Summer collegiate baseball league wants to expand to Grand Forks
Grand Forks has gone nearly 20 years without a summer collegiate baseball team operating out of Kraft Field.
Steve Wagner wants to end that streak.
Wagner is president of the Rapid City, S.D.-based Expedition League, an eight-team conference set to launch its first season later this month.
The Expedition League, already home to two North Dakota franchises (Minot and Dickinson), would like to expand into Grand Forks.
Other Expedition league teams are in South Dakota (Aberdeen, Pierre, Spearfish), Nebraska (Hastings and Gering) and Wyoming (Casper).
"We really want to be there," Wagner said. "Grand Forks would do well with an Expedition League team."
The league plans to expand into Brandon, Manitoba, in 2019.
Wagner said he has been in talks with Grand Forks Park District executive director Bill Palmiscno and other members of the Grand Forks baseball community.
Local leaders, however, are still in the information-gathering stage of the prospect of summer college baseball returning to Grand Forks.
"We said we'd like to see the league run for a year before we think about jumping in," Palmiscno said.
Palmiscno has been with the Grand Forks Park District for more than 40 years, so he can recall some of the shortcomings of the five-year stretch of summer baseball Grand Forks saw from 1996-2000 between the Grand Forks Varmints and Channel Cats.
"We're not opposed to it, but when I talked to (Wagner) what I said the most was to make it successful you have to get local ownership," Palmiscno said.
Other financial arrangements, such as cost of rent, will likely be another determining factor.
Wagner admitted there's work to be done at Kraft Field to upgrade the fan experience. He pointed to restrooms, concessions, a grandstand and stadium-style seating as areas to renovate at Kraft Field.
"I can tell you this, I'm still very interested in Grand Forks," Wagner said. "We think it'd be great. We'd still like Grand Forks in the fold in the next year or two. It would be good for the league and good for Grand Forks."
Wagner said the league has so far exceeded his expectations in terms of roster makeup and community buy-in.
"We've done well with corporate partnerships and sponsorships and selling apparel," Wagner said. "I'm a business guy by trade and our business model works well."
The Expedition teams operate as for-profit entities seeking to make money off large fan turnouts, Wagner said.
The teams will use wood bats and feature players with remaining college eligibility at all levels of NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA. The teams will play 64 games in a 75-day window from late May to early August.
The league wants to create a strong social atmosphere with party decks and beer garden areas.
"We want to provide non-stop fun," Wagner said. "It was a cold, long winter. We kind of skipped spring. People are excited to get out, be at the park with high-quality play and have a couple of beers on a summer evening."