By Dale Woodard on March 26, 2021.
The Western Canadian Baseball League will have a distinctly Canadian look, player-wise, and an Albertan look, teams-wise, this season.
For the first time in WCBL history, all players will be from Canada with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic keeping the borders closed to the American players who normally come up in the summer.
Border issues will also keep the WCBL Saskatchewan teams from competing this summer, while the situation also affects the Lethbridge Bulls coaching staff.
“I think everybody can see what’s happening and with the border continuing to be closed and no real plans or dates, the earliest date I heard was the U.S. was talking about getting this open by July 1,” said League president Kevin Kvame.
“That really doesn’t help us and the government agencies don’t really have any kind of a plan that’s feasible for us to move forward. So it makes it really difficult for us to find a way to operate.”
Kvame said the WCBL teams have been working hard to make something work.
“They’ve been meeting weekly for the last several months to try and find a way forward and meeting with government, but the government is focused on today, they’re not focused on June 1.”
The league has also announced that the 2021 season will not feature all eleven of its member franchises.
The Okotoks Dawgs — who will field two teams —Lethbridge Bulls, Sylvan Lake Gulls and Edmonton Prospects have committed teams consisting of Canadian talent.
The Fort McMurray Giants and Medicine Hat Mavericks continue to discuss the options available to them and will decide in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, border issues and the uncertainty of any changes, the Swift Current 57’s, Regina Red Sox, Weyburn Beavers, Moose Jaw Miller Express and Alberta’s Brooks Bombers have made the difficult decision to wait until 2022 to return to the field.
The announcement also means Bulls head coach Kregg Snook, an American, will be unable to join the team.
Snook was hired last summer, but was unable to fulfill his role when the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season.
The Bulls expect to make an announcement on a replacement coach, said Kvame.
“We’ve been working with Kregg up until this point and he’s still engaged and communicating with players. It’s a tough situation for him because this is the second straight summer that he was supposed to be here. So now we have to pivot. We have Canadian guys on our coaching staff. We have lots of quality, Canadian coaches in our backyard. There will lots of support around for our club.”
With the announcement, Kvame said they’ve evaluated the Bulls roster of talent on this side of the border.
“Right now we have committed 11 Canadian pitchers and we had six U.S. pitchers. With infielders, we have six out of seven Canadians and outfielders, we’re at two out of five that are Canadian and with catchers, two out of three.”
Kvame said the club also has a waiting list and is getting emails from other players coming from now-displaced teams.
“Filling the Canadian content is not a problem.”
Kvame said the best word he’s heard to describe the situation was “bitter/sweet”.
“It’s nice we’re going to have baseball and hopefully we have fans and we’re not playing in a bubble and just putting it on a webcast. Hopefully we have some fans allowed in the park by June.
“The Bulls and Prairie Baseball Academy are going to be trying to help Alberta Health with some messaging and hopefully get people to follow the regulations to drive the virus out of our community and allow us to get back to more pleasant things to talk about come the summer.”
The WCBL expects to release an updated schedule, details on the 2021 season, ticketing plans based on health authorities and additional information near the end of April.
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