They’ve got their roadmap securely in hand.
Now, all the Sylvan Lake Gulls are waiting for is the green light to hit the road on their inaugural Western Canadian Baseball League season.
The league announced a full 56-game schedule this week, on the heels of a 2020 season that was completely cancelled by COVID-19.
The first stop is slated for May 28 down south at Spitz Stadium, where they will debut against the Lethbridge Bulls (in a head-to-head that may or may not go down as the Battle of the ‘Ulls’).
But it’s been a long road for the fledgling club to even reach this point. And the rest of their journey on the way to hearing the first crack of the bat in late spring might as well be plotted out in the shape of a question mark given the state of present COVID-19 measures in Alberta.
But still, it’s better than not having a destination to aim toward.
“I think it’s something that a lot of people need right now,” said Gulls head coach Jason Chatwood. “I’m sure there’s a lot of frustration, a lot of people are missing things right now. Hopefully it gives people something to look forward to.”
It’s might not be the best-case scenario for an expansion club to drop in the middle of a global pandemic, but it’s been far from the worst. Up to this point, the Gulls aren’t at all behind the 8-ball … er, make that fastball … due to COVID-19.
“No, 2021 has always been our opening season, so nothing has changed on that piece,” Chatwood said. “This was always going to be our inaugural season.”
And hopefully still can be, even if it means having to see the schedule limited, travel reduced or playing in front of smaller crowds.
“Our ownership and management have been doing an outstanding job,” said Chatwood. “Like everywhere right now, I’m sure with marketing and advertisement and a lot of the business side of things, it is a challenging time, not just with our organization but with everybody.
“But the support from the community in central Alberta and everything I’ve seen has been outstanding. I know they did our season ticket launch and it sounds like the percentage that we were allotted to sell this first round with COVID restrictions, I think those tickets are almost totally sold out.”
And that’s not a bad place at all to start. Especially given the circumstances.
Newly built Gulls Stadium will hold its opener June 11 against the same Bulls. At least, that’s what the schedule foresees.
“With the design of the field, it’s going to be fan-friendly,” Chatwood said. “And the ownership, they haven’t left out any details. It’s been amazing seeing some of the drawings and listening to the engineers on the plan.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience for the fans, but also for us as a team and organization to play games and help these players develop. I think it’s going to be first class.”
The old saying goes: If you build it, they will come.
Well, it’s built, tickets are booked and the roster’s being formed, even if Kevin Costner didn’t say anything about having to wait out a pandemic.
“The great thing about our area is I really do believe that we’re going to have a great following from not just Sylvan Lake minor baseball, but all the surrounding area’s minor baseball,” Chatwood said. “Obviously, Red Deer is right here, then Innisfail and Rocky (Mountain House) and all of these central Alberta communities where these young kids and families now have a chance to come watch some of these players.
“To see a player from one of these places, for them, it could be, ‘Hey, this could be me someday.’”
But the million-dollar question remains: What are the chances the league will actually be able to go ahead as scheduled?
“I’m pretty positive that the league’s going to do everything, as they stated when they announced the schedules, all the COVID protocols,” Chatwood said. “The league’s priority is player, coach and fan safety. Basically, with anyone in attendance that safety is going to be the No. 1 priority.
“Obviously, it would be awesome to be able to have full crowds, full attendance, and some of that stuff is going to be out of our control. So, we’re planning on preparing for everything to be a go and just kind of control what we can control.”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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