By IAN WILSON
Star-struck and homer-happy baseball fans in Western Canada have something to look forward to next year, with news of All-Star Game festivities coming to southern Alberta.
The Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) and the Okotoks Dawgs held a joint press conference today to announce that Seaman Stadium will play host to the WCBL All-Star Game on July 24, 2021.
The event will feature the summer collegiate circuit’s best players competing in a Western Division versus Eastern Division tilt that displays top-end talent from Alberta and Saskatchewan teams.
In addition to the All-Star Game itself, the day-long event will include a home run derby, a concert in the newly-completed “Core 4 (+14) Corner” expansion section of Seaman Stadium, and a fireworks display after the game.
Okotoks last hosted this event in 2008, when the league was called the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL). Jeff Duda, now a pitching coach with Dawgs Academy, was one of nine Dawgs players to make that squad.
“The one thing that sticks out in my mind from the 2008 All-Star Game here in Okotoks was just seeing the best players in one spot and our fans here packing the stadium. It was a pretty special event,” said Duda, who didn’t pitch in the game but soaked up the atmosphere.
“Anytime you get voted one of the top players on your team or in the league, that’s something you can hang your hat on. It was nice to get recognized for your performance on the field.”
And after a summer without a WCBL season, Duda is eager for the 2021 campaign to take place.
“There’s that saying that you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone and going through this, obviously it’s challenging times for everyone, but it’s something that this town and our organization truly takes a lot of pride in, the fact that we’re able to put a good product on the field and have the best facilities and the extra festivities we do and things like that. It’s a big part of the community and for a lot of people, it’s what they do for their family outing,” Duda told Alberta Dugout Stories.
Seaman Stadium has also changed a lot since it last opened its gates to All-Star Game ceremonies. A new section of seats was added along the first-base line in 2019 and the Dawgs recently completed work on Core 4 (+14) Corner, which includes a patio area, a new visitors clubhouse, and fixed seats in the left-field corner of the ballpark.
Core 4 (+14) Corner honours the original Calgary Dawgs youth travel team that paved the way for the academy in Okotoks.
The Dawgs were a clear choice to host the 2021 festivities. The franchise generates the largest crowds in the league each year and it consistently ranks third overall in attendance among summer collegiate teams across North America. The Dawgs are also the defending WCBL champions.
The WCBL – which counts major leaguers Marco Gonzales and Andrelton Simmons among its alumni – revived its version of the mid-summer classic as part of a rebranding effort that was unveiled in 2018. The Edmonton Prospects hosted the league’s All-Star Game last year at RE/MAX Field and they were set to do so again this year before COVID-19 scrapped the season.
An uncertain future for the league in Alberta’s capital city prompted the WCBL to look elsewhere for a place to highlight their most skilled athletes.
“The pivoting wasn’t that difficult of a decision once we decided we were moving away from Edmonton,” noted WCBL President Kevin Kvame.
“Okotoks is the most obvious choice, due to the capacity of Seaman Stadium, their fan base, their resources that they have with the Dawgs program. It’s a great venue to put on the All-Star Game.”
Added Kvame: “It’s disappointing that we are moving away from the Edmonton market, but we had to come to that realization. We tried to engage with the City of Edmonton for numerous months and some of the commitments that they had made to help mediate a solution to the ongoing lack of negotiations – or poor negotiations, or whatever you want to say in that market – just didn’t come to fruition … we were really left with no choice but to decide that we couldn’t host the game there. As much as we love the City of Edmonton and RE/MAX Field, it’s not an option for us if we don’t have a team playing there.”
SPRUCING THINGS UP
The Prospects confirmed their move from Edmonton to Spruce Grove in a Sept. 1st press release, with a new ballpark expected to open in 2022.
“While RE/MAX Field will always hold a special place in our heart, we feel confident that the new ballpark currently planned will provide an enhanced fan experience, as we are now able to do so many more things that for one reason or another we were not able to do at RE/MAX Field,” said Patrick Cassidy, president of Gold Sports and Entertainment Group, the company which runs the Edmonton Prospects.
Cassidy had hoped to keep the Prospects at RE/MAX Field, but when the City of Edmonton granted a 10-year lease to Baseball Edmonton Inc. – a group led by former Oiler Randy Gregg – that prompted him to find a new home for his squad.
“The opportunity to design and develop a new ballpark that will anchor an exciting new Lifestyle Ballpark District in the Greater Metro Edmonton Region is a once in a lifetime experience and the citizens of this region really haven’t seen a baseball project of this scope since Telus Field was constructed in 1995,” said Cassidy in the news release.
“With a new ballpark comes new excitement and I can guarantee fans that our marketing and promotional team is committed to the continued growth of our brand and game-day experience. While baseball and the WCBL is our primary business focus we intend to bring concerts, tournaments and other major baseball events to this facility.”
Meanwhile, Alberta Dugout Stories has entered into a one-year contract with the WCBL to serve as a consultant regarding league communications, media relations and promotions.
“We are excited about this opportunity,” said Alberta Dugout Stories co-founder Joe McFarland.
“This agreement will help in promoting the most popular baseball league in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It will also open the door for us to share more Saskatchewan-based baseball stories, which we know our followers have been eager to see.”