Western Canadian Baseball League expansion team on the horizon for Sylvan Lake

The Western Canadian Baseball League could soon have a team residing in Central Alberta.

The Town of Sylvan Lake announced Thursday that they had moved ahead with a memorandum of understanding for the group to build a 2,200-seat stadium as part of the Pogadl Park development. That includes a 25-year lease agreement with the group and future team.

The group that is looking to bring a WCBL team, Hard 4 Sports and Entertainment, has been working to secure an expansion franchise a little over a year.

The target is to have the stadium built and a team on the field by June of 2021. That of course, is subject to approval from the league.

“The group Hard 4 Sports & Entertainment has made an application to the Western Canadian Baseball League for an expansion team, to go into Sylvan Lake beginning no earlier than the 2021 season. They have an agreement on a field and we’re doing the process of evaluating their application,” said WCBL president Kevin Kvame.

“The board of governors of the Western Canadian Baseball League has accepted the concept of an expansion team in principle being granted to that area. But it still has to have all the boxes checked off before it is officially accepted.”

Aqil Samuel is the GM and President of Baseball Operations for the group and said they’ve already been in contact with a developer out of Edmonton to draw up stadium plans. The man behind the project is Graham Schetzsle, who runs Dryland Cattle Trading Corp. near Consort.

Schetzsle and Samuel are long-time friends and grew up playing baseball together. Samuel has lived in Penticton the last eight years and was previously a coach with the South Okanagan Midget AAA Baseball team. He also played at the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge and helped launch that program nearly 25 years ago.

As Schetzsle has moved toward purchasing the expansion team, he brought Samuel on board to run the operation.

“Realistically, we’re still about two years away. June 2021 is the target,” Samuel said of the expansion franchise.

“Graham is a rancher back home and he has 180 head of cattle and he wants to continue to be a rancher and this is a passion project for him. I’m the guy on the ground that’s in charge of making this happen.”

There’s still a lot more to do before a pitch is even thrown in Sylvan Lake according to Kvame.

“There’s a bunch of information on due diligence that has to be looked at from the group that’s applying for the franchise. So the league has to conduct that over the next several weeks,” he said.

“If everything is in good shape, it likely goes to the board of governors at the end of October for a vote, if everything is ready, on expansion.”

The 12-team WCBL currently has six teams in Saskatchewan and six in Alberta, including Brooks, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Okotoks, Edmonton and Fort McMurray. Players from the league are largely collegiate players, either from American Junior colleges and Canadian Universities.

Red Deer did have a WCBL team for one year in 2005. Kvame still thinks the market is a good one for baseball.

“The Red Deer and Sylvan Lake market is one that’s been deficient in the league for a number of years,” he said.

“It’s nice to see that a community that covers the Red Deer market is investing in sports and entertainment for residents and tourists of that area. Sounds like it’s going to be a great baseball development.”

Samuel added that after doing some research, he believes that the expansion team if approved, could rival attendance numbers of the top teams in the league. Last year, the Okotoks Dawgs averaged almost 4,000 fans, while the Edmonton Prospects averaged just over 2,000.

“Okotoks is the benchmark right now in the league,” he said.

“Medicine Hat and Lethbridge are 1,500 to 1,600 a game. From the research I’ve done on this market, there’s no reason why we can’t put up those kinds of numbers.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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