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College baseball league could be coming to Grand Forks this summer

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Maybe Kraft Field -- Grand Forks' top baseball facility -- won't be empty this summer after all.

On Tuesday, the Grand Forks Park Board will review a contract with the Expedition League, a summer college baseball league, to play one of its franchises at Kraft Field this summer.

The Expedition League, a two-year-old league with two teams in North Dakota (Dickinson and Minot), is unable to have its Brandon, Manitoba, franchise participate in the league this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Brandon franchise, known as the Wheat City Whiskey Jacks, would play in Grand Forks in 2020 before returning to Canada in 2021.

The Expedition League, which has courted Grand Forks the past couple of years to host an expansion franchise, hopes the one-year agreement can be a launching point to permanent membership in Grand Forks.

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"It's a strong possibility (of playing in Grand Forks in 2020)," said Steve Wagner, president of the Expedition League. "We absolutely cannot have a season (in Canada). The border has been closed to non-essential travel. And Manitoba recently announced it basically wouldn't allow groups larger than 25 throughout the summer."

With Manitoba out of the mix, Wagner spent the last six weeks working on contingency plans.

"Grand Forks has always been on my radar screen," Wagner said. "I'm extremely confident we'll have an expansion team there as early as the 2021 season. So, yeah, I'm excited we can move there for this summer and expose the great people of Grand Forks to our brand of fun ... then hopefully build from there.

"Grand Forks is definitely a city we're very interested in, and we've had a lot of good conversations with others in the community in the last four or five years. We've had tremendous success our first two years. This will be a great opportunity to have a dry run so people can see what we're all about. It's off the charts. We make it fun, whether or not you like baseball or just have fun at a ballpark. It's a great value."

Grand Forks Park District executive director Bill Palmiscno said the feasibility of the Expedition League playing in Grand Forks in 2020 will probably come down to North Dakota's coronavirus guidelines for large groups.

"The governor would have to take away restrictions on the numbers allowed in large groups," Palmiscno said. "(Wagner) thinks he can draw quite a few people with a team in Grand Forks. We would get rent for the field, and it would give people something to do. People are looking for something right now."

The Expedition League, which has teams in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming, announced Friday it will delay the start of the 2020 season, which was originally scheduled for May 26, due to various coronavirus-related social restrictions.

The Dickinson team is known as the Badlands Big Sticks, while the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs are in Minot.

Related Topics: BASEBALLKRAFT FIELD
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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