Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/5/2019 (383 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Slather on the sunscreen, put on your ball cap and grab a hot dog (or two), Brandon.
The city has a new team to cheer for.
The Expedition League is expanding to the community, bringing collegiate summer baseball to fans across Westman. The Wheat City Whiskey Jacks players and coaches will roll into town next week and will liven up Andrews Field for the summer with 32 home games starting on May 28.
It will be Christopher Bennefield’s first time in Canada. The six-foot-three, 195-pound pitcher is joining the Whiskey Jacks roster this summer, hailing all the way from Oklahoma City University.
"(It will be great to) just experience a different culture that’s out of the U.S., I’ve never traveled outside of the U.S. before," Bennefield said.
He first picked up a ball at five years old because his parents signed him up, but the sport has quickly grown into one of the 19-year-old’s passions.
"I just love the game," he said. "I fell in love with it, and I just enjoy playing it and being out and playing it every day I can."
The right-hander worked his way up the ranks. As a youngster he played T-ball, then Little League in high school, and now he’s playing university ball. He has a better understanding of the mental side of the game, which will help him this season.
"Instead of just going out there and playing, I actually prepare before I go out," he said.
Fans can keep a look out for his go to pitches — a curveball and a two seamer — when he takes the mound this summer.
Brandon is the sole Canadian team in the league that is entering its second season. The nine other teams are all located in the United States in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Steve Wagner, the Whiskey Jacks owner and league president, has had his eye on the city for a long time. He radiated enthusiasm as he spoke about the positives of expanding to the prairie community.
"The population base is fantastic," he said. "It’s really a kind of a regional and an economic and business hub, a lot of people from the Westman region come into Brandon and conduct business."
Andrews Field, which received recognition as one of the top stadiums in the country during a Canada's Favourite Ballpark contest in 2011, was also a big draw for the league. It was originally built back in 1987 to host the Canadian Selects. Since then, the stadium has also hosted two World Youth Baseball Championships in 1991 and 1994, and the Canadian Senior Baseball Championships in 2006 and 2008.
"It’s a phenomenal facility. I’ll never forget the first time I saw it when I came over the bridge, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that will work.’"
Among the players coming to Brandon for the season is 19-year-old Jayce Bailey, traveling to Westman from Boise State University in Boise, Idaho.
The six-foot-four, 175-pound outfielder has been playing baseball since he was four years old.
He was a multi-sport athlete growing up, playing soccer, flag football and baseball and he also skied.
"I love the competitiveness of it,"Bailey said. "I find it really interesting, just the fact that you can fail so many times and still be considered one of the best."
Upon arrival in Canada one of his destinations (besides Andrews Field) is going to be a restaurant where he can get a Canadian classic — fries, loaded with warm gravy and curdled cheese.
"I’m a big poutine fan so I’m hoping to try some Canada poutine because I know Canada’s known for their poutine," he said.
His teammates are a mix of skilled NCAA Division I, Division II, NAIA and junior college players. The skill level will be similar minor-league baseball, according to Wagner.
"We’re going to be very talented," he said. "These are collegiate baseball players, some who will get drafted into professional baseball and hopefully make the big leagues."
The players will be coming from across the United States, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, California and Florida.
The Whiskey Jacks head coach said they’re going to give fans a good show on the field. Their roster is made up of lot of younger players in their freshman or sophomore seasons.
"Our expectations are high from this group," Hamilton said. "From what I’ve heard from the coaches I’ve gotten players from, they’ve all been doing pretty well (this spring)."
Hamilton brings two years of coaching experience to the Whiskey Jacks, having worked with the Montana University Yellowjackets’ baseball team for the past two seasons, primarily with their pitching staff.
The summer program will give the athletes a chance to develop their skills before heading back to their respective schools in the fall, and give fans a good product to watch on the field.
Wheat City opens the season on May 24 when the Whiskey Jacks visit the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs for a pair of games before the home opener on the 28th against the same team.
The season runs through Aug. 4 with the playoffs expected to end one week later.
"I cant wait. I’m champing at the bit," Wagner said.
They’re anticipating and planning for big crowds with the high talent level on the field.
"I think Brandon’s the perfect community for Expedition League baseball," Wagner said. "Once fans show up at Andrew’s Field we’re confident that they’ll want to come back."
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