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There weren’t any ninth-inning nail-biters down at Re/Max Field this summer due to COVID-19, but it hasn’t entirely stopped any drama from unfolding on Edmonton’s baseball scene.
If you haven’t heard by now, you will with an announcement Tuesday expected to introduce a new West Coast League franchise to play out of the river valley ballpark.
Founded in 2005, the predominantly U.S.-based summer college league has four Canadian franchises in Victoria, Nanaimo, Kamloops and Kelowna. The new Edmonton club, backed by an ownership group headed by Dr. Randy Gregg, will be the 13th team in the league and the first based outside of either Washington state, Oregon or British Columbia.
And it has Re/Max Field’s former residents, the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Canadian Baseball League, ready to charge the mound.
“Our league sees this as a totally unnecessary hostile intrusion into our footprint, something both leagues have respected for the past 10 or more years,” said Prospects managing partner Patrick Cassidy, whose team is one of 12 franchises across Alberta and Saskatchewan making up the WCBL, which was founded in 1931.
Prior to COVID-19 shutting down the 2020 season, the Prospects played out of Re/Max Field for the past eight years, as well as their inaugural season in 2005. In May, the city awarded a 10-year lease on the facility to Gregg’s group, beginning in 2021.
“What is going on is not because the Prospects and WCBL failed, it’s going on in fact, because we succeeded and became an opportunity for others to grab,” said Cassidy, who is in the process of building a state-of-the-art ballpark in Spruce Grove to house the Prospects beginning in 2022.
Gregg and company made no application to join the ranks of the WCBL, whose regulations grant territorial protection of Edmonton and area to the Prospects, regardless of who controls Re/Max Field. And while Cassidy said he presented offers to them to have two teams in the WCBL’s biggest market, the new group didn’t play ball at the negotiation table.
“While I’ve been a proponent of two franchises in this market for some time, what made sense was to have them both operating out of the same league and from two stadiums so that co-ordination of scheduling and prime dates could be orchestrated and, from a WCBL standpoint, travel for all league teams could be reduced,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure what their plan is to reduce travel for players, but that is always a major consideration for any league and often the reason many bus leagues falter.”
The closest WCL team is a nine-hour drive from Edmonton, with two-thirds of the league located south of the B.C.-U.S. border, while that same nine hours runs the distance on the entire WCBL.
“That’s our longest road trip, from Lethbridge or Medicine Hat to Fort McMurray,” said WCBL president Kevin Kvame, pointing out travel has plagued U.S.-based baseball leagues with teams in Alberta since the glory days of affiliated ball with the Edmonton Trappers and Calgary Cannons. “I don’t know how it works with the West Coast League, they haven’t given us the courtesy of a call or an email back or anything. I have other dealings with one of their general managers who gave me a heads up about a day or so ago, but he wasn’t even aware that they were doing this until recently.
“I don’t know how their organization operates or whether they’re trying a hostile takeover of our league and its 80-year history. They’re not endearing themselves to the franchises that exist out here that have put baseball on the field for many, many years in our communities that are in our footprint. Edmonton has been in the league since 2005, and I just don’t understand the game.”
Just how WCL hopes to maneuver travel for expansion into Edmonton will have to wait to be answered in the press conference scheduled alongside Tuesday’s announcement.
“The money this group paid to get into that league and will pay for travel compensation is money that could have and should have stayed in Canada to support the growth of baseball in the Edmonton region, specifically and within the WCBL footprint in general,” said Cassidy, whose crew will play its home games in different ball parks throughout the capital region for the upcoming WCBL season, while all-star weekend originally scheduled to be a recurring stop in Edmonton following resounding success in the past that saw the Prospects pay $40,000 of the proceeds back into the league, will now see the game and its accompanying festivities hosted by the Okotoks Dawgs on July 24, 2021.
As for Edmonton, any indications the West Coast League is higher caliber summer college ball than what was already on display at Re/Max Field should note the Dawgs hold a winning record when it comes to exhibition games against WCL squads.
“I am stunned, I consider it predatory that they’ve come into our footprint,” said Dawgs managing director John Ircandia, whose average home attendance of 4,000 ranks top three in all of summer college baseball on the continent. “As to how the West Coast League, based in the Pacific Northwest, thinks it makes sense to parachute into Edmonton when the closest teams are in Kamloops, that is mind-boggling to me. But, here we go. So, I guess we’re at war with another league.
“The thing is, this is a comparable league, it’s not a better league. Our league has been in continuous operation for 80 years-plus, and we’re not going anywhere. Compare that to all the leagues that have come and gone in places like Calgary and Edmonton. It’s ridiculous.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020