. “That’s a first step.”
The Whiskey Jacks say they’ll need to draw at least 300 fans per game to be profitable — a goal Bourke says is reachable given the region’s population. He also thinks they won’t compete directly for fans with the Intercounty Baseball League’s semi-pro Kitchener Panthers, who have their own loyal support base.
“If 7,000 people will come out to a Kitchener Rangers hockey game, I’d like to believe 300 to 500 people will come out to see players who are trying to take that next step toward a professional career in baseball,” he said.
Bourke’s resumé includes stints as a coach and executive with Waterloo Girls Minor Softball, and umpiring minor baseball in Kitchener. Bourke knows publicity, too — as a popular radio host at KOOL-FM, he helped raise about $2 million over the years for the local cancer centre by camping out on top of a King Street billboard.
“Brian’s history of community involvement and his deep roster of contacts will start the Whiskey Jacks off on the right foot,” said Colin Cummins, the East Coast Baseball League’s owner.
Most of the Whiskey Jacks’ lineup will be filled with undrafted college-aged players from the U.S. who are trying to start a career in professional baseball. But Bourke said he’s also getting requests from local players who want a chance to crack the roster.
“They’re interested in testing themselves, to see if they still have that ability to take it to the next level,” he said. “We have a tremendous desire to have Canadian players, and certainly players from the area. People need that local kid to cheer for.”
The league plans to start signing players after a three-week professional instructional camp wraps up in Myrtle Beach this month. But the general manager said he was pushing to have a tryout closer to home, too.
“I know there’s an awful lot of talent out there. We want to give them that opportunity,” Bourke said.