Seven teams have broken away from the summer-collegiate Expedition League to form a new summer-collegiate circuit, the Independence League.
The teams in the new league: Badlands Big Sticks (Dickinson, ND), Canyon County Spuds (Caldwell, ID), Casper Horseheads (Casper, WY), Fremont Moo (Fremont, NE), Hastings Sodbusters (Hastings, NE), Spearfish Sasquatch (Spearfish, SD) & Western Nebraska Pioneers (Gering, NE).
According to an Independence League press release, the league is looking to immediately expand for 2022 into additional markets with new operators.
Five Expedition League teams are not part of the move: Mining City Tommyknockers (Butte, MT), Souris Valley Sabre Dogs (Minot, ND), Wheat City Whiskey Jacks (Brandon, MB), Pierre Trappers (Pierre, SD) and Sioux Falls Sunfish (Sioux Falls, SD). All five teams were owned or co-owned and operated by league founders Steve Wagner (league president) and Connie Wagner.
The move of the seven teams comes after an unsettling end to the season for the Mining City Tommyknockers, which debuted this season at 3 Legends Stadium. The team canceled its last six games on Aug. 1 with no explanation, and two weeks ago Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher recommended that the 3 Legends Stadium lease be severed for several issues, including a nonpayment of the lease and poor conditions in the shared concessions stand, per the Montana Standard:
Gallagher said the “nail in the coffin” for him came several weeks ago when organizers of Little Guy Football called to say the Tommyknockers had left the interior of the concession stand at the Copper Mountain Sports Complex in shambles.
“We were entertaining that it was possible for this (team and organization) to come back and be successful, and you know, repair the damages, but they eventually packed up and left,” Gallagher told The Montana Standard on Monday.
“When I went up to the concession stand at Copper Mountain, they left rotting food, they left beer out, they left all kind of things just there, and I said, ‘There is no way I can support these owners and this league anymore. I can’t endorse them ever coming back to Butte again.’”
The actions by Gallagher also killed a proposal for an Expedition League team in Helena, MT; officials there closed down talks about a lease for Kindrick Legion Field: “After we had some conversations with the Butte-Silver Bow parks department and their city executives, we decided that it wasn’t quite the right fit or the right time to have the Expedition League in Helena,” City Parks and Recreation Director Kristi Ponozzo told 406MTSports.com. “There were quite a few challenges that the Expedition League had in Butte and we just didn’t feel like it was prudent for us to have them here at this time.” Still to be determined: the future of a potential Expedition League teams in Grand Forks, ND, and Laramie, WY.
The response from Steve Wagner when the problems were first brought to his attention was that the team was aware of issues, had instituted corrective measures to address them, and that he certainly wanted to return to Butte in 2022 while working to bring in new ownership and management. Complicating things: the team was run by his son, Dane Wagner, who was arrested hours after Gallagher’s announcement for allegedly taking a space heater from a mental-health clinic operating in the same Butte building as the team offices. From the Montana Standard:
The baseball club also has an office in the building at 22 West Park, but when police arrived shortly before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Wagner was sleeping in a vacant office and using a space heater taken from the Alpenglow Clinic, a chemical dependency and mental health facility in the same building.
“He was sleeping in an office with no furniture and a few toiletries and some clothing and a blanket,” Sheriff Ed Lester said, citing information from a police report.
Lester said Wagner, 36, had no business being in the clinic but an employee there had seen him on surveillance video “looking around the receptionist counter” and called police.