Homeless again: Stockade, Pecos League bid farewell to Salina

Arne Green
Garden City Telegram
The Salina Stockade's Mario Alston delivers a pitch against the Garden Cty Wind on June 2 at Clint Lightner Field in Garden City. The Stockade announced Tuesday that they will not play any home games in Salina this season, with those games being played in Colby.

Stockade home games moved to Colby

Salina Stockade, we hardly knew ye.

The Stockade, scheduled to return to Salina this summer as a member of the independent Pecos League, announced Tuesday that it will not be back after all.

"We're not going to be able to play in Salina this year," Pecos League commissioner Andrew Dunn said. "It's not going to work out because of a combination of housing for our players and other issues."

Because of availability issues with Dean Evans Stadium, the Stockade were not scheduled to make their first appearance in Salina until July 14, well past the halfway point of the 62-game season. They played two early home games in Colby and have been on the road since, with just a dozen games slated for Evans Stadium in July and August.

Those home games now will be moved to Colby, Dunn said.

Dunn added that a lack of cooperation from controlling interests at Dean Evans Stadium, which recently underwent a privately funded $1.8 million renovation, was primarily to blame.

"I would say the biggest obstacle there is the group that controls the stadium does not want us there. There's no secret to that," he said, referring indirectly to Salina Athletic Partners, a group comprised of Salina Baseball Enterprises, Kansas Wesleyan University and Salina USD 305 schools that funded the stadium project. "The group that runs baseball there has made it clear that they don't want us there and it's definitely not going to make it in a community that they control the baseball there.

"They invested in it and they made it very clear to the city and anyone that would listen that they don't want us there, period."

Not true, said Byron Tomlins, who represents Baseball Enterprises on an advisory committee that helps set policies for the stadium. It was Tomlins and Kenny Hancock on behalf of Baseball Enterprises, which runs the Salina American Legion baseball program, who spearheaded the stadium fundraising drive.

"Basically, when you say 'in charge,' the city of Salina owns the diamond and the parks and recreation department is in charge of it," Tomlins said. "Our committee is supportive. We just meet once a month to discuss how we can do things as well as we can.

"But this committee has no power of control. It's just a policy reviewing committee that gives feedback to the recreation department on the baseball diamonds."

Other committee members are Kris Upson, executive director of operations for USD 305, and Kansas Wesleyan athletics director Steve Wilson, along with Salina city staff.

"Our concern was (the Stockade) bringing in a lot of kids that had no ties to Salina and didn't really care about Salina, and we wanted them to make sure our field rules were followed to take care of the stadium," Tomlins said of his dealings with Dunn and the Pecos League. "That's all we said.

"He had many complaints about that they couldn't get residences for their players, and if you ask a lot of the people that housed their players (previously), they didn't take care of the houses they were staying in. I think that program has multiple problems and they're looking for a scapegoat."

Travis Scheele, recreation superintendent for Salina Parks and Recreation, said Tuesday that the city was ready for the Stockade's arrival before Dunn pulled the plug.

"I just know from the city's standpoint that we had the games scheduled and had them staffed with (public address) announcers and that their schedule fit within the confines of what we had available," Scheele said. "I can't speak to some of the issues (Dunn) experienced on that end.

"I believe from his standpoint and ours, we were happy with the relationship."

Dunn said he had no beef with Salina city officials.

"I talked to the city manager (Mike Schrage) and I talked to Travis (Scheele) and I talked to (Parks and Recreation director Chris) Cotten and that's it," Dunn said. "The city of Salina is very welcoming to us, (but) they don't necessarily control all the elements of the deal, so that's where it is."

The Stockade has a six-year history with Salina, though mostly in name only. The team joined the Pecos League in 2016 along with Great Bend and Topeka and played 10 true home games before, but dropped out when the other two teams folded.

Instead, the Pecos League adopted the established Stockade name and brand for a travel team created to fill a vacancy in the independent American Association, which included teams in Wichita and Kansas City. That team played six games at Evans Stadium, but as the visitor.

In 2018, the Stockade filled a similar role in the CanAm League, and the following season in the Pacific Association. Last year it was back in the Pecos League, but again as a traveling team.

"The Stockade have always found a way to survive and it's a popular name in the minor leagues, even if it's not well known in Salina," Dunn said.

The Stockade have struggled mightily on the field this year, winning just two of their first 25 games, including a 20-game losing streak.

In addition to finding host families for the team's players during their home stands, Dunn had raised concerns about the stadium shoe policy of not allowing steel spikes on the newly installed artificial turf. According to Tomlins, that was not necessarily a deal-breaker, as teams are welcome to apply for an exception.

But that was not necessarily a deal-breaker, according to Tomlins.

"Our college teams, we've given an exemption, but you have to apply for it, and that was a big problem, I guess," Tomlins said. "(Dunn) never applied for it, he never got back to me. He said he was going to come and talk to our committee on the field and he never did.

"We welcome any users of Dean Evans. We had nothing against him and just told him he must follow the rules and that he needed to assure us that they could. He chose never to come and meet with us."

And so the Stockade are moving on, still with the Salina name but no other local connection.

"The sad thing is Dean Evans is beautiful," Dunn said. "It's a beautiful place and a beautiful place for baseball, but right now we're not ready for them and they're not ready for us."