Edmonton has a population approaching a million, while the population of our metropolitan
area ranges just over 1.3 million. Two seasons ago, a team represented Alberta at the Midget AAA Nationals. This year, a team based out of Spruce Grove took a strong finish all the way to London, Ontario for nationals. This city and surrounding area is filled to the brim with talent. Yet, we can’t support a college baseball team.
Edmonton possesses a surprisingly rich baseball history. We have had elite teams such as the Capitals, we still have the Edmonton Prospects and once housed a AAA major league affiliate team named the Trappers.
Our baseball stadium, now RE/MAX field has been the playing surface for many baseball legends, including Dante Bichette, Fernando Valenzuela, Justin Morneau Devon White, Jason Giambi and many more.
Only one year ago, any baseball player attending a post-secondary institution in
Edmonton could try out for the start-up University of Alberta team. It failed miserably.
With a big fancy stadium, a coaching staff with major league experience and a talented pool of Edmontonians to pick from, this shouldn’t have failed.
The Bears had lots of amazing talent, including Ethan Elias. According to Taylor Jones, a right-handed pitcher and outfielder for the team, “the camaraderie and chemistry hadn’t been formed yet, but near the end of the year we started kicking ass!” This was sparked by the team’s early season trip to the United States.
But this program was cursed from the beginning. Weather cancelled plenty of practices and games, making practice often painful.
“We had like, an industrial sized fireplace,” said Jones. “When we weren’t freezing and hitting or throwing we all huddled around to desperately try and warm up.”
Good facilities were also hard to come by, often times the outdoor batting cages were put inside tarps in attempts to warm it up two or three degrees. The workout facilities were barren, containing free weights around the outside and a lonely squat rack in the middle. Jones “had to MacGyver a lot of things” along with his teammates in order to achieve a quality workout.
As the team flew to the States, took vans to the Okanagan, and ground out a full season together, they became close. This team was put on a one-year probationary period before it could officially enter the CCBC, the Canadian College Baseball Conference. At the end of the year, everything was a green light. However, the program had acquired a crippling debt. Players were notified and the hopes of living out the college baseball dream were over for some, including Jones. But a feeling of contentment swept over him as he realized that he could now focus on his schooling at NAIT without having to worry about the large expenses of playing college baseball.
The U of A is now running a winter training program in order to try and keep a program running.
Fortunately, due to our abundance of baseball talent, old and young, there will always be hope for a college ball team here in Edmonton. But for now, all we have is memories of what used to be, and thoughts of what could have been.
– Conner Toffan, Sports Co-Editor