By IAN WILSON
It ain’t broke, so the Western Canadian Baseball League is fixing to return its All-Star Game to Okotoks next year.
The mid-summer classic – which will feature the top talent from the East and West Divisions in an All-Star Game and Home Run Derby events – is set for Saturday, July 20, 2024 at Seaman Stadium.
Record-breaking crowds of more than 6,000 fans have attended the league showcase event in Okotoks in both previous years that the Dawgs have played host.
“The WCBL is pleased to offer fans one of the best baseball experiences on either side of the border at Seaman Stadium, which was recognized by prominent U.S. online resource Ballpark Digest this past year as the best ballpark in all of summer college baseball in North America. As the WCBL’s flagship franchise, the Dawgs will showcase all that is truly extraordinary about the WCBL,” said league president Kevin Kvame in a media release.
“2023 was another remarkable season for the Dawgs. Not only did they shatter previous records for attendance but the club capped the season by going back-to-back and winning their seventh WCBL Championship.”
Dawgs founding and managing director John Ircandia echoed Kvame’s remarks, stating the All-Star Game festivities are an important way of acknowledging both the fans and the players.
“The Dawgs are thrilled to again host the WCBL showcase,” said Ircandia.
“The event is truly a grassroots baseball celebration of all that is positive in the sport. The All-Star Game is a way to recognize and say thank you to both our players, who dedicate their summer to entertain us, as well as to our extraordinary fans.”
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic – which saw the cancellation of the 2020 season and the implementation of an abbreviated, all-Canadian campaign in 2021 – the All-Star Game has served as an important way to reconnect with baseball fans and generate interest in the WCBL.
The annual July event has produced some memorable moments and helped put a spotlight on many of the high-end athletes who play for the clubs in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Ethan He of the Sylvan Lake Gulls played the role of extra-innings hero when he slapped out a walk-off single that delivered a 9-8 win for the West Division in 2022. That put a bow on a thrilling back-and-forth contest that saw the East hold an 8-6 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
“It’s awesome. It’s a moment I won’t forget in my life,” He told Canadian Baseball Network (CBN) reporter Kevin Glew.
“I love seeing all of these amazing Canadians out there. I wanted to win the game in front of them, in front of an awesome crowd.”
Drew Mackie – an outfielder with the Brooks Bombers – also produced some clutch moments in that game with a double that scored two runs to tie the game in the ninth inning, and a throw that gunned down the potential winning run at home plate in the top of the tenth.
Nolan Machibroda clubbed 15 long balls to win the 2022 Home Run Derby, and ended up signing a professional deal with the Minnesota Twins organization later that year.
“It was awesome. It was really fun. That was my first home run derby ever,” the Weyburn Beavers slugger told Glew after the derby.
“It was a really cool experience and I got to hit with some really good hitters out there … I was lucky to put on a show in front of these great fans.”
“I might never get to do this again and I had a lot of fun,” said Haney post-game.
“It means a lot. I don’t think anything could ever match this.”
It was the derby, however, that created the more dramatic moments of the most recent mid-summer classic.
Hank Dodson, a catcher with the Sylvan Lake Gulls, outlasted the competition with an impressive 21 round trippers through two rounds. The North Carolina native won each hotly-contested round by just one homer. But it was his pitching partner, dad Drew Dodson, who made the competition exceptional.
“It was special. It was a good moment had with my father and it was pretty surreal to even be able to have the opportunity to show off my swing and show off how far I can hit the ball sometimes,” said the junior Dodson of winning the long-ball title.
In addition to the on-field excitement and post-game fireworks, the festivities have also provided opportunities for both players and fans to meet up with some big baseball personalities.
Former Major League Baseball (MLB) slugger and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Matt Stairs has attended both games and offered hitting tips to the batters and autographs to the baseball spectators.
Hall of Fame journalist Bob Elliott was also in attendance, penning stories for the Canadian Baseball Network and shaking hands with fans.
Meanwhile, the Dawgs are planning some ballpark improvements to Seaman Stadium to improve the experience for those who attend WCBL games in 2024.
“This past summer our fans truly embraced the iconic additions of Kore 4 (+14) Corner, Dawgs Beach Bar and the Golden Sombrero Cantina. With consistently sold out crowds we wanted to ensure that all of our fans were able to enjoy a quality experience at Dawgs games,” said Ircandia.
“Accordingly, we will add a new seating section on the Dawgs home side with an expanded Anthem Patio. We also have plans to build a ‘Bleacher Creature’ section adjacent to Kore 4. This will give Dawgs fans options for seating beyond the Ford Family Berm. Another exciting new feature will be the addition of a new high-definition ribbon video board along the outfield fence. This will greatly enhance fan engagement and provide our business partners will some very cool advertising opportunities.”