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Port Arthur Stadium construction delays put Border Cats on the road

Construction delays to the Port Arthur Stadium have resulted in nine early June home games being played on the road.

THUNDER BAY – Home is not so sweet for the Thunder Bay Border Cats this spring.

The Northwoods League team this week learned it will lose its first nine home games, the city blaming inclement weather for killing a section of infield turf and in need of four weeks to get Port Arthur Stadium back into playing shape.

Border Cats general manager Dan Grant called it a devastating blow to the team, which will have to shift its home-opener two weeks until June 17. The nine games lost will instead be played in several U.S. commuties., starting a neutral-site game on June 3 against the Rochester Honkers in Marshall, Minn.  

It’s not an ideal situation by any means, Grant said, adding some college teams might have second thoughts about sending players to Thunder Bay once the learn about the situation.

“It’s potentially pretty big,” the second-year GM said. “It’s 30 per cent of our revenue. We’re not a huge organization, we’re not a huge profit company. Thirty per cent is monstrous. But not even including that 30 per cent, we have figure out the upfront costs of paying for the road trip.”

That means more nights on the road, meals, hotels and added transportation costs that weren’t originally in the team’s budget as it gets set to play its 15th season. They’ve also got to determine how to get players originally scheduled to meet the team in Thunder Bay to the new game sites.

“Logistically we’ve got to kind of take a deep breath today and really figure out how we’re going to organize all of this,” Grant said.

“It’s easy to say it’s devastating. That’s something we’ll know more about in the future. Hopefully some positives come out of this. Right now it’s a bit of somber information.”

Just switching the games to their opponents’ home parks wasn’t an option in many cases, as fields in St. Cloud and Rochester were booked solid.

City officials called it unfortunate, but said there’s not much they could have done to foresee what had happened.

Tom Forsythe, the supervisor of golf and cemetery operations, said freezing rain, a wonky freeze-thaw cycle and heavy rainfall in late November combined to wreak havoc on the Port Arthur Stadium field, which last fall undertook the start of renovations required for the city to host the U18 World Baseball Cup this coming September.

A late April ice storm also hampered efforts.

Forsythe said the sod not only has to be properly laid, but its root system must knit together. Playing on it too early could be disastrous and lead to serious player injuries.

“We have to make sure the field itself is safe. We had to pick a date basically, and the way their schedule worked within the four-week time period, the 17th tends to be the best date for them.”

The team was given a heads up last fall that there could be a delay, but league competition rules limit the length of road trips allowed to be scheduled.

In addition to games against Rochester, the Cats will take on St. Cloud for a pair in Brainerd, Minn. on June 5 and June 6, and will tangle with cross-border rival Duluth at Wade Stadium on June 7, June 8 and June 13.

They’ll spend June 15 and June 16 in Waterloo, Iowa, then open their home schedule on June 17 against the Eau Claire Express.

Anyone holding tickets to the affected nine games can exchange them for any other home game and the team said anyone with questions can contact the box office at 766-2287.