Baseball in Edmonton: The River City’s forgotten sport

by | Jun 7, 2023 | Sports

Edmonton’s sports culture has a rich history. Most Edmontonians think of the Oilers or the Elks, but the river city is more than just a hockey and football town. From the late 1800s to the modern day, baseball has been a staple in Edmonton sports culture every step of the way.  

1880s: Edmonton Legislatures and Edmonton Grays 

Professional baseball in Edmonton started in the late 1880s with the Edmonton Legislatures, later known as the Edmonton Grays. The team was named after their owner Frank Gray, a local businessman. The Grays and Legislatures served as minor league affiliate teams to Major League Baseball (MLB) until 1909. The team was instrumental in laying the foundation for baseball in Edmonton as Gray was responsible for constructing Diamond Park, a 1,500-seat ballpark in the river valley in 1907. The ballpark would house the Grays until their demise in 1913 when the Edmonton Eskimos replaced them. 

1933: John Ducey Park 

Renfrew Park, later known as John Ducey Park, was the silver lining for an otherwise dark period in Edmonton baseball. Without John Ducey Park, professional baseball in Edmonton may not be where it is today. Built in 1933 with a 6,500-seating capacity, the stadium was a marvel for its time. The ballpark would also be crucial in bringing competitive baseball back to Edmonton–the Trappers, a Pacific Coast league team, came to Edmonton in 1981 and played at John Ducey Park. 

The Trappers played in Edmonton from 1981 to 2004 / Photo by Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal

1981: Edmonton Trappers

The Trappers’ inaugural season represented the beginning of a golden age of baseball for Edmonton. The city was now home to AAA baseball players who were a step away from achieving their dreams of playing Major League Baseball. The Trappers experienced plenty of success over their 24-year run in Edmonton, including hosting future superstars such as Fernando Valenzuela and Jason Giambi and future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. The Trappers also captured four PCL championships in 1984, 1996, 1997 and 2002. 

1995: Telus Field

While the Trappers eventually relocated to Round Rock, Texas after the 2004 season, they did stick around long enough to see the construction of Telus Field in 1995. Now known as RE/MAX Field, the ballpark was built on the same grounds as John Ducey Park. Despite several name and team changes, Edmontonians have been heading to the same spot to watch baseball for over a century. 

Telus Field brought an enhanced game day experience for fans by updating the amenities and playing surface. After the Trappers left, the ballpark would ultimately preserve Edmonton’s baseball culture by hosting various teams from independent and summer collegiate leagues.

Telus Field in 2015 / Photo via Emily Mertz, Global News

2004-2012: Edmonton Cracker Cats and Edmonton Capitals

After the Trappers left, the city was left without a highly competitive baseball club for the first time in 24 years. However, new organizations wasted no time in attempting to fill the void. Telus Field hosted two teams after the Trapper’s departure, starting with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats in 2005. The Cracker-Cats had a tumultuous history that involved changing leagues multiple times. They rebranded as the Edmonton Capitals before being purchased by Darryl Katz in 2009. In 2011, they joined the newly formed North American League, where they won the league championship before folding in the off season. 

2012-2020: Edmonton Prospects 

Shortly after the Capitals’ demise, the Edmonton Prospects moved into Telus Field to compete at the venue from 2012-2020 as part of the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL). This league  was different from anything Edmonton had seen before–it operated as a summer collegiate league for players who wanted to compete in organized baseball during the offseason. 

The Prospects were Edmonton’s baseball team from 2012-2020. Photo via Edmonton Prospects

While the Prospects had a long tenure at RE/MAX Field, it all came to an end in 2020, as the city was at a crossroads with the facility. Rather than demolishing the stadium and redeveloping the land, the city would ultimately sign a 10-year lease with a group led by former Oiler defenceman Randy Gregg. Gregg and his partners wanted to keep the Prospects and host two WCBL teams, but the two groups couldn’t come to an agreement. Without a deal to play at the stadium, the Prospects had to seek other opportunities to house the team and have since relocated to Spruce Grove. 

2022: Edmonton Riverhawks

The failed negotiations with the WCBL forced Dr. Gregg’s group to search elsewhere for a team, and they eventually were awarded an expansion franchise in the West Coast League (WCL). The WCL is a summer collegiate baseball league that attracts elite college athletes across North America. The league is famous for being home to the first overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, catcher Adley Rutschman, who played for the Corvallis Knights during the 2016 season. 

Fans in the stands watching a Riverhawks game. / Photo via Edmonton Riverhawks

The group’s expansion team would later become known as the Riverhawks. The club was unable to play their inaugural season until the summer of 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but since their debut, they’ve made quite a name for themselves. The team drew over 60,000 fans across 27 home games last year. They also drew the most fans in one season at RE/MAX Field since the Edmonton Capitals drew 113,145 fans in 2011. Although they finished 5th in the league in their debut season, it’s clear the fans are loving it.  

The Riverhawks seem to be here for the long run–significant changes have been made to RE/MAX field, including adding artificial turf to the infield and upgrading the first baseline lounge and scoreboard. With the return of competitive baseball to Edmonton, a part of the city’s forgotten history is now alive and well.

2023: The future of Edmonton baseball 

It’s clear that baseball has a rich history in Edmonton–from the Legislatures in 1880 to the Riverhawks in 2022, baseball is woven into the fabric of the city of champions. With the Riverhawks’ debut in May of 2022, a new era of baseball in Edmonton has begun. So the next time you’re looking to enjoy competitive athletics and a sense of community, head to the River Valley to enjoy Edmonton’s other major sport: baseball.    

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