New Sylvan Lake baseball franchise hopes to play ball in 2021
Team is currently in the process of building a stadium on a new town recreational park
Plans for the Western Canadian Baseball League's 2021 season may still be in flux, but a new squad is betting on the world returning to some normalcy by opening day.
If the league does launch in May as planned, it will include a new team — the Sylvan Lake Gulls.
The Gulls' new $7-million stadium, which is mostly privately funded, is beginning to take shape in the middle of a recreational park on Sylvan Lake's southwest edge.
It's the vision of team founders and owners Graham and Jen Schetzsle.
"We're business people who love baseball," Graham said. "This is an opportunity that, quite honestly, we weren't really searching for it, but it sort of, it was the way it was meant to be."
The Schetzscles, who are central Alberta cattle ranchers, aren't strangers to baseball — Graham used to play, and they had a previous ownership stake in another league team in Brooks.
"I feel like it's partly for myself, building community within community," Jen said. "That's a big thing for us as well."
The turf is in and the stands and other structures are growing. The plan is to finish the facility before the June homeopener.
Gulls president Aqil Samuel is also a baseball veteran and has known the Schetzscles since high school.
Samuel said the team has already hired a head coach and are recruiting players for the summer college league's 2021 season.
The team has already signed 24 players to what will be a 30-man roster, and will attempt to split its roster halfway between American and Canadian players.
"We're well past [the planning stage] right now. We're in the execution stage," Samuel said. "We're selling ads around the park, selling tickets and recruiting players and all that. We've got a long list, checking boxes as we go."
Samuel said the pandemic restrictions last March hit the team just as it was unveiling its name and logo for the 2021 season launch, necessitating timing changes for advertising, sponsorship, ticket and merchandise plans.
Despite the pandemic and the impact to the economy, ticket sales have been good, Samuel said. And with news of a vaccine on the horizon, the Gulls are hoping opening day comes at a great time for baseball fans.
"By 2021, we thinking people are going to be itching for something like this," Samuel said.
The team and the league say they're developing safety plans should restrictions continue into next summer. The home opener for the squad is scheduled June 11.
With files from Dave Gilson