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Steve Wagner, president of the Expedition League told Pierre city commissioners Tuesday evening he was “pretty giddy” about the prospect of summer collegiate baseball being played in Pierre.  (Dave Askins/Capital Journal)

Pierre residents can start swinging away with ideas to name its new, summer, collegiate “wood bat” baseball team, which is expected to begin play towards the end of May 2018.

The Pierre City Commission voted 5-0 at its Tuesday evening meeting to authorize Mayor Steve Harding to sign a five-year lease agreement for Hyde Stadium, with the Expedition League.

League president Steve Wagner told the Capital Journal after the vote that, by the end of September, the team would be named, colors would be selected, and a logo would be designed. Team merchandise also would start to go on sale.

The commission’s vote was less like an empty-bases home run than a solid base hit that drove in a runner standing at third. The runner already on base took the form of a memorandum-of- understanding between the city and Wagner, approved by the commission in early March this year, also on a 5-0 vote.

The memorandum allowed the Expedition League to begin wooing an owner for a team in Pierre. Wagner told the Capital Journal on Tuesday that an owner for Pierre’s team has now been lined up, and will be named at a noon press conference to be held on Friday, Sept. 8, at Hyde Stadium.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Pierre Parks and Recreation Director Tom Farnsworth gave commissioners an overview of the contractual terms of the lease. Protections for Pierre Post 8 Legion Baseball’s use of Hyde Stadium were highlighted in several of the lease terms. For example, scheduling of all non-profit baseball, including Legion play, will take priority over the for-profit Expedition League schedule. That includes scheduling of make-up games for rainouts.

Post 8’s revenue from concessions is also ensured, through reimbursements, even though the Expedition League will now handle all concessions. The menu for Expedition League games will include beer and wine, something that Harding emphasized at Tuesday’s meeting, had been talked over with members of the Hyde family. Advertisements for beer and wine will be covered up for all non-profit games.

Post 8 board member Jim Protexter addressed the commission and expressed support for the lease agreement, saying that the Legion’s concerns had been addressed. Still, he characterized the lease as “taking a leap of faith.”

Protexter allowed that for the Expedition League to play its 32 regular-season home games (plus playoffs and exhibitions for a total of 40), some field time would be lost “for our younger kids.” One consequence of that lost field time, Protexter said, would be a request for improvements at Dan Kelley Field – because many more games would now be played there.

After the meeting, Farnsworth was keen to note that improvements to the Kelley-field facility had been included in the proposed parks-and-rec budget for 2018, which is expected to be adopted in the next few weeks. Those improvements include field lighting, bathrooms, concession facilities and a scoreboard, Farnsworth said.

Pierre is not the first city to sign a lease with the Expedition League for a facility. Already signed are agreements with Brandon (Manitoba, Canada), Minot (North Dakota), Gering/Scottsbluff (Nebraska) and Hastings (Nebraska). On deck to be signed in the next days and weeks, Wagner told the Capital Journal, are agreements with Aberdeen, Spearfish, Rapid City, and Dickinson (North Dakota). Wagner said that an agreement with Casper (Wyoming) is “a little further away”.

Owners of nine of the 10 teams that will be members of the league have been locked in, Wagner said, and he’d heard from the tenth via email on Tuesday with a positive indication.

Recruitment of players and coaches will be the responsibility of a year-round general manager and assistant general manager, Wagner said. But he indicated that Pierre products like Quinn Reimers, Landon Badger and Spencer Sarringar were the kind of players that he hoped would come back and play for Pierre’s Expedition League team.

The name of Pierre’s team will be determined through a contest, Wagner said, and the community will have an opportunity to vote. Anyone who’d like to name the team the “Pheasants” will be disappointed, however. Wagner said that that name has two things going against it. First, every South Dakota team would want that as its nickname.

Second, the Expedition League is hoping to find names for its teams that are fresh and new. As examples of baseball team names that had that kind of appeal, Wagner pointed to the Mankato MoonDogs, a team in Minnesota that plays in the Northwoods League, or the Lansing Lugnuts, a Michigan Class-A minor league baseball team, affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Farnsworth estimated that the economic impact of Expedition League play at the stadium at around $3.5 million – factoring in money spent on gas, food and hotel stays.

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