It wasn’t perfect, but perhaps that was the beauty of it.
Fans gathered together in Sylvan Lake, many for the first time in 15 months. What a beautiful sight.
The baseball, like the stadium, was beautiful at times and imperfect at others.
The playing surface at Gulls Field looked spectacular, but the concession stands and washrooms were temporary, the scoreboard hadn’t arrived, ads hadn’t yet made it onto the outfield fences, and live scoring wasn’t available.
“We have to consider the weekend a success. If you had have told me on Wednesday, that we were even going to play this weekend, I would have called you a liar. We had a lot of things to do at that point, but we got them done,” said Gulls president of baseball operations and GM Aqil Samuel.
“At the end of the day, I’m seeing stuff I’m not happy with, but the fans are happy, the reaction has been pretty good. Great place to start, we just have to get better from here.”
Indeed the people were happy, fans were finally in seats with their family, cheering, laughing and decked out in Gulls’ gear, watching live sports – imperfectly perfect.
Even if there were only 300 or so socially distanced fans allowed into Gulls Field at Pogadl Park for each game over the weekend, it felt like much more.
“It’s all a learning experience. We’re trying to make it a good viewer experience for the fans at the same time,” said co-founder and CEO Graham Schetzsle, who bought the team along with his wife Jen.
“It’s all positive. (The fans) are blown away and they’re happy with where we are at now. They don’t necessarily understand what this will look like in two or three years when you get the scoreboard and the additional bleachers. There’s lots more to come.”
They’ll expand to 900 fans and maybe more by late summer. Without large gatherings over the last year, it still felt like a packed house for all three games over the weekend.
When the team welcomes the Okotoks Dawgs on July 2, there will be more fans welcomed into the park.
“We want to get ready for the phase 3 reopening, we’re not quite ready to host that many people yet. We’re going to get there. We got our feet wet this weekend and ready to jump into the pool in July,” Samuel said.
The Gulls couldn’t come through in the Western Canadian Baseball League opener Friday, only to capture the franchise’s first-ever shutout victory, 6-0, one night later over the Okotoks Dawgs Red.
In the baking sun on Sunday, another milestone – the first extra-innings game in franchise history, albeit a nail-biting 12-10 loss to the Edmonton Prospects.
Sylvan Lake led 1-0 through three but trailed 4-1 after four.
Nolan Weger brought the fans alive in the sixth with a three-run homer to left field that tied that game at four.
Edmonton roared back, piling on five more runs in the seventh to break the game open.
The Gulls still chipped away, as Tyler McWillie cashed in one run in the bottom of the inning before they tied the game at 10 in the eighth – first, a three-run blast courtesy of Kyle Froelich and a two-run shot from Red Deer’s Cooper Jones. Jones also had a double and scored in the seventh.
Fans got their first taste of extra innings in Sylvan Lake and the WCBL starts uses a unique rule, with runners starting on first and second.
Edmonton scored one run with a single in the top of the 10th and another with two out. Sylvan Lake couldn’t push a run across in their half of the 10th and picked up their second loss of the season.
Left-hander Evan Wilde started on the mound for the Gulls, allowing four runs. Red Deer’s Jared Arnold also pitched in the contest for the home side Sunday, allowing three runs in his two-plus innings of work.
Red Deer’s Cleary Simpson had a pair of hits Sunday and also had the franchise’s first home run earlier in the weekend.
In the end, the weekend wasn’t everything the organization envisioned. Still, in a time when nothing is normal, a return to something that felt a little like normal was special in its own way. After all, the Gulls legacy won’t be fully written after one weekend. But it’s started and for now, that’s enough.
The Gulls will be back on the diamond Tuesday night against the Prospects, with first pitch set to fly at 6:05 p.m. at Pogadl Park.