(Continued)...Baseball's return to Quebec: An interview with J-F Côté

(Continued from the story that appeared in the June 18 print edition)

 

QCT: How did you learn to manage a club and all its operations?

JFC: During the Summer of ’98, after I learned that the club was officially established, I went to Madison (Wisconsin), Saint-Paul (Minnesota) and Duluth (Minnesota) for a month in order to learn the tricks of the business and get a general sense of what my duties would be with the Capitales, with the help of these three baseball clubs’ general manager.  Up until then, I had only been involved in amateur competition and the professional side of the game was an entirely new experience. 

The next winter was dedicated to building a first office, which was essentially in my apartment here in Quebec.  In fact, the first ever number to reach the Capitales was a second line in my home!

QCT: Were the Capitales a former franchise or a something built from scratch?

JFC: Wolff bought a struggling franchise that was previously known as the Bangor Blue Ox (Maine) and moved it here in Quebec City.

QCT: What was the reception from the fan and business communities in Quebec?

JFC:  There is a baseball fan community in Quebec that’s incredibly faithful to the sport, so that was very good news for them.  That said, this is not a huge community, so you still have to win over casual fans for the project to survive.

The different media in the city were skeptical at first when the project was in the infancy stage, but once the mayor and the city decided to go ahead with it, then everything changed for them.  The media had every right to not embrace the plans from the start, but it remains that a new professional team here means that they have something else to cover and keep their jobs.
Up to this day, I can’t even remember a time when the Capitales got bad press from the news organization in the region.

QCT: It was mentioned in the coverage surrounding the 10th anniversary of the club that when a pro team reaches its 6th or 7th anniversary and still draws good crowds and coverage, that means the club is well-positioned to stay for a long while.  What are your thoughts on that?

JFC: As far as I know, the Capitales are the first team to stay in the Stade Municipal for ten consecutive years, so that alone says something. 

QCT: Was there ever an intention to attract an affiliated team to the city or independent baseball was the way to go from the start?

JFC: There is a very simple answer to this: experience shows that long baseball seasons in Quebec City do not work.  You cannot begin to play baseball during April and when September arrives, because the weather is unsuitable for a good experience at a baseball game.

So from the start, we could only set our sights on independent baseball or short-season baseball.  The New York-Penn League became an option, but another problem arose: we needed contacts in affiliated baseball, something we did not have and is complicated to obtain.

With Miles Wolff already commissioner of the Northern League, we had a great ally and let’s face it, he wanted us to join the ranks of his league and not help a great city like Quebec join the affiliated circuit, something that’s totally understandable. 

When he saw an opportunity in Quebec, he also saw the ideal starting point for an East Coast corridor for his league and a great way to attract other cities in the region.

QCT: If you could change something that you’ve done in the early stages of the franchise, what would it be?

JFC: On the baseball side, I would not have let manager Jay Ward come back for a second season with the club.  Ward was the perfect guy for the first season in order to organize everything a new club needed, on the field and in the clubhouse.  He has done a remarkable job in that first full year to get us where we needed to be at the time and it probably could not have been done any better.

The second year, when everything was on track and only coaching remained for him to do, he seemed unable to cope with the events on the baseball side of things.  He had a tough time making some players perform to their abilities, even the ones that were stars on the roster.

QCT: Could you share a few anecdotes with us about your days with the Capitales?

JFC: I have three for you.  First, I was the one that obtained the permanent resident status permit for Eddie Lantigua.

Secondly, you have no idea how the infield tarp is a pain to install when the rains starts.  There’s the rain, the often colder temperature that comes with it, everyone is wet to the bone.  Then you have to hurry up and unroll the whole thing with everyone in coordination or it just doesn’t work effectively.  It really is a mess and no fun to deal with this.

Thirdly, you must realize that we have fun before, during and after the game, which leads me to tell you about the time when we began to have fun with the go cart that Capi uses at every game to entertain the crowd.  We were having fun with those after a game and everything was going great until someone was having too much fun with it, missed a curb near the plate and found himself stuck in home team dugout…with the cart!