Hollywood would have us believe there are three classic blunders:
Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
And never try to start up an expansion West Coast League franchise in Edmonton during a worldwide pandemic.
OK, that last one might not be from the William Goldman-penned cult classic, Princess Bride. But the Edmonton Riverhawks have to be feeling every bit the bridesmaid after the WCL announced all five of its Canadian clubs have withdrawn from the 2021 season due to COVID-19 restrictions.
In fact, you couldn’t have written a more tragic script for the fledgling Riverhawks, whose ownership group was still in the nest-building stage after acquiring a long-term lease to Re/Max Field.
They had already begun major and expensive overhauls to the artificial turf and scoreboard in preparation for its inaugural season, which was set to open June 1 against the visiting Victoria Harbourcats, whose own season was also scrubbed Wednesday.
The news comes exactly two weeks after the Riverhawks unveiled their inaugural general manager in former Major League catcher Kelly Stinnett, as well as pitching coach Ethan Elias, a former Canadian national team member and draft pick of the Chicago Cubs.
Both are being retained on staff over the cancelled season.
After all, this is only the first chapter in an ongoing play for Edmonton’s new club, which only had its official unveiling in mid-September.
“We think that we’re going to be around Edmonton for a long time and all the planning that we’ve done will just even solidify more when the 2022 season comes up,” said Riverhawks managing director Dr. Randy Gregg. “All the things we’re doing to get that park back to the level Edmontonian’s expect, we’re still really excited about that.
“This is a blip, but nobody’s dying of this cancellation. And we want to follow the AHS (Alberta Health and Safety) guidelines very carefully, we really respect their input and if they think, in any case, we’re putting our fans, players or coaching staff at risk, this is a really good decision.
“It’s unfortunate because we want to watch baseball as much as the baseball fans.”
It all amounts to a big swing and a miss in Year 1 of existence for the summer collegiate club, who had 23 players listed on the team’s website as of Wednesday.
The list includes Sherwood Park’s Clayton Loranger, an outfielder out of Stephen F. Austin State; St. Albert’s Michael Brisson, a utility player attending Niagara University, fellow St. Albert product Tylor Jans, a pitcher at the University of Louisiana Monroe; Beaumont’s Shaun Atamanchuk, who takes the mound at Gwinnett College; and Lacombe’s Myles Pallister, a pitcher from Niagara University.
The rest are American-born athletes all the way from Anaheim, Calif., to Miami, Fla., currently attending universities across the U.S.
“The other concern for us is we didn’t want to wait so long that the players who committed to come up to Edmonton to play couldn’t get another spot,” said Gregg. “We didn’t want to jeopardize a summer opportunity for these young players, so that’s why the decision was made today.”
While health and safety concerns were also paramount in planning to hold an inaugural season here in 2021, cross-border travel and questions surrounding fans in the stands at ballparks in B.C. and Alberta led to the league balking at its five Canadian clubs.
“Obviously the League won’t feel complete without our Canadian members,” said WCL commissioner Rob Neyer, whose 10 American-based teams are going ahead with a 48-game schedule that had already been revised to eliminate cross-border travel. “But those five teams will remain foremost in our thoughts this season. And we look forward to their returns to the field at full strength in 2022.”
But all is not lost for diamond-goers in Edmonton just yet.
While Re/Max sits dormant for a second straight season, summer collegiate baseball is still expected to play in the capital region, as the Edmonton Prospects – previous residents of the river valley ballpark for the past decade – are still pushing to play in the upcoming Western Canadian Baseball League season.
The all-Canadian-based league is looking to proceed with as many as seven of its 11 clubs, so long as government and health restrictions allow, with the Prospects planning on touring their home games through different locations in the greater-Edmonton area as they await the construction of a new home base in Spruce Grove in time for 2022.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge