By CURTIS J. PHILLIPS, Connect Weekly
Fort McMurray has seen several foul balls come their way, in regards to securing a professional baseball team for the city.
The conversation started in 1992 with a mention that Fort McMurray would be part of the Western Professional Baseball League – a league that never made it off the drawing board.
In 2003, the Canadian Baseball League (CBL) began under the guidance of legendary Canadian hurler Ferguson Jenkins. Foul ball, as the league, lasted 35 games. Baseball interest peaked again with Fort McMurray mentioned, as part of the Northern League of Professional Baseball. And though it sounded promising. The league folded in 2010.
Then we were to have a team in the North American Baseball League. A baseball park was being built down at MacDonald Island Park and it could accommodate a franchise. A few weeks after the announcement, the circuit went belly up. Next on the grapevine was that a Fort McMurray team – to be called the Bluesox – was in talks with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball Clubs.
Two weeks ago a Field of Dreams for Fort McMurray fans came to light with mention of Pecos League expansion, an independent professional league with teams in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas.
Pro baseball may have struck out. But what about an amateur baseball team. Namely a collegiate summer baseball team? However, taking bat for this cause is local baseball aficionado Andrew Bradbury, who has the proposal that we play in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL).
Bradbury started a Twitter page (@WMBL2YMM) about the idea, which flowed over to a poll on the WMBL website that asked readers which city would be good for expansion.
“It was huge, we blew the other city’s away,” said Bradbury in correspondence. “It has worked and we now have the league’s attention. Fort McMurray is in the running for a team for the 2016 expansion, and if not then, they want a team here in the next three years,” he said. “But I think the time is now for baseball in Fort McMurray.”
Following up with a phone interview, Bradbury said of this initiative.
“I started this so people could show their interest and it took root,” said Bradbury, a resident of eight years. “We have an excellent facility (Shell Place) and it is too nice and too great of a spot to have just sitting there and to have it empty.
“Professional baseball is not viable. The (WMBL) is stable and a lot more feasible. These are college players and you are not paying them. They are billeted throughout the community, and you are not traveling to places like Hawaii or Mexico to play. You do not need 5,000 to 6,000 fans a game to come out to make it work,” he said.
“The cost is down and affordable for families to come out and watch. You can bring back local players from colleges so they can keep up their skills.”
Travel would consist of short trips in the WMBL West Division to Edmonton (Prospects), Lethbridge (Bulls), Medicine Hat (Mavericks), Okotoks (Dawgs) and Swift Current (Indians). Average attendance in the WMBL East Division situated in Saskatchewan is anywhere from 150 to 250. Three of the four Alberta clubs draw 700 to 850, while Okotoks – four-time WMBL champions – has a solid fan base, as attested to last year, averaging 2,827 fans at Seaman Stadium.
Andrew Bradbury believes Fort McMurray would draw a baseball crowd well.
“I think we would be looking at attendance of 700 on weekdays and 1,300 to 1,500 on weekends,” he said of Shell Place’s SMS Equipment Stadium; which seats 1,725 seats with homerun balls sailing to a large open berm in the right field that has room for an additional 5,500 attendance.
When informed that Fort McMurray set standards for lowest attendance for a Canadian Football League and North American Soccer League regular season games earlier this year at Shell Place, he said it would be a different situation for the proposed local baseball squad.
“When teams from Edmonton (Eskimos, FC Edmonton) and Toronto (Argonauts) come in they are not ours. With baseball, it will be Fort McMurray’s team… where you can build a fan base,” he said. “Look at our junior hockey team (Fort McMurray Oil Barons, Alberta Junior Hockey League) and how well they have done.”
It is this community-based theme that Bradbury has focused on, as he continued in correspondence: “My vision for a team here is to follow the Oil Barons lead and be a community owned team: a team that fits right in with the minst. A team the community owns… A team we can call the Oil Giants.”
– Connect Weekly –