The Wheat City Whiskey Jacks will go a second year without setting foot on Andrews Field.
The team announced Tuesday that it will temporarily relocate to Grand Forks, N.D., for the 2021 Expedition League baseball season due to COVID-19 related border closures.
League president and Whiskey Jacks owner Steve Wagner remains committed to Brandon and intends to bring the club home in 2022. Regardless, it’s tough news for Jacks general manager Ray Walker to share.
"I’m really going to miss being at the ball field every day," Walker said.
"We’re going to wish the team all the best. I think we’ve assembled a hell of a team this year. We’ve got lots of Division 1 and 2 players, the (junior college) guys and NAIA guys we’ve picked up are real stars.
"… It’ll be a shame if we win because we can’t be there to watch it."
Grand Forks was awarded its own team for the 2022 campaign last month, so the 64-game season starting in late May will serve as a trial run for that team’s staff.
That was the scenario Wagner hoped to provide for the Whiskey Jacks in 2020, but didn’t have time to have everything in place as lockdowns hit just a few months before the season opener.
Walker said the team won’t return to Manitoba this year even in the unlikely event the border reopens.
"They can’t just up and leave because they made commitments to billet families and sponsors," Walker said.
"They’ll play the whole season there. If we’re lucky and the border does open, I’d love to organize a bus trip if we could take some Brandon fans down and watch the Whiskey Jacks in Grand Forks."
The 2020 season saw just six teams compete as four were unable to due to restrictions. As it stands, 12 clubs will take part in the 2021 campaign, which wraps up with a best-of-three championship in early August.
The move isn’t likely to impact the 22 American players among the 26 signed to date. Walker said he doesn’t know what the four Canadians will decide yet, though they’re all currently playing college ball south of the border.
That group includes seniors Will Hlady of Dauphin and Zoe Hicks of Boissevain. Both won’t have the chance to play for a home crowd as Walker said they’re set to graduate this season.
"For the Canadian kids, it’s unfortunate. All of them expressed to me the fact that playing close to home meant really something special that their families could come and watch them," Walker said. "As it is now they can only see them through video at their schools in the states."
Financially, it’s not a huge hit for the club. Wagner will likely see more gate revenue in North Dakota than Manitoba based on their respective restrictions during the pandemic. Walker will continue to manage from afar and run the office in Brandon.
"We’re on the ground for the long term, we just couldn’t play here due to factors beyond our control," Walker said. "(Wagner) still wants Brandon to be in the forefront. Grand Forks will have their own team in 2022 so it’s not like the Whiskey Jacks have left. The Whiskey Jacks have relocated temporarily."
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