The Maritimes doesn’t have a baseball team to call its own yet. However, many East Coasters will have a team to enjoy next summer as Fort McMurray has been awarded a Western Major Baseball League team for 2016. With many Atlantic Canadians relocating to the city to work in the oil fields, many of the team’s fans will no doubt have East Coast routes. In fact one of the owners (Blair Kubicek) resides in Digby, Nova Scotia. Mr. Kubicek is often referred to as Mr. Baseball of Alberta due to his founding of the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge and his work with the WMBL’s Okotoks Dawgs. He is currently retired.
The team will play at the state of the art Shell Place baseball field (adjacent to the football field that hosted the two CFL games this past summer). The stadium’s capacity will be at least 1700. A final capacity will be announced once sky boxes are added and ownership figures out their break even point. Shell Place’s web site lists the capacity for the “Tournament Centre” (as they call the ball field) at 5500 but that includes stands, standing room and a grass beam in the outfield. The team is expected to the named the “Fort McMurray Giants” which is in reference to the city’s rep teams whom are named the Oil Giants. Rosters for teams in the WMBL are made up of college players. The league’s roster limit is 27 players, with a minimum of 11 Canadians. Budgets of WMBL range from $170,00o to $1,000,000; due to travel costs expect Fort McMurray to be at the high end of that range. Teams in centres with populations compated to Fort McMurray tend to operate in the $300,000 to $600,000 range. The league plays a 48 game schedule from late May until mid August. The WMBL is expecting to be at 12 teams next year with the addition of both Fort McMurray and Brooks (Alberta).
Fort McMurray has been trying to gain a high level baseball team since autumn of 2011. Then local owners brought the rights to the defunct Victoria Seals (North American League, since defunct itself) with the idea of placing them in the yet to be built facility at MacDonald Island Park (which is now Shell Place). The league folded before the park was finished. Shell Place was completed just this past year and features the aforementioned football stadium and baseball park plus a fieldhouse, badminton centre, outdoor rink and other recreation facilities. The ball park will also be hosting the 2016 Baseball Canada Cup, which features the country’s top 17 and under players. Since then various ownership groups have tried to gain admission to either independent leagues or summer college leagues. Based on geography, the WMBL was the best fit. Ownership of Steve Avila and Kubicek feels there is a hole to fill in the summertime to provide quality entertainment. The city’s other team is the (Junior A) AJHL’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons who (obvious) operate during the winter.
The team itself has hired a coaching staff and will be hard pressed to put together a competitive roster of 27 (or so) players as many summer college teams put together the following year’s roster in late summer / early fall. Despite being a five hour drive from their nearest opponent (Edmonton Prospects), the city has a team and a facility to play in. Just goes to show how a little dedication (and patience) can go a long way to get things done.