A Case For New Baseball Facilities In Camrose
Posted November 18, 2019
The small city of Camrose has long history of baseball both with the Powerline Baseball League as well as other leagues such as the North Central Alberta Baseball League, Sunburst Baseball League and various Baseball Alberta Provincials for minor baseball. Teams and leagues have changed over the last few decades and minor baseball has grown but one thing appears to have remained fairly consistent, almost to a detriment, and that is the baseball facilities.
BASEBALL FACILITY HISTORY
The year 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Powerline Baseball League moving into the city of Camrose. The 1970 Camrose Cubs were the first Camrose team in the league and would play for two seasons before moving on to the Sunburst League in 1972. That same year the Camrose Roadrunners moved into the league as a midget aged team and have been a part of the league ever since. There was the Camrose Mets, a high school baseball team from the Camrose Composite High School that competed with limited success from 1985-1987 and then there was the Camrose Colts. Two years of tremendous baseball and one of the best short lived rivalries the PBL has seen, between the Colts and the Areman Axemen, saw the Colts leave the league after the 2005 season to re-form the Camrose Cubs and enter the Sunburst League in 2006. The Cubs were unable to complete a full season, folding late in the year and leaving the Roadrunners as the lone team in the PBL from Camrose until the Camrose Axemen joined in 2018. The Axemen spent 2008-2017 competing in the North Central Alberta Baseball League. All of these teams have called Kinsman Park, now known as Harry Andreassen Field, home since the field opened in 1978.
Prior to 1978, the Camrose Cubs and the Camrose Roadrunners were playing out of the Camrose Fairgrounds, which apparently had the baseball field located just north of Max McLean Arena. In the early 1970s the baseball scene was a buzz with high expectations as the City of Camrose and the local recreation society was building a new baseball field and fastball diamonds to accommodate the growing need. Baseball people in town were excited for a new baseball field with a concession and lights because it meant that the city could potentially put together a team to compete in the Alberta Major Baseball League, which was a province wide semi-pro league.
Fun Fact: Jim Bouton, who was a starting pitcher with the New York Yankees in 1962 when they won the World Series and was a MLB All-Star in 1963, spent the 1975 baseball season with the Calgary Jimmies of the AMBL. Bouton was also a part of the Portland Mavericks which were featured in the awesome Netflix documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball. The league was also filled with numerous American baseball players, many of which were on rosters of NCAA Division I baseball teams, as well as local baseball names like Dr Randy Gregg, Orv Franchuk and Ray Brown.
The field was finally close to completion in 1977 with the high hope that the field would be able to see it’s first baseball action late in the summer that year. It is unclear when exactly the field was able to host it’s first baseball action but it appears that it ended up having to wait until the 1978 season. In April of that year the Camrose Canadian reported that a recent rodeo completely destroyed the infield and outfield of the baseball diamond at the Fairgrounds along with the football field and running track. While the damage was extensive, it could be repaired. However the issue was by time the field would recover, the plan was to move the infield dirt from the Fairgrounds Diamond to the new field at the Kinsmen Park, which is now Harry Andreassen Field. Disrepair over the years had left what was called "a massive hole in the backstop" as well as broken bleachers around the diamond and various portions of the surrounding field fence in need of mending.
When the lights were being installed in June of 1977, there was some obvious confusion at the time of install. The Kinsmen were under the impression that the lights were needed more for football than baseball, giving the field the current lighting set up that we see today. Turns out there was a miscommunication and the lights may have originally been wanted to be set up for a baseball field. Immediately in 1977 the field was criticized by the local media for not having adequate light to play baseball games at night like everyone expected. Harry Andreassen Field is still the only field in the Powerline Baseball League that has lights, unfortunately they make for some tough plays for players on the field at night.
As a multi-use field, Harry Andreassen Field does not have a permanent fence past the dugouts. A temporary fence is installed in foul territory in the outfield wrapping around the field to the other side. The fence however leaves two large gaps in foul territory left for access to the field by equipment as opposed to installing gates. While hard for a ball to go out of play given where they are it is still possible with a jam shot foul ball to the opposite field with enough English on the ball to hit the ground and skip out. A few years ago the City of Camrose actually replaced the back stop fence and the fence running to the dugouts. The new and tight fence was almost immediately used by at least one team in town for soft toss, leaving dimple marks on the first base side of the back stop. It also appears that a couple of months into the first spring, a lawnmower perhaps clipped the fence causing it to snap a wire at the bottom and form a hole at ground level. Frustrating that even when there is something new it can’t be kept in nice condition.
The dugouts uncomfortably handle about seven adults. Despite getting a fresh coat of paint in 2016, they are still not big enough to actually handle a team and their equipment often forcing teams to store ball buckets and equipment bags outside of the playing area and accessible only by leaving the field. Umpires often do not like too many players standing outside of the dugout, or along the fences in the field of play, but in Camrose they seem to relax the rule a little bit with the understanding that not everyone can fit inside the dugouts.
Some people may remember the old batting cage that was situated outside of the diamond along the first base side. Perhaps people don’t remember it because it was almost unusable due to barriers in place by the City as well as the small tunnel size, making it hard for an adult to swing a bat in. Also near the cage was a hitting turtle shell, a L-screen and a base scree for on field BP. I am not 100% sure how they got there, I was told at one point they were made and donated to baseball in Camrose. But once again they were never cared for with the mesh of the shell ripped and hanging off it’s skeleton and the welds of the all steel screens giving way and the diamond screens curling leaving holes.
It seems easy to pick apart what hasn’t been done, as there hasn’t been a lot of work done to baseball facilities in a long time in Camrose with no major facility upgrades since the main field was built in 1978. It causes a lot of baseball people to ask why there has been no improvements to the field or to equipment that a lot of baseball fields in centres similar to Camrose has available for the athletes. During the NCABL playing days of the Camrose Axemen, Harry Andreassen Field was one of only two fields to be a shale infield, the only field to have a temporary fence, the smallest dugouts in the league and one of the few fields not to have a batting cage accessible for pre-game hitting.
WMBL INTEREST IN CAMROSE
At one point, there was even an attempt to bring a Western Major Baseball League (now known as the Western Canadian Baseball League) summer collegiate franchise to Camrose. On July 27, 2009 the Camrose city council had Doug Jones, Vice President of the Western Major Baseball League, on the agenda. Jones was looking for support from the City of Camrose and the community to begin the process of seeking interest regarding a Camrose WMBL franchise with the hope of reporting this information at the 2009 WMBL annual general meeting in the fall. The city council voted to receive this report from Jones as information and that appears to be the last of it as meeting agendas and minutes from following council meetings never mention Jones or the WMBL.
Not finding any interest, or cooperation, Jones would set up his third baseball academy in the province when he helped set up the Badlands Baseball Academy in Oyen for the 2011 baseball season. His previous two academies, the Prairie Baseball Academy (1995) and the Vauxhall Baseball Academy (2006) have long been known as excellent academies for young baseball players in the province. Jones was also credited with starting the Lethbridge Bulls (1999) and operating the Medicine Hat Mavericks and the Red Deer Generals (who would become the Brooks Bombers) as a co-owner for both franchises. For all of his dedication and hard work for the game of baseball in Alberta, Jones was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. The man who helped start the WMBL in 2001, build three successful baseball academies and would become an important individual for amateur baseball in the province, didn’t appear to get much attention from Camrose. One former host who used to help broadcast the council meetings on the local cable information station has always expressed his dismay at how the council handled what looked like a good opportunity for the city to become a baseball town and work on getting new facilities for high calibre baseball players.
One of the former newspaper editors in Camrose, who previously worked in places like Red Deer and Nanaimo, once said that he couldn’t figure out what Camrose’s thing was for sports. He conceded that it is probably hockey despite the city not having any AAA minor hockey and seeing athletes leave for opportunities at other associations. It was clear that baseball was not the sport in Camrose despite a growing minor baseball association and at the time, a long history of baseball/fastball and three men’s leagues drawing players from the city.
NEIGHBOURS TO THE SOUTH
There have been a handful of baseball players from Camrose and the surrounding area that have elected to play their minor baseball in Red Deer as opposed to Camrose or Sherwood Park. Dylan Borman who is currently playing NCAA-II with Arkansas-Monticello and Griffin Lorenz who took the PBL by storm in 2019 for the Rosalind Athletics, are just two of the most recent examples. And when you see the facilities that Red Deer has had and is getting in the near future, and you can’t help but be jealous.
Great Chief Park is a beautiful baseball facility that has hosted numerous tournaments and league games for both minor baseball and senior men’s baseball. In 2021, and for the third time since Camrose hosted the first Men’s Nationals in 1972, Red Deer will host the Baseball Canada Senior Men’s National Championships. It has been held four times in Alberta, and three have been in Red Deer. That same season, it is expected that the Sylvan Lake WCBL franchise will be in their first season of operation as Sylvan Lake is moving dirt on a baseball facility suitable for summer collegiate.
In 2017 St. Joseph High School opened in Red Deer and in 2018/2019, the St. Joseph Baseball Academy was started. The academy also features softball, which is a first in Alberta.
A couple of weeks ago The Red Deer Dome opened it’s doors giving local associations and teams another venue to develop their athletes. The 107,000 square foot facility is geared towards field sports such as baseball, softball, soccer, rugby and lacrosse providing athletes from minor sports associations, adult teams and even the Red Deer College a place to hone their skills during Alberta’s terribly long winter season. Red Deer County officials have even said that the facility is expected to have sport psychologist services as well as physiotherapy and chiropractor services available for athletes making it a top training facility.
Then on November 17, the Canadian Collegiate Baseball Conference announced that they will be receiving a formal proposal from Red Deer College to join the league in the near future. The CCBC is home to the Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs, the Thompson River University Wolfpak, the Okanagan College Coyotes, University of Calgary Dinos, Edmonton Collegiate Baseball Club Trappers, the University of Fraser Valley Casades and the Vancouver Island University Mariners. Dozens of local athletes and hundreds, maybe even thousands of Alberta baseball players have gone through the CCBC to extend their baseball careers with the hope of playing baseball in the United States in conferences such as the NCAA, Juco or NAIA.
Everything that Red Deer has and is getting would not be possible without tremendous support from the community and the local government. Central Alberta has taken, and appears to be continuing to take, huge steps to support the game of baseball in their communities.
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING?
There appears to be some hope though as earlier this fall a combined effort by the Camrose Softball Association and the Camrose Minor Baseball Association announced a joint effort to build a double tunnel hitting cage next to Harry Andreassen Field. All ages of softball and baseball players can now hit before a game, on a practice night or just whenever they have some free time. It will be a great edition to the area and something ball players will benefit greatly from. It is something small, but currently there is an entire generation, maybe two generations, of baseball players in Camrose that had never set foot in the previous batting cage due to a variety of reasons.
At one point there were plans to try and secure funding for a baseball specific complex in Camrose, where it would go was yet to be determined, but it would feature four baseball fields, concession facilities and a large parking lot. The idea was having four to six fields of various sizes in the immediate vicinity, meaning that it would be home to a baseball weekend in Camrose or on a weeknight, the place would be packed with practices. Who knows if it will still happen, there is a lot of money involved and not a great track record of support.
It would be amazing to see Camrose put resources into having a baseball specific field at the very least. A real fence, real sized dugouts, real bullpen mounds and the tools required to host AAA 15U, AAA 18U and senior men’s baseball. It would also be great to see the current fields down to 11U get some extra maintenance as well. Camrose should be hosting a provincial baseball tournament if not every year, at least every second year in one of the categories in Baseball Alberta.
The Camrose Minor Ball Association has grown to include a AAA class of baseball which started with a 13U AAA team a few years ago and hopefully will include a 18U AAA in 2020. One major concern will without a doubt be facilities for a 18U AAA team. In Sherwood Park the 18U AAA team works out at least 5x/week and some weeks 6 or 7 workouts once school is out. That level of facility requirement is seen across most of the province with the top U18 AAA programs. If Camrose and the Camrose Minor Ball Association hopes to retain their AAA calibre players, they will need facilities to do so.
For the PBL and senior men’s baseball, Harry Andreassen Field used to be a treat to play on. But after spending a decade playing at places like Legion Field in St Albert, Centennial Park in Sherwood Park, Keller Field in Westlock, Great Chief Park in Red Deer, RCMP Centennial Park in Oyen, Centennial Diamonds in Stony Plain and the Strathcona Athletic Park in Sherwood Park, there is so much more that Camrose needs to keep up. In 2020 it is expected that Harry Andreassen Field will be home to the Camrose Axemen and Camrose Roadrunners of the Powerline Baseball League, the Battle River Bisons of the 30+ Alberta West Central Baseball Association and the Camrose Cougars 18U AA or AAA team. The field is already in desperate need of an upgrade, it will really need one with that much usage next season.