On June 8, 2010 it seemed that preparations for the 2010 Dawgs home opener were in vain due to the torrential downpour that engulfed the town of Okotoks, Alberta. In spite of the wet weather, the spirits of the Okotoks Dawgs fans were not dampened as 2583 fans brought out the rain slickers to watch the Dawgs players tunnel an entire dugout full of water off the field in a pregame ceremony like no other. The local fire department pitched in the water pump and the game got underway as the Dawgs coasted to a 9-2 victory.
When thinking of Canadian sports baseball may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, when the snow blanketing Seaman Stadium melts and field preparations are underway, the anticipation toward the first pitch of a new Dawgs season in Okotoks is like no other. Hockey season is quickly forgotten as the ‘boys of summer’ roll into town for another summer of good ol’ Dawgs baseball.
Fans come out in full-force to cheer on their hometown Dawgs, putting the Dawgs name at the forefront of Canadian summer collegiate baseball and youth development. The Dawgs are the #1 drawing club, professional or otherwise in Alberta and also rank #1 in attendance for summer collegiate baseball in Canada.
The 2010 Dawgs season was the best yet. In fact, this year has marked a significant milestone for the Dawgs summer collegiate team as the 200,000th fan passed through the gates of state-of-the-art Seaman Stadium. The attendance average per game was at an all time high, with about 2,200 fans making their way to Seaman Stadium for each home game.
This latest season of Dawgs baseball has also shattered the single game attendance record, with an astonishing 4,000 fans taking in the Dawgs Canada Day victory and fireworks. Yet, the vision of the Dawgs organization has remained the same since the 1st fan stepped foot on the concourse; to promote the development of youth and collegiate baseball in Canada, as well as to boost interest in the sport on a local and national level.
Such success in the stands has been mirrored by on-field success as the Dawgs captured back-to-back-to-back WMBL Championships from 2007-2009.
Dawgs Managing Director, John Ircandia states that “although our neighboring city comprising of 1 million doesn’t exactly embrace baseball, the positive energy associated with the Okotoks Dawgs is contagious.”
Following a bitter dispute over field usage with the Calgary Vipers, the Western Major Baseball League Dawgs relocated to Okotoks in 2006, a satellite community of Calgary. While the Vipers have since struggled to maintain a consistent fan base, the community has embraced the Dawgs, as well as baseball. The remarkable success story of the Dawgs has not gone undetected, with a full-page feature in Canada’s National Newspaper, The Globe and Mail, hailing the Okotoks Dawgs as a “grassroots baseball phenomenon.”
Although the reasons for such success are difficult to pinpoint, there are likely a myriad of influencing factors. Built in 2007, the new and exceptional facility of Seaman Stadium is truly state of the art. Many have said that it gives real-life meaning to Kinsella’s “if you build it they will come.” Nationally recognized Sportsnet anchor, Mike Toth, described it best for avid baseball fans as, “ a throwback ballpark nestled in the middle of gorgeous farm land, it’s not hard to imagine you’re in Iowa waiting for Shoeless Joe to come striding out of a corn field. But with the passing trains beyond the center field wall, there’s also a touch of big city Baltimore and Camden Yards in the air.”
The design of Seaman Stadium is exceptionally fan and player friendly with a wrap around concourse, 2 concession stands, party decks, a full service press box and a spectacular outdoor training centre featuring 3 outdoor batting cages and a full 4 mount bullpen. With 1800 reserved seats and additional berm/concourse seating, it is an intimate setting that fully engages fans in the action. The stadium presents a lively atmosphere with exceptional game day promotions that keep the fans involved at all times.
“We are very pleased with the exceptional fan response to the 2010 Game day promotions. Once again, Wear Pink to the Park Day, was a inspirational success as over the past 3 years the Dawgs have assisted in raising over $80,000 for Breast Cancer Research through auctioning off game worn jerseys. We are also very pleased to have partnered with over a thousand different charity groups and organizations since our move to Okotoks in 2007. A highlight of the summer was also the 1st annual Dawgs Singles Night which saw Dawgs players answering 1970’s dating game questions, much to the amusement of fans,” said Promotions Director, William Gardner.
However, the old adage “if you build it they will come” fails to take into account the extraordinary support that the Dawgs receive from the community and surrounding area. Both the people and businesses relish in Okotoks’ reputation as a Canadian baseball hub, but this support is not limited to the town alone. Various other communities in the foothills region like High River, Black Diamond, Nanton, Longview, Millerville and others all claim the Dawgs as their own.
In 2010, the Dawgs also received unprecedented support from the big market media in Calgary as local television, radio and newspaper all appear to have discovered the phenomenon of what is going on just 20 miles south. New fans are born everyday as more and more people from Calgary are making the trek down the road to check out the action and the facility. Though the Dawgs are appreciative of the foundation set in Okotoks, it is fantastic to have the opportunity to expand the appeal of baseball in a largely hockey-inclined city.
Managing Director, John Ircandia who founded the Dawgs as a high performance youth club in the mid 1990 has stated that “people in Calgary have become aware of what a jewel Seaman Stadium is. They also are appreciating first-hand the exceptional quality and entertainment value of summer collegiate baseball.”
Not only does the Dawgs organization focus on the collegiate program, but it also boasts a continuously expanding youth program. With the completion of the Duvernay Fieldhouse, a renowned full-service indoor training facility, the development of youth baseball in Canada has never looked so promising.
The Duvernay Fieldhouse features a full-size turf surfaced infield, multiple batting cages, pitching lanes, complete weight room, clubhouse and state of the art computer software and screens for player development. The indoor training facility provides the newly formed Dawgs Baseball Academy and other youth teams with an opportunity to take their skills to the next level. Currently the Dawgs youth program consists of 5 elite teams from Grades 7-12, with the bantam teaming earning a spot in Nationals at the end of August. Therefore, the Dawgs success is not limited merely to the summer collegiate program, but can mature players throughout their baseball careers.
Even with the mounting success and expansion of the Okotoks Dawgs organization, at the end of the day it is all about the young baseball fan that puts on a glove for the first time dreaming of one day becoming an Okotoks Dawg.
Avery Nicole Buye is operations manager for Okotoks Dawgs Baseball (www.dawgsbaseball.ca/).