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New summer collegiate baseball league plans to have teams in Rapid City, Spearfish

Chris Huber Journal staff Sep 5, 2017 Updated 15 hrs ago

Steve Wagner can almost hear the crack of wooden baseball bats echoing through the Black Hills next summer.

The 54-year-old Minnesotan is starting a new summer collegiate wooden bat baseball league, and he plans on having teams in Rapid City and Spearfish. 

"We know for sure we will have a team in Spearfish for 2018, and we are very hopeful we will have one in Rapid City as well," Wagner said. 

The new Expedition League will be headquartered on Kansas City Street in Rapid City, and its inaugural season is scheduled for summer 2018. Wagner said the teams will feature some of the best college baseball players in the country.

During a phone interview last week, Wagner said the Expedition League is close to finalizing a lease agreement with the city of Spearfish for the use of Black Hills Power Field. He expects that deal to be completed by mid-September, and a news conference will take place in the coming weeks to announce the team. 

"We will introduce the ownership, and fans will have a chance to vote on the team name. It should be a lot of fun." Wagner said.

In Rapid City the situation remains a bit more fluid. The league is eyeing McKeague Field, but Wagner said the facility needs $1.5 million to $2 million in upgrades, which would include stadium seats and a larger concession area.

"We are hoping for a joint public and private partnership on the upgrades, but we will have to see how that shakes out," he said.

If that partnership doesn't happen right away, Wagner said a Rapid City Expedition League team could play at McKeague Field next summer and the upgrades could be made in the next few years. 

Rapid City spokesman Darrell Shoemaker said the city has been approached by organizers about the league, but it's still early in the process. Shoemaker said specific questions about funding and leasing issues couldn't be answered until after a formal presentation has been made. 

"A number of issues will be considered, reviewed and discussed at various levels during this process, including field usage, parking availability, lease arrangements, etc.," Shoemaker said in an email. "The city council ultimately would decide whether to authorize the city to enter into an agreement for lease of McKeague Field, which is currently under lease with Rapid City High School Baseball."

The idea of creating the Expedition League started a few years ago while Wagner was still working at a management consulting business in Minnesota.

"I'm a finance guy by trade, but if you can combine baseball and business, that's the best of both worlds," Wagner said. 

He saw similar leagues throughout the country but noticed there was a gap in the Dakotas, western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. 

"There are a lot of fantastic ballparks in those areas, and after spending some time there we figured this league could be something that's really great for both the communities and baseball players," Wagner said.

Several towns throughout the region have already signed deals to join the league and have lease agreements with ballparks in place.

Wagner expects the 2018 season will have teams in Spearfish, Pierre, Aberdeen; Minot and Dickson, N.D.; Brandon, Manitoba; Gering and Hastings, Neb.; and — if all goes as planned — Rapid City. A team in Casper, Wyo., is also possible, but Wagner said that team looks more likely for the 2019 season. The league could ultimately grow to as many as 20 teams.

"Some leagues like this around the country are bush league, for lack of a better word," Wagner said, noting that won't be the case with the Expedition League. "What I love about baseball, it's a very social event, we will have outstanding talent on the field. The between (inning) activities will also be very fun for the fans."

Players will come from Division I and Division II NCAA schools from across the country, but Wagner also hopes local collegiate players can come back and play for their hometown team during the summer.

"With the strength of Post 22 and Post 320, I think we can have some really good kids to come back and play for the summer," he said. 

Teams will play a 64-game season from late May through mid-August and will be split into two divisions: a Lewis league in the north and the Clark league in the south. There would be an all-star game midseason and playoffs toward the end of summer.

"We are playing six games a week on average over the course of that season," Wagner said.

Players won't be paid so they can maintain their amateur status, and they would stay with host families. The main draw for the players will be more exposure to professional scouts in hopes of getting drafted by a Major League club. 

The Expedition League won't be the first amateur league in state history. The Basin League operated in 11 South Dakota cities starting in 1953. The amateur league was mostly made up of college baseball stars but also featured a handful of former Major League players. The league lasted for more than 20 seasons and produced future stars such as Bob Gibson, Frank Howard and Don Sutton.

Read the original article HERE

Kody Bybee