Hello everyone, my name is Ryan Greco and as a pitcher for the Guelph Royals in the Intercounty baseball league, I get a chance to see a lot of amateur and semi-pro sports leagues throughout Ontario.
These leagues are not the NBA, MLB, or the NFL, but they still fall into the category of Toronto sports and it’s not uncommon to see someone to get posterized, or a fastball surpass 90 mph, or a 400-foot blast to center field. These leagues consist of impressive talent for a fraction of the cost of a trip to downtown Toronto. So without further delay, I present to you two of those semi-pro leagues in basketball and baseball that are well worth the price of admission all around Southern Ontario.
The NBL (National Basketball League of Canada)
Founded in 2011 and recognized by FIBA as Canada’s national professional league, the National Basketball League of Canada consists of nine teams from Ontario and Atlantic Canada, with the league running from November to April. The league itself is a high paced, scoring frenzy that is best experienced at the court side level, which usually cost $40-$90 per ticket. General admission is as low as $10, however.
Most players are either recent graduates from NCAA division I or II schools, or have recent experience playing pro in Europe. Make no mistake, the athleticism of these guys are on point and every game you’re guaranteed to see at least one or two alley-oops or killer crossovers that will get you jumping out of your seat.
The arenas the teams play in are pristine condition, usually meant for CHL hockey or better (the Ottawa Sky Hawks play at the Canadian Tire Center – a 20,000 seat arena!), with vendors serving anything you would expect at an NBA game, with last call for alcohol usually at the end of the third quarter.
I recommend this experience for any basketball fan that is looking for a fun, affordable night who can’t consistently make the trip to the ACC for the Toronto Raptors. As said before, teams are located all across Ontario in London, Ottawa, Mississauga, Brampton, and Windsor. Make sure you visit soon though, as this league’s front office and owners have still yet to truly capitalize on the amazing athletes they have been consistently putting on the floor the last three seasons.
What I’m really trying to say is that, if there is any league on this list that needs your support to continue functioning, it’s this one. So get out there and cheer on your favorite squad!
Best Venue in the League
If were talking about the entire league, it’s Charlottetown hands down. The small capital of P.E.I has really gotten behind the Island Storm, as the East Link Center is usually sold out or near its 4,000 seat capacity for every game. As for venues I’ve attended myself, the Powerade center in Brampton, home to the Brampton A’s, would be the place to see a game in the GTA, especially when crosstown rivals the Mississauga Power show up for the night with their own core of fans, making it a fun and intense experience in the crowd between two very proud basketball cities.
The IBL (Intercounty Baseball League)
This is the league I call home 3-4 nights a week, so I will try my best to be unbiased in my assessment! The Intercounty Baseball League has been around since 1919. There have been no postponed seasons to speak of, making it one of the oldest non-stop sports leagues in Canada’s history at 95 years by the end of this season in, which usually runs from early April to mid August.
At one time during the first half of the century, the league was a serious independent baseball outfit that rivaled anything in the US. By the time the 50’s rolled around, many clubs had a few former major leaguers on their rosters, and attendance was booming.
The league now has eight teams in it all across southern Ontario, and although it isn’t considered a “professional” league, as many clubs consist of college players on summer break, the talent is no less impressive. Former MLB draft picks, minor leaguers, and even former big leaguers are still littered across the rosters and alumni.
If you live anywhere between London and Oshawa, the closest team to you is no farther than 45 minutes away, making it a very accessible league that boasts some of the best prices from tickets and vendors you will find in any sporting event across the province.
The league has suffered from a lack of parity in recent years, as the Brantford Red Sox have won six of the last league titles, but the league has remained competitive during the regular season and the product on the field is the best amateur baseball you will find in the country hands down.
Best Venue in the League
London’s Labatt memorial park is 137 years old – the oldest baseball park in the world! – and it looks like it was opened yesterday. The field is kept in pristine condition by the city and it is easily my favorite place to play in the league and is the only park I would consider an actual enclosed “stadium” in the league, with an 8,000 seat capacity. The fans are loud, passionate, and the PA announcers are some of the most professional that I’ve encountered anywhere, period.
Even when a rival American independent league attempted to set up shop at Labatt a few years ago, no one showed. That’s how loyal these fans are; they turned down American pro baseball to support their community’s amateur team. How many cities would do that?
But with playoffs set to begin at the start of August, take it from me, any ballpark in this league will be full of loud, raucous fans sipping cheap beer and supporting their local club, so head to their website to find the team nearest you for a great conclusion to a beautiful summer past time.
Both of these leagues I consider the best bang for your buck in Southern Ontario sports outside of the big professional markets. No, these aren’t the big city lights of the T-dot. What they are is a representation of each community throughout this great region, and an extension of their love of sports.
The athletes you see competing at these games are some of the hardest working you’re ever going to encounter. They stay after games to talk with the kids and parents, signing autographs at a moment’s notice. They run day camps and leagues on the weekends, and work a 9-5 job like the rest of us on their days off. When you know they are truly out there for the passion of the game and the hopes of something better, how can you not cheer for them?
So if you ever find yourself looking for a great time at an affordable price whether it’s hot or cold outside, look no further, you’ll be happy you stopped by the arena or ballpark that day. They’re great hidden Toronto sports gems!