Break out the peanuts and Cracker Jacks because the great American pastime is headed to Brandon in an even bigger way.
At a press conference in Brandon on Oct. 4, area dignitaries announced that Brandon has been granted an expansion baseball team in the Expedition League, a collegiate summer baseball circuit with teams located throughout the north-central United States and, now, the Canadian Prairies.
League president Steve Wagner, who was on hand for the big event, describes the Expedition League as an ideal entry point for aspiring baseball players looking to play professionally down the road.
“This is very close to minor league baseball,” said Wagner. “These are collegiate players, who retain their college eligibility as they are unpaid players. But the talent level of these players is really high. They are aspiring to get into professional baseball.
“We emulate the minor baseball experience as much as possible. We play a heavy schedule of 64 games, we have a mid-season all-star break and playoffs at the end of the year,” he added. “They’re playing six games a week, using wooden bats and travelling via charter bus.”
The Expedition League was founded four years ago, but last season was the inaugural one for the eight-team league, which featured teams such as the Hastings Sodbusters and the Hub City Hot Shots playing in communities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming.
“We really took our time to do it right. We had excellence in mind when we went ahead with this,” said Wagner.
The Brandon team will play out of the Andrews Field Ballpark in Brandon, an ideal location for a team according to Wagner. Although Brandon is a smaller market, he feels the city is a central hub for a larger drawing area, which positions it well to succeed.
“I think the demographics are really good here,” he said. "The ball park is also very crucial to us. And Andrews Field is one of the nicest I’ve seen, and it is set up perfectly for what we want to accomplish. It can accommodate a large number of fans, and has room for all the between-inning activities we want to do.”
The fan experience is something Wagner went back to time and again, saying they want to make every home game a unique and fun experience.
While Wagner does own two of the teams in the league, he is in discussions to have a local ownership group take over the Brandon franchise. He expects that to be finalized in the next couple of months.
"Ideally we like to have local owners as much as possible, and we've had some good discussions in Brandon," he said.
At the press conference, the team also announced the introduction of front office staff, the head coach, and spoke about an upcoming “Name the Team” contest, which will give people in the Brandon area a chance to put their stamp on this franchise.
Wagner also added he expects Canadian ball players, and potentially Manitoba or Brandon-area players, to have a chance at making this team.
“Now that we have a team in Brandon, we do try to have local players on the team,” he said. “In most teams there are one to four local players on the team. But we draw from a very large region, attracting kids from California, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Texas and more.
“And we’re certainly looking to draw kids from Canada now that we’re in Brandon.”