Page 43 - 04-June-2024
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 But, Gregg said that the then-mayor was sold on a vision for a team that could draw at least 3,000 a night in the 9,200-seat venue.
“Not everybody’s played in Major League Baseball,
but everybody’s played scrub when they were young
in school, or played with friends out in the park,” says Gregg. “People are aware of the game of baseball. You think back to years ago: You played hockey in the winter, you played baseball in the summer. So, I think there’s a recognition that this is a game that should be part of our sporting environment here in Edmonton.”
Gregg’s group won the bid to lease Re/Max, and the Prospects moved out; the team is set to move into a new Spruce Grove home. The Riverhawks were born, and in 2021 began play in the West Coast League. It’s a league that attracts top collegiate players from schools in Canada and the United States. They need places where they can play during the summer months, and they use wood bats like the pros do. Hence, why collegiate circuits like the WCL are nicknamed “wood bat leagues.”
In 2023, the team set a WCL record, with 104,748
fans. With 27 home dates, that’s an average of 3,880.
That included a “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” school- day promotion, which saw 6,700 Edmonton and area students come out to see the Riverhawks. This year, the ticket sales for the school-day event, on June 12, have already been cut off, as 7,000 tickets for kids have already been spoken for.
Gregg makes no bones about why it works: It’s the ticket prices. Outside of specialty seating, the rest of the park is general admission. All of the GA tickets are $20 each. There are no complicated seating charts. If you want to go to the ball game, you just pick up and head to the park. My son has met his friends from his baseball team at Riverhawks games. They know to meet at a certain section, they go off and enjoy the evening, the parents get together, find some seats and have a few beers. It’s going out to a sporting event, made easy.
“One strategy we hold dearly is that it has to affordable,” says Gregg. “After our first year, we had $20 tickets, and people would come up to us and say, ‘you know, you’re very popular, you could increase your ticket price.’ And we’d say, ‘we know we can, but we’re not going to.’
Why? Because I don’t care about you or me, I care
about that young family that maybe has some financial issues, but still wants to bring the kids out to an outdoor event that’s exciting. We have a $9 hamburger for the person who wants a $9 hamburger, but we also have
a $3 hotdog.
“Growing up in Edmonton, my family came from Inglewood, we didn’t have a lot. I think it’s important not to only worry about the people who can buy suites and $300 tickets, but maybe to think about the person to whom $20 is a big cost, and they can’t do it very often.”
Gregg says the ownership group has a mandate that the team is about making baseball sustainable in Edmonton, for the long term.
“We don’t think about the bottom line, but what’s best for the community. We think about what our kids would want, and what our grandkids would want. If we keep that in mind, I think we’ll make good decisions... We’re not the Toronto Blue Jays or the New York Yankees, we never will be. We have to do some extra things.”
One of those “extra things” is the collegiate program, which provides a chance for young Canadians to play ball, possibly even in the WCL. More than 700 Canadians are playing baseball in universities and colleges in the United States. It’s not a sport that’s traditionally been offered by schools here. Neither MacEwan nor the University of Alberta have baseball programs, though the sport is gaining traction at the University of Calgary and in Lethbridge. Some of the British Columbia schools have baseball teams.
But, for the most part, if an Edmonton kid wanted to pursue baseball in college or university, the only choice was to think about the United States. But the Riverhawks' collegiate team acts as a catch-all, of sorts. Those pur- suing post-secondary educations in the Edmonton area can play their ball with the Edmonton Collegiate Hawks, which competes against other post-secondary teams in Western Canada.
Gregg says the goal of the Riverhawks is to see more Edmonton baseball prospects choose to stay in Edmonton.
The Arms
And that leads us to three Edmonton products who will feature in the WCL Riverhawks’ pitching staff this sea- son. Halen Knoll pitched for a year in the United States. Last year, he was named the top pitcher in the WCL. After the WCL season ends, he’ll head to Ontario to play in the semipro Inter-County Baseball League.
“This whole program, not only the Riverhawks, but the Edmonton collegiate program building into the Riverhawks, it’s literally taken me everywhere where I’ve wanted to be, and where I want to go in the future,” says Knoll. “Just see- ing the amount of fans who are coming out to these games, it’s very clear that Edmonton can be a baseball town. It’s a sport everyone wants to watch, especially in the summer.”
Then there are the Yusypchuk brothers. Andrew pitch- es at Southern Illinois University, and will return home to spend the summer with the Riverhawks. His brother, Michael, is regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in Canada. He’s already committed to Missouri State, but he’s currently playing in Okotoks with the Dawgs, one of the top academy teams in Canada. Michael has played for Canada’s U-18 team and no-hit Peru through six innings in international competition.
Michael will play with the Riverhawks before he ever faces an NCAA batter.
These are just a few examples of how the baseball talent Alberta is producing might be the best-kept secret in this province’s sports scene.

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