By Amanda Fewer
Canadian Baseball Network
It was a celebration of baseball at the Edmonton Prospects first annual Fund raising Gala in Edmonton.
What better place to celebrate the history of baseball in Edmonton than Edmonton’s historic Fort Edmonton Park? The Blatchford Air Hangar served as the backdrop for the Prospects “For the love of the game 2017 Gala.”
Managing partner of the Prospects Patrick Cassidy began the evening with a few announcements.
One being that subject to final approval by the city, there would be new naming rights to Telus Field. Although as part of the deal he was not allowed to say exactly who this new partner would be, he gave all of those in attendance a clue. They are an international company. Not much of a clue, but he says he is very excited to see this go through and that “local sales people are our allies.” He hopes that once this company is announced, supporters of the Prospects become strong supporters of the company itself.
Cassidy also explained where some of the proceeds of the Gala were headed. He explained that the Prospects will be updating the lighting at the park from halogen to LED, which will result in $100,000 per year in energy savings for the organization. David Mitchell, CEO of Lumican Corp. was in attendance and happy to chat lighting with anyone curious enough to ask.
In 2016 the Prospects and the city of Edmonton struck a four-year deal with an option for a fifth, bringing baseball back to the city. “This gives us an opportunity to prove ourselves, we’re on a mission,” Cassidy said.
A lot of ball has been played at that field. The Pacific Coastal League triple-A Edmonton Trappers occupied the park in 1995 when it opened and were later sold in 2004. Next came the Edmonton Cracker Cats of the independent Northern and Golden Leagues, who became the Capitals of the Golden and North American League.
And now the collegiate level Prospects of the Western Major Baseball League. The triple-A team began play in Edmonton in 1981. Before that the Edmonton Eskimos were in the class-A Western International League (1953-54), the class-B Western International (1922), class-B Western Canada League (1920-21), class-D Western Canada (1914), the Edmonton Gray Birds were in the Western Canada League (1912-13), the Eskimos in the class-D Western Canada League (1909-11) and the first-ever team, the Edmonton Grays in the class-D Western Canada League (1907).
That’s 43 pro teams the city has fielded for you scoring along at home, behind only Toronto (121 teams of different sorts of classifications), Montreal (96), Vancouver (83), Winnipeg (66), Hamilton (47) and Calgary (46).
You can feel Cassidy’s passion, as he says “any negative talk will only come out of the mouths of fools. We are baseball people through and through.”
As for where they see themselves in the coming years, well, Cassidy has high expectations. He says that as an organization they look up to teams like the Okotoks Dawgs, saying teams like the four-time WMBL champions have brought so much needed attention to the WMBL.
The Dawgs led the league in attendance again in the 2016 Season with 76,571, an average of 3,329 people per game.
“Our goal is to catch and surpass them, we want to continue to build this movement into an unstoppable force,” said Cassidy.
The Prospects saw 38,266 fans in the 2016 season. An average of 1,820 per game. They have some work to do, although they are up to the challenge.
Throughout the evening attendees were invited to bid on silent auction items ranging from Edmonton Oilers and Edmonton Eskimos memorabilia to Toronto Blue Jays and Calgary Flames items.
Guest speaker Gregg Zaun even threw in his four season tickets to a regular season game with on field BP and a live viewing of the Sporstnet broadcast. It fetched $3,600 towards the cause. Zaun entertained guests, which included a couple members of the Edmonton Eskimos football team, with a slew of anecdotes from his career.
Zaun also hosted a Hot Stove style panel with Orv Franchuk moderated by the voice of baseball in Edmonton, Al Coates. Franchuk was a scout for the Cinciannti Reds, hitting coach for the Edmonton Trappers and manager for the Vancouver Canadians to name a few stops. He was also a coach for the Canadian National Team at the 1978 World Cup, the 1981 Intercontinental Cup and the 2007 World Cup.
With its history in baseball well over 100 years old and the enthusiasm of Cassidy, Edmonton is headed in the proper direction.