The Okotoks Dawgs will not be hitting the field to defend their 2019 Western Canadian Baseball League championship as the league announced the cancellation of the upcoming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the league, its board of governors voted unanimously to scrap the season on Wednesday night.
“This difficult decision was based on our number one concern, the health and safety needs of all involved,” the league stated in a press release.
“Following the federal, provincial and municipal government health guidelines and medical recommendations, the league determined it would be impossible to guarantee the safety of players, coaches, umpires, host families, staff, volunteers and fans during the COVID-19 pandemic situation to the extent required by authorities.”
For the Dawgs, the league’s decision was not unexpected but nonetheless disappointing.
“We’re extremely disappointed but we understand that this is a bigger issue than a baseball season and the safety of our players and our fans, our coaching staff and personnel comes first,” Dawgs managing director John Ircandia said. “So we’re onside with the province and the health regulations and it just wasn’t going to work.”
According to Ircandia, the team and the league’s board of governors made every effort to play a shortened season.
However, the U.S.-Canada border closure proved to be the biggest challenge, with many of the Dawgs players and coaches currently with their university and college teams in the United States.
Ircandia said even if the players and coaches could make it across the border, they would be forced to stay in self-isolation for 14 days upon their arrival.
“With the restrictions on mass gatherings, and limited numbers of people, you really couldn’t have that kind of season that we’re used to here,” Ircandia said.
According to the Dawgs, the team draws an average of 4,000 fans per game throughout their 55-game season, both from around Okotoks and Calgary.
The loss of the season will be felt throughout Okotoks, according to town Mayor Bill Robertson, both from a fan standpoint as well as through the local economy.
“When we have a Dawgs game, of course people coming down from Calgary will often come to one of our 80 plus restaurants that we have in Okotoks, support those restaurants, they may fill up with gas and so on,” Robertson said. “That, of course, will be gone this year.”
However, there is some good news for the Dawgs organization this week.
The team’s safety-first practice plan was approved on Monday for the Okotoks Dawgs Academy, the team’s youth development program, to resume on-field practice with health measures in place.
The academy has 125 players enrolled between the ages of 12 and 18 and was holding virtual workouts throughout the pandemic, before players resumed batting practice and skill work on Tuesday.
“So now at least our young academy players, our elite players, are able to get on the field in a safe manner,” Ircandia said. “That’s a key, and if you come here when the kids are all here, you’ll see a lot of smiles on their faces; so its a first step.”
Dawgs season ticket holders are being urged to contact the team office for details on a credit and bonus plan for next season, and their refund policy.