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For those who never will give up the dream of Edmonton returning to triple-A Pacific Coast League baseball where the Trappers thrived for 25 years until 9-11 hit, this probably doesn’t move the dial.
Indeed, it may seem like a baseball version of having one team in the B.C. Junior Hockey League and another team in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
A new West Coast League summer college league team —the Edmonton Riverhawks — was born Tuesday and will play out of Re/Max Field.
The previous occupants of the facility, the Edmonton Prospects, plan to relocate to a new stadium to be built in Spruce Grove and continue to play in the Western Canada Baseball League.
On the surface, they’ll both be short-schedule summer-league operations featuring college scholarship talent.
The difference to some will be that one team will be playing teams based in Alberta and Saskatchewan, while the new team will be playing teams located in B.C., Washington and Oregon, and subsidizing air travel of those teams to visit for nine three-game series.
But in terms of moving the dials, it’s really about playing in a league with an abundance of active graduates playing in Major League Baseball and about 80-90 players drafted by the big league teams annually compared to very, very few by the WCBL teams.
Jim Swanson, the managing partner of both the West Coast League Victoria Harbour Cats and the new Nanaimo Night Owls, attended the press conference Tuesday to witness the birth of the new franchise as a representative for the now 15-team league, which also includes Canadian clubs in Kelowna and Kamloops.
It is my personal speculation that if this is a success, in short order Edmonton will become home to two franchises like Swanson now runs on Vancouver Island and like John Stanton, the Seattle Mariners owner, and the Phil Knight Nike Foundation operate.
In Edmonton, it would make sense to fly teams in for six games (three against two teams) instead of three and it would give Edmonton a baseball game in town every night from mid-June to mid-August. Think of the Cubs and White Sox sharing Chicago, or the Mets and Yankees in New York.
“You’re allowed to own two teams in our league,” said Swanson.
But let’s deal with this first one for the moment.
“Last year, the West Coast League had 93 players drafted, including the No. 1 and No. 3 picks overall,” he said.
Or, as Edmonton Riverhawks managing director Randy Gregg, a five-time Stanley Cup champion, puts it: “In hockey terms, that’s like having a chance to watch Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome in the same season.”
Swanson points out that four West Coast League graduates were opening-day starting pitchers in the major leagues this year.
The WCL numbers are interesting.
The last four years, 88, 82, 90, and 90 alumni were taken in the draft with 28, 32, 38 and 45 alumni active and playing in the big leagues, and 235, 271, 294 and 317 alums active in affiliated professional baseball.
“My Victoria team has been around eight years and we currently have 28 players in pro baseball. We’re pretty proud of that number,” said Swanson.
For people who don’t understand college summer baseball, the kids on scholarships try to find the best calibre league and situations to develop in the two-dozen or so leagues that exist.
The Cape Cod League, Northwoods League in the Great Lakes area, and the Coastal Plains League in the Carolinas are the prime destinations.
“The Cape Cod League is No. 1, by far. It’s like a Canadian junior hockey player getting to play in the world juniors. Pretty much every player that goes to the Cape Cod League is drafted. The other two would rank next. The Alaska League has slipped, so I think we’d now fall right behind that. The WCBL would be in double digits, for sure, in the 15 to 20 range” he said, allowing that the Okotoks Dawgs certainly rank up there as an individual franchise.
Swanson believes with Edmonton being an NHL city with this ball park and this quality of ownership group, they’ll have an excellent chance to become the flagship franchise of the West Coast League in short order.
“With this calibre of facility in this market, this could be a spectacular addition. We have a lot of parks that seat about 1,200 people. This is eight times that size.”
Swanson makes the prediction: “In Victoria, we’ve led the league in attendance now for seven years. We’re going to lose that (distinction) now. We’ve averaged 2,400 a game. I expect this to be our No. 1 attended team by a long shot.
“Obviously, the travel situation and the geography was the question. Understanding the situation with the changing of the lease for the ball park started that process. And I think this ownership group has the kind of respect and ability to reach into areas in this market that will be extremely successful,” he said.
The travel subsidy made it happen.
“We know that professional baseball is not coming back. They’re contracting. There is no chance that Edmonton will get a professional baseball team again,” said Gregg. “What we wanted was the highest calibre league of baseball we could bring to Edmonton.”
On Twitter: @byterryjones
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