Home plate at Mike Lansing Field was still dirty and scuffed from years of different leagues as Chuck and Mayra Heeman smiled into the empty bleachers.
Three decades in baseball culminated as Chuck Heeman approached the podium. Two years after the Casper Cutthroats were left without a league and never returned despite a promise to do so the following season, Heeman announced he was throwing his hat into the Casper baseball arena.
Casper was one of 10 cities chosen to host a team in the new Expedition League, a collegiate summer wooden bat league.
“We came to Casper the first part of July and my wife and I were here 45 minutes and we said we have to come here,” Heeman said, “we have to live here, we have to make this happen.”
The Heemans own three of the league’s 10 teams. They also own teams in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and Gering, Nebraska. The league is comprised of teams in both the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Ahead of the press conference to announce the Gering team, the Heemans said they moved there and installed temporary offices next to a new baseball field that will be built specifically for the Expedition League team. Offices for all three teams are now open, according to Heeman.
Chuck Heeman was the general manager for two collegiate wooden bat league teams in Oregon during their inaugural seasons but never stayed for more than 14 months. Both the Klamath Falls Gems and Medford Rogues were still active as of the end of the 2017 season.
“The things you look for in a good summer collegiate league team is good demographics, good strong business climate, a lot of families and a great ball park,” Expedition League founder Steve Wagner said. “All of those characteristics exist here in Casper.”
By Wagner’s own estimates there are nearly 40 such wooden bat leagues across the country, home to a combined 450 teams.
The unnamed Casper franchise will play its first home game on May 25, 2018, according to Mayra Heeman. Each team will play 32 home games and 32 road games before the playoffs.
The team will consist of college players from across the country. Chuck Heeman said he has a list of schools committed to sending players that includes: University of Kansas, Creighton University, University of Nebraska-Omaha, University of New Mexico, Minot State, North Dakota State, Colorado College and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
He also said they are in close negotiations with a head coach, which should be announced next week.
With a desire to court the family crowd, Mayra Heeman said the most expensive game ticket would be $9.
“High quality of talent on the field, but what you’ll find is the entertainment factor and the fun factor is off the charts,” Wagner said. “So a lot of really cool between-innings activities. Fan interaction, kids zones, bouncy houses, a lot of opportunities to interact with these kids.”
The team has also worked closely with the local American Legion in order to sync schedules with the Oilers and Roughnecks.
City councilman Jesse Morgan was in attendance as a representative of the city.
He said that while Casper has undergone a lot of new renovations from the new David Street Station and adjacent establishments, what this new team offers is something for all ages.
“People are looking for something affordable and offers a kid-friendly environment,” he said. “I think this fills that need and is something everybody has been looking forward to.”
Mayor Kenyne Humphrey had every intention of being in attendance for the news conference, Morgan specified, but could not make it.
Morgan was in Casper when the Ghosts and Cutthroats both came and went. He saw Casper’s high demand for baseball and is excited about the future for this franchise.
“You saw some of their successes and their shortfalls and you heard some of the hesitation that (American) Legion had to accept the Expedition League,” he said. “They are right to question that. Looking at these successes I think that this is a long-term thing here and I look forward to seeing them be successful here in the community.”