Businessman and mayor unite to purchase Royals

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – The weather was right for a baseball game to be played at Hastings Stadium Monday morning.

Instead there was a small gathering in the infield to hear that there would be a Guelph Royals team playing Intercounty Baseball League home games there next year in the IBL’s 100th season.

“I think everybody saw the news that the team wasn’t going to finish 2017 and somebody had to step up and do it,” said Shawn Fuller, president and owner of the St. George-based Canadawide Sports, a sporting good distributing company, and now co-owner of the Royals with Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie. “I thought to myself ‘Why not me?’ I’m in a unique spot to do it. I love the game, I love this city and I think somebody just needed to step up and take the lead.”

“I am a huge baseball fan, period, and that’s 100 per cent my drive behind this,” Guthrie said. “I’m not here as the mayor, I’m here as Cam Guthrie, huge Royals’ baseball fan and that’s the extent of it.”

Former owner Jim Rooney pulled the Royals out of the IBL midway through June with a 1-15 record. That record, the cost of running the team and health issues for Rooney were among the reasons citing for cutting the season short.

“I’ve always been a baseball fan,” Guthrie said. “When the announcement was made in June that the team had been closed up, folded, I immediately said ‘Oh my goodness, we can’t lose an almost 100-year tradition in the city.’ In talking to Jim Rooney and in talking with Shawn, we just had that same vision of a great fan experience and a great ball product on the field. It worked and here we are today to announce the common initiative for the team.”

The owners hope the initiative gets others involved with the team. There are three levels of involvement that’ll help fund the team.

“I think there are different ways for people to contribute,” Fuller said. “It starts with the fans. We’ve got to get the fans here. We want to engage with the volunteers and the corporate sponsors. We want to make sure there’s an opportunity at every level to be involved with this team.”

The league does not list attendance on its website, but the crowd sizes at the Royals have dwindled in recent years, especially since 2011 when the team took the season off when it couldn’t secure a lease of more than one year for the use of Hastings Stadium. The Royals returned in 2012 with a long-term lease.

Fuller was born in Guelph and grew up here and felt he had to do something when the Royals pulled the plug on their 2017 season.

“When I heard that the team wasn’t going to finish the 2017 season and they were at risk of not competing in the 2018 season, the 100th season, I knew we had to do something about it,” he said. “I got in touch with Mr. Rooney about doing a transfer of ownership. We worked out a deal and I got contacted by Cam Guthrie and Cam said he wanted to help. I said ‘Yeah, let’s not be selfish about this thing. Let’s open it up and see if we can get a handful of people involved.’ Right now Cam and I are announcing that we are co-owners in the Guelph Royals and bringing baseball back to Hastings Stadium.”

The team has no coaching staff or players lined up for the 2018 season.

“We’re going to see where this takes us,” Fuller said. “Announcing today that the team will be back for the 2018 season is really positive in that the players know that there’s going to be baseball in Guelph. The fans know that there’s going to be baseball in Guelph and now the corporate sponsors will get on board, too. It’s a bit early to say how it’s all going to shake out, but announcing it and letting people know that we’re 100 per cent committed to this thing and to bringing baseball back to Hastings Stadium.”

Steve Scagnetti, who managed the Royals the last two seasons, was on hand for the meeting, but said he’d had no contact with the co-owners.

Of course, the team has plenty of time to sort out the personnel details.

“I feel great doing this in September and not doing it in March or April,” Fuller said.

All the players who were with the team when it stopped playing in June have their rights transferred back to the Royals. Most finished the season elsewhere in the league.

“Their player rights revert back to Guelph, but we want to make sure that it’s a place they want to come back and play,” Fuller said. “I’m excited about that.”