Bringing the West Coast League to the River Valley: Randy Gregg and the Edmonton Riverhawks

by | Jun 14, 2023 | Sports

A former Edmonton Oiler and five-time Stanley Cup champ might not be the first person that comes to mind when thinking of the owner of an Edmonton baseball team. But Randy Gregg, Managing Director of the Edmonton Riverhawks, is one of the driving forces behind keeping Edmonton’s baseball community thriving. 

Despite his storied involvement in professional hockey, the former Oilers defenceman has always held baseball close to his heart. “I played baseball and lacrosse and soccer and just about anything we could,” explained Gregg. “And actually, my biggest passion was baseball.” 

Although he was passionate, Gregg never had the chance to pursue a career in baseball. Instead, he played hockey for the University of Alberta’s Golden Bears while in medical school. “With baseball, if you want to progress at a high level, you have to typically get a scholarship down in the states and by the time I was good enough to do that, I was in medical school,” Gregg explained.

“Hockey was a great opportunity to combine academics with athletics, but in the back of my mind, I was always a real big fan of baseball.” 

Randy Gregg at RE/MAX Field. Photo via Greg Southam/Postmedia

So in 2020, after years of playing professional hockey, Gregg found a way to finally pursue his love of baseball. When the city began searching for a potential new operator for RE/MAX Field, he jumped at the opportunity to lease the ballpark. “I got together with 20 to 30 friends and individuals who are not necessarily baseball fans, but passionate about the city of Edmonton,” he recalled. 

After lengthy negotiations, Gregg’s group was granted a 10-year lease. Their first project was to attract another Western Canadian Baseball League team to  play alongside the Edmonton Prospects, the field’s former tenant. “We were hoping, in fact, to have two teams here: our team (The Riverhawks) and the former team in the Western Canadian Baseball League (The Edmonton Prospects).” 

Unfortunately, the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. Instead, one of the owners suggested looking toward the West Coast League (WCL). The WCL is known by many as the “diamond standard” of collegiate summer leagues. It attracts some of the best college baseball players in North America who want to play organized baseball during the offseason. Many future Major League Baseball (MLB) players spent time in the WCL, such as Shane Bieber, James Paxton and the 2019 MLB Draft first overall pick Adley Rutschman.

Things moved quickly after that–the group was swiftly awarded an expansion team only months after starting the process. “It usually takes about three years to get a West Coast League franchise. It took us three months,” explained Gregg. 

Photo via Riverhawks

The team they assembled may not be what the group originally envisioned, but Gregg is still proud of the talent on the Riverhawks. “We might not be seeing Connor McDavid right now, but… maybe in four or five years, we’ll see somebody playing for the Angels or Yankees that played here in Edmonton,” said Dr. Gregg. “We’re very proud of that.”

While the Riverhawks quickly entered the WCL, they could not begin their inaugural season until the summer of 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the team’s season cancelled and no upcoming events at RE/MAX Field, the Riverhawks used the pandemic as an opportunity to get some experience off the field before their first season. 

“It actually gave us an opportunity to use the facility in different ways,” said Gregg. Instead, the team utilized their space to host events for the community. 

“We’ve had a bar mitzvah, we had the Harry Ainlay graduation … we had 168 different events, none of which were Riverhawks games,” Gregg explained. “We’re pretty proud of that.”

However, it took a lot of hard work from staff and ownership to restore the ballpark before they could host any event. “I’ve spent a lot of time picking weeds out of a lot of areas myself … because if you’re not willing to do the work, you shouldn’t ask your staff or other volunteers to do it,” said Gregg. “It’s kind of like our backyard… we want to make it look great.” 

 Using the ballpark as an events space also helped the team assess what needed to be upgraded to enhance the fan experience. “We wanted to show them that this wasn’t 27 Riverhawks home games and then shut the door.”

“It was a really good experience for us to get ready for the next season … sometimes life gives you lemons, so you make lemonade,” said Dr. Gregg. 

Fans in the stands at a 2022 Riverhawks game. Photo via Riverhawks

The field got a major upgrade during the pandemic, including a new high-definition scoreboard and improved seating options. “We’ve got the home plate lounge … the Alley Kat Party Pen, so 300 people can go down there … listen to some music and have some food … on the left field side, we have the Delta Valley patio,” Gregg explained. 

The goal of the renovation was to attract fans that want to experience more than just baseball. “It’s [for] the fellow who played when he was young but wants to have a nice cold beer and an experience, the person who wants to listen to some music and still see great baseball.”

“Baseball will sell itself because it’s really good quality baseball … we want to give them those experiences,” said Gregg.

He’s optimistic about the team’s future; they have big goals, including the possibility of bringing more baseball events to the City of Champions. “We’d like to bring the West Coast League All-Star Game here … it’d be fun to see those young future stars playing in front of the people here.” 

“Those are events that would put Edmonton on the map.”

The team has faced a lot of uncertainty, from their rocky start to debuting during a pandemic. But Gregg is proud of everything they’ve accomplished, and ultimately, proud of the difference they’ve made in his hometown. “The ownership part means nothing. I could be a janitor and be just as proud.” 

“I’m not so sure I’d have spent the time and effort if it was Calgary or Vancouver … Edmonton will be my home until they put me in the ground.” 

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