The Guelph Royals are currently in the final four of the Intercounty Baseball League playoffs.
This time last year, the team wasn’t playing ball at all. A failure to reach a long-term agreement with the city on a lease at Hastings Stadium saw the storied Intercounty Baseball League franchise sidelined last season.
To see what it’s been like bringing the team back, the Tribune did a Q&A with Royals’ president Jim Rooney.
Q: The Royals are back in 2012. What, specifically, has been a particularly proud or exciting part/moment of the club’s return . . . and, also, a disappointing one?
A: Proud/exciting: Opening Day (May 5, 2012), playing Royals baseball back at Hastings – rebranding an iconic part of Guelph sports history, enthusiastic and encouraging response by local players.
The first player I visited was Jeremy Ware. In his true professional manner he said “count me in.” And coach Dave teBoekhorst stepping up and saying “let’s make it happen.”
And then there are the fabulous volunteers, amazing and talented interns, community partnerships established with local businesses, Guelph Police Services, Chamber of Commerce, school choir program, Rookie Royal program (and the) local performing artist program. It makes Royals baseball a destination – a great family time.
Challenges: When we are trying to help local charities through efforts that include 50/50 and other promotions at our games, it becomes tough to execute those charitable opportunities at times, given the specific guidelines that need to be adhered to at the various levels of government.
Our goal has, and always will be, to give back to the Royal City.
Q: You have jumped through a lot of hoops to bring Intercounty baseball back to Guelph. What makes it worth your while?
A: I love our community. Sport is the fabric that builds community pride and with our brand of baseball, it gives local players a chance to perform at the highest level in the province.
I am a passionate, determined and results-driven Irishman who loves sports and wants to always deliver a great product. I believe that we owe it to the community to offer the chance to come and share city pride for its hometown team, and be part of the Guelph Royals tradition.
Q: When you received approval to sell beer at the games there were concerns people would just show up to drink beer. That certainly hasn’t been the case. How has it worked out and will beer be served next year?
A: While there was tremendous apprehension for some, providing a beer garden allows those fans who are accustomed to the choice of a beer at an event an equal opportunity.
Our demographic is mature and responsible. What sums it up best is the response from employers and employee groups who have spent a night at the park.
Q: Several Intercounty teams struggle at the gate during the regular season yet business can pick up dramatically come playoff time. Eight out of nine teams made the playoffs this year. Is there anything that can be done to improve attendance overall?
A: The key to any success is group sales. When a family chooses to spend their discretionary income, they have a right not only to see a competitive baseball team, but to be entertained as well.
A competitive and entertaining product is a serious factor in building the fan experience that is fun and entertaining, and creates a desire to share this with family and friends.
A good game and fun experience generates the desire to say “I can’t wait to go to another game.” Reaching out to minor ball and the showcasing of local talent like school choirs, group performers, a dance team or an individual talent, adds to the fan experience at a game.
Q: Can you relay a neat anecdote about a Royals’ volunteer? How many volunteers are there?
A: Chef Wayne and Ann are known to have the ‘best’ hot dogs in the IBL. They take pride in the food prep and friendly customer care.
When fans from other teams from out of town put their photos on Facebook and acclaim “come and taste these delicious dogs” you (know you’re making) a difference!!
A ‘team’ of 23 volunteers makes it happen each game.
Q: It appears the younger set might not seem as interested in baseball as they might be in other sports. Why do you think this is?
A: The ’89, ’90 and ’91 birthdates had the lowest registration across the province. Since then numbers have increased. Because of local success and drafts, interest is growing.
The fact that we are able to provide an opportunity for our best local kids to play here is a factor to draw interest.