Richard White, July 29, 2014
Recently two golf buddies drove from Calgary to Seattle – 1146 km or 12+ hours - for a couple of Seattle Mariners’ games. This is the second year they have done this and I don’t think they are really big Mariner fans. Finding myself with time on my hands, I called up another golf buddy and asked if he wanted to go see the Dawgs play in Okotoks – 35 km away for me (and about 10 for him). We even decided to make it a family event and he rounded up a couple of grandkids to increase the fun factor.
On a whim, he decided to check the availability of tickets game day morning. Yikes, only single tickets available, but there was room on the Family Berm down the 3rd base line for five bucks, we were all still game to go.
We arrived at Seaman Stadium (built in 2007 for $8 million with a capacity of 2,700) and while not quite the wow factor of the 47,476 capacity Safeco Field in Seattle, it had the look, feel and atmosphere of a big league stadium - the grass field was impeccable and the centre field fence is 400 feet away. The concessions included a Candy Store (kids drinks and snacks) and an adult beverage window with a variety of cold beers – could it get any better.
We grabbed our seats (space on the grass) just past 3rd base and just a few feet from the Visitors’ dug out. You could just walk up to look in a anytime during the game – talk about up close and personal.
Sure, we didn’t get to watch multi-millionaires like Hernandez or Cano play (their combined salaries of would build six Seaman Stadiums) but the college kids in the Western Major Baseball league put on a good show. Sanchez put on a clinic at third base, bare handing a bunt and underhanding a bullet to first base for the out. And the first baseman made an impressive diving catch of a line drive late in the game that should have been the TSN highlight of the night.
The big bonus though came after the game. Everyone was invited onto the field to chat and even play catch with the players. Some families ran the bases together while others got players’ autographs. It was like an elementary school track and field day - with balls being thrown everywhere and girls doing cartwheels. A good time was had by all.
The Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) is a collegiate summer baseball league that can trace its roots back to 1931. The current league evolved from several predecessors including the Southern Baseball League, the Northern Saskatchewan Baseball League and Saskatchewan Major Baseball League. The Southern Baseball League existed from 1931 to 1974. The Northern Saskatchewan Baseball League existed from 1959 to 1974. The two leagues merged in 1975 to create the Saskatchewan Major Baseball League. The name was changed to the Western Major Baseball League in 2000 to reflect more teams playing in Alberta, and in the future, possibly British Columbia.
The WMBL is a wood bat league along the lines of such American collegiate circuits as the Cape Cod League, New England Collegiate Baseball League, Coastal Plain League, Northwoods League, Horizon Air Summer Series, Pacific International League and West Coast League.
I guess for some it is critical to watch the big leagues, but for this everyday tourist, a day in Okotoks was just as fun as many of the professional sporting events I have attended. This was the fourth consecutive sellout for the Dawgs so they must be doing something right.
From the Okotoks Western Wheel this week: The Western Major Baseball League drew 144,000 fans this year, a new record and an average of 640 per game. The Dawgs' attendance is 61,189 with 1 game to go (not far from half the league total) and an average of 2,781 per game (that's close to 10% of the towns population).
I hope my buddies who drove to Seattle had just as much fun as we did.
GG writes: Enjoyed your article. My son and I just got back from touring the minor league ballaprks of North Carolina. I will take them over big league any day (except for Wrigley field ) The intimacy is way more fun at those parks.