EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - The Evansville Otters say the Frontier League has officially announced a merger with the Can-Am League for the 2020 baseball season.
The league has teams in Canada, New York, and New Jersey.
The current Frontier League only has teams that are much closer to Evansville. There are teams in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.
Frontier League officials announced Wednesday that the professional, independent baseball league will expand to a 14-team league following a merger with the independent Can-Am League.
“We are very honored to be here today, as it’s a very big day for the Frontier League and its members,” Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee said.
The Frontier League is the oldest, active independent league, forming in 1993. With the announced transformation, it will now be the biggest professional, independent baseball league in North America.
The Can-Am League featured six teams in its 2019 season, with the New Jersey Jackals winning the championship. The league was founded in 2005 as a reorganization of its predecessor, the Northeast League.
“It’s a great honor and pleasure to make this announcement,” Lee said. “This vision started about two years ago, and we’ve had meetings ever since.”
The discussions for the merger heated up in July with the interleague All-Star Game when the Frontier League All-Stars and the Can-Am League All-Stars played in Pomona, New York.
Evansville Otters President John Stanley is part of the Frontier League’s executive board of directors and was involved with the discussions and decision to make the merger happen.
“Everybody wants to be a part of something that is growing and special, and the Frontier League has that,” Stanley said.
“The merger allows the business side to reach new markets, interests and opportunities. There’s prospective growth in a lot of different areas.”
“We are very excited to be a part of the Frontier League, as it’s been a vision of the Can-Am League to be a part of something bigger, to expand,” Can-Am League Chairman of the Board Al Dorso said. “We’re 14 teams strong, and we’re the biggest, best and brightest independent league in the country. The vision is to continue to expand and get bigger.”
The geographical reach of the league will stretch from Sauget, Ill. to Québec City, Québec in Canada.
League markets will include the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Mo., Chicago, Ill., Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pa., New York and New Jersey, and Québec City and Montreal in Canada.
The league will include the Evansville Otters, Florence Freedom, Gateway Grizzlies, Joliet Slammers, Lake Erie Crushers, Schaumburg Boomers, Southern Illinois Miners, Washington Wild Things, and Windy City Thunderbolts from the previous Frontier League, while adding the New Jersey Jackals, Québec Capitales, Rockland Boulders, Sussex County Miners and Trois-Rivières Aigles from the Can-Am League.
The teams will be split into two divisions. Evansville, Florence, Gateway, Joliet, Schaumburg, Southern Illinois and Windy City will be in the Midwest Division. Lake Erie, New Jersey, Québec, Rockland, Sussex County, Trois-Rivières and Washington will be in the Can-Am Division.
The Frontier League had 10 teams most recently in 2019, but the greatest number of teams in the history of the league was 14 from 2012-15.
“To see where this thing can go, we are excited for the future,” Lee said. “Bringing the 14 teams from basically the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, we want to make sure that this thing can grow and watch our industry grow with it.”
The 2020 schedule will consist of 96 games, running from May 14, 2020, through Sept. 6. The league’s full 2020 schedule will be officially released on Monday, Oct. 21.
There will be 12 games against five teams, six games against four additional teams and three games against three others.
“The games were scheduled to maximize geographic rivals while still allowing each team to play each other club,” Lee said. “Teams will visit and host 11 of the 13 teams in 2020.”
The teams hosted will shuffle from year-to-year.
League officials believe the competition will be as fierce as ever.
A lot of the specific details for the season, including possible rule changes, are still in discussion. The playoff format is not finalized but planned to remain the same with two best-of-five series, featuring the top two teams from each division.
For the Evansville Otters, who just celebrated their 25th season in 2019, the merger will bring some new experiences to Bosse Field for fans in 2020.
“The 2020 season at Bosse Field will be a fun summer with new experiences, such as flying the Canadian flag next to the American flag, playing Canada’s national anthem when the Canadian teams visit, and new promotions of the games,” Stanley said.
“The merger creates the largest, independent baseball league in the country, with the prospect of additional growth,” Evansville Otters owner Bill Bussing said. “This bodes well for the future of professional baseball in Evansville. We’ll still play 48 home games each year, but fans should enjoy seeing five new opponents.”
Otters manager Andy McCauley has familiarity with the teams and competition being introduced to the Frontier League, as he was the manager of the Québec Capitales in 2002.
“I’m really excited about the news and excited to have an opportunity to return to those cities in the Northeast,” McCauley said. “I enjoyed my time there in the Can-Am, and I can’t wait to get the season going and welcome those five teams to Bosse Field.”
“A lot of credit has to go to Otters President John Stanley as well as the rest of the executive committee and owners for the work and time put in to make this a reality.”
The geographical reach of the merger will introduce another talent depth pool as well.
“The managers in both leagues have always put together great products, so I expect the competition will be as tough as it has ever been,” McCauley said. “The fans will enjoy seeing the new competition at Bosse Field this coming season.”