Despite setbacks from COVID-19, the Sylvan Lake Gulls still plan to hit the field for the 2021 Western Canadian Baseball League season.
Nearly three months ago, the organization was in great shape, plowing through the early stages of the franchise buildup.
They had announced a logo and a team name, and had plenty of direction for development and scouting. All the while, their dream stadium, Pogadl Park, was ready to be built.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March, it put all that in question. Businesses that were once fully committed, now, were unsure about whether they could support the project financially, and thus, Graham and Jen Schetzsle needed help to finish off the $7 million investment in the stadium.
Originally, the plan was to co-invest alongside the Town of Sylvan Lake for approximately 50 per cent of the financing required for the stadium.
— Sylvan Lake Gulls (@SylvanLakegulls) June 3, 2020
The town would own the facility in return for granting a 25-year lease to the baseball team. The balance of the funding would come from private investors. They set a deadline of June 1 to raise the balance of the money.
“We were making some good progress with investors that were going to come on board and help us get that built,” said Gulls GM Aqil Samuel. “They wanted to put stuff on pause, 100 per cent understandably.
“As far as the timeline goes, we had to make a decision to go ahead. We’re hoping to find some other ones, or those folks come back online.
“We thought we needed to release something. We just wanted to let the community know we’re pushing play and we’re back.”
Samuel took to the club’s Facebook page Wednesday and confirmed that the stadium build is going ahead as scheduled, with some potential modifications to the luxury boxes and concourse.
They still plan on playing in a lit stadium, with a turf infield and 1,000 seats in the lower bowl in 2021.
“We’re still wanting for Day 1, the luxury boxes and concourse and full buildout. If, for whatever reason, that doesn’t happen, we’ll start without those,” Samuel said, adding that the concrete backstops will be going in sometime next week.
As for players and coaching situations, that gets a little more complicated. The league cancelled the 2020 season last month, leaving Samuel without many scouting options.
He said he hopes there might be some Canadian college baseball in the fall, and he’ll also reach out to a few American coaches to help fill out the roster.
“The scouting part, we’re just going to have to wait for a bit to really see guys. But we need to start, to get a head start on next year,” he said.