On just 2 hours of sleep… in bitterly cold weather… Ron MacLean faced some challenging conditions on the weekend he returned to Central Alberta for Rogers Hometown Hockey. But the people of Lacombe and Central Alberta ensured a warm place in the heart for the memories of stories old and new.
The Raptors (Ridgefield Raptors that is) are coming to Edmonton next summer
At first word that the Raptors will be spending a few days in Edmonton next summer, sports fans might be excused for jumping up and down at the thought of a high-profile NBA event.
But the Raptors under discussion play another game — baseball — and they’re based not in Toronto but in Ridgefield, Wash., a small centre near the Washington-Oregon border which claims fewer than 10,000 residents in its Wikipedia profile. Edmonton — officially labeled the Riverhawks — is now a partner in the West Coast League, which develops college players and has seen several top prospects selected in recent Major League Baseball drafts.
Also joining this week are teams based in Kamloops and Nanaimo, bringing the British Columbia contingent to four teams. Victoria and Kelowna were already members of what now is a 15-team organization.
Teams currently occupy Yakima, Wenatchee, Walla Walla and Port Angeles in Washington, as well as Bend, Corvallis and other communities in Oregon.
The city of Edmonton confirmed months ago that the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Canadian Baseball League would not be returning to Re/Max Field. Several years of association with Pat Cassidy and the Prospects had led to difficult feelings on both sides.
The Prospects are developing a new facility in Stony Plain. It will be ready for competition in 2022. Cassidy has said his team will find another place to play in 2021. All comments on next year and beyond are based, of course, on the progress of local, provincial and national fights against COVID.
Randy Gregg, the former Edmonton Oilers defenceman who led the new group’s campaign to function in Re/Max Field, unveiled his new organization at a well-attended news conference and said several options concerning the WCBL were considered but “there were continuing roadblocks.”
During months of negotiation, Gregg and his supporters did not communicate with the public. Neither did city council. “When you sign a non-disclosure agreement, you have to abide by it. Your signature has to mean something,” he said.
Gregg insisted the Riverhawks organization has no ill feelings about the WCBL. “It might have worked well,” he said. A few casual remarks were made about the potential value to this entire region if both the WCBL and the WCL are profitable.
The Edmonton approach includes sharing in travel costs for existing West Coast League teams. Similar situations made it difficult for a pair of so-called “independent” teams to operate in the years after the Edmonton Trappers were sold and Edmonton had no significant baseball.
Gregg is convinced the new load of travel costs will not be insurmountable. The Riverhawks are a collection of 28 contributors. He also pointed out that at least a couple of Edmonton’s new partners are owned or controlled by owners with major-league connections.’
“We’ve got a big job ahead of us,” he said. “We know that a lot of baseball fans have never seen a game at Re/Max Field.”
As things were unfolding between the Prospects and city officials, there were regular suggestions that no lease would have been granted for the WCBL in 2021. “Can you imagine what it would feel like to have no baseball for maybe three or four years in this great sports city?”
Hockey, basketball and volleyball gone from the U of A’s fall and winter to-do lists
At almost any time in memory, Wednesday’s decision to remove hockey, basketball and volleyball from the University of Alberta’s fall and winter to-do lists would be considered a major surprise.
This year, I suspect fans and athletes should have been at least partially prepared for it. Blame the pandemic. That’s easy.
Explain that sponsorship money has dried up and every available penny must be saved to keep professors employed and students involved. That’s easy, too. Some are sure to suggest that there are deep political motives in this move to move beyond the Bears and Pandas for one year. Maybe. Maybe not. Rightly or wrongly, political movements are seen in every action these days.
If additional explanations are required, Alberta’s UCP government is sure to be singled out as cause number three; they inherited an entity in severe financial difficulty, ensuring that some budget cuts would be made as soon as possible after the NDP lost political control of the province.
This, of course, occurred well before the coronavirus crisis created overwhelming proof that sport, certainly in Canada, is something of an after-thought at all levels of society. As this is written, every professional sport is being exposed on a daily basis as a means for millionaires and billionaires to fatten their bankrolls. If timely political statements are necessary, fine; they’ll be made, but no rational soul would dare to suggest that sport has actual relevance in this time of incoherent arguments and twisted responses.
In one old scribbler’s opinion, good news ultimately will develop, almost as a result of the disappearance of the Bears and Pandas for at least one season. A move so dramatic at a level so vital is sure to create deep thought.
Which is where university sport fits in the puzzle. These organizations are the home of undoubted brilliance. In many ways, they create the model for all amateurs and low-profile professionals to follow. One day, perhaps soon, this world-wide rash of social, physical and emotional misery will be behind us. Then, cohorts of tough and committed leaders across the entire spectrum of athletics will have to step up. They will be obligated to contribute time and effort in a search for the best possible ways to ensure excellence in scholastics, citizenship and competition.
Now, looking back for even a few years, it’s essential to remember that amateur sports were being painfully slammed by financial necessities before COVID-19’s destructive arrival.
Athletic directors at U of A and MacEwan University have spoken of rising costs in tones that sometimes sounded almost desperate. I’m sure the same applies to the University of Calgary.
Similar words have been heard commonly in discussion with coaches and athletic directors at Alberta colleges. NAIT and Concordia leaders know the topic extremely well. So do alumni members working to keep hockey alive in the storied atmosphere of Camrose’s Augustana campus of the U of A.
In a lifetime of hearing old adages, one has stuck out since childhood:
“It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn.”
This corner hopes the dawn comes quickly.
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