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Tyler Duncan is pumped to show what he can do in the world of professional baseball, but the bumpy road to joining the Ottawa Titans was a little more than he bargained for.

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The trek from his home in Sooke, on Vancouver Island, offered up a little bit of what Canada is all about, but it was no easy ride.

“I drove from BC, and it was long,” Duncan said after taking his first swings in the batting cage at RCGT Park. “I ran into a snowstorm in Saskatchewan and was in a hotel for two nights. The highway was closed. And then (Wednesday) I was two hours away and I blew out the front tires. Had to get those replaced. Called a tow truck. I’m happy to be here. It was a long road. I definitely underestimated it.”

The good news? Duncan missed the dumping of snow in Ottawa that had many of his new Titans teammates — a scattering of players from Canada, the US, South America and Japan — shivering at the start of a new baseball season.

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As a franchise, the Titans must have been wondering if the day would ever come.

Granted a franchise in the independent Frontier League way back in September, 2020, they never took the field in 2021. The closure of the border due to COVID-19 concerns eliminated the possibility of travel between Canada and the US, and the park remained empty .

Now, finally, they’re ready to make their mark in the 16-team league that also includes squads in Quebec and Trois Rivieres, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The Titans will play exhibition games in Trois Rivieres on May 7 and 8, and at home on May 10. They’ll open the regular season with an extended road trip and the home opener is May 24 against the Evansville (Indiana) Otters.

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Duncan, a 23-year-old outfielder who was drafted in the 30sth round by the Seattle Mariners in 2016 and is fresh from three seasons at Arkansas State University, is representative of what the league is all about. The players are generally younger than the former Can-Am League, which merged with the Frontier League in 2019.

“I got drafted out of high school, but I turned it down to go to school,” he said. “The dream was to get drafted out of (college), but that didn’t work out. This is the next stepping stone to getting back. I’m excited to play baseball outside of the school work, just focussing on this.”

For the past few days, there has been a lot of handshaking going on, as the new players introduce themselves to their teammates and coaches.

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“Being an expansion club, we kind of built it from scratch,” said well-travelled manager Bobby Brown, a California native who is also trying to get up to speed to learn what Ottawa is all about.

Ottawa Titans manager Bobby Brown
Ottawa Titans manager Bobby Brown Photo by Ken Warren /post media

As a player, Brown previously spent time in Canada with the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Saskatoon Legends. In 2019, he was director of baseball operations and hitting coach for the Frontier League’s Gateway Grizzlies. Last season, he was the hitting coach for the Missoula PaddleHeads — don’t you love baseball nicknames? —in the Pioneer League.

“There are some foundations of guys I have seen in the past and some Canadian guys who reached out to us and wanted to play here. It’s always exciting at this time of year, getting to know the guys and getting to see what we’ve got.”

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If the Can-Am League featured a few more experienced and established players, the Frontier League is a place for younger names.

“You won’t have as many of the older guys that are kind of at the end,” said Brown, getting his first glimpse of the park where workers are busy sprucing up the field and seats for long lost game action. “You will see the guys that are still hungry and optimistic about playing in the big leagues. I think fans will really enjoy the style.”

The local talent includes Evan Grills, a 29-year-old lefthanded pitcher from St-Albert. Grills, a former 10th round pick of the Houston Astros, and originally from Whitby, has advanced as high as Triple-A, and spent last season in China.

Gatineau’s Marcel Lacasse, a third baseman, is also looking to make his mark in the Frontier League after spending last season with the Barrie Baycats in the Intercounty Baseball League.

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Before turning pro, Lacasse played in the NCAA with Western Texas College and West Texas A & M.

“I grew up watching games here, watching the Champions and the Lynx,” said Lacasse. “It’s a great opportunity to play in front of the region of Gatineau and Ottawa and get people to know my name and perform here and give the team a championship this year.”

With his teammates arriving from here, there and everywhere, Lacasse also has an informal role with the organization.

“I told some guys I was going to take them downtown after practice,” he said. “So, I’m a bit of a tour guide right now.”

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