The River Falls Baseball Council and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls are nearing an agreement that would make the First National Bank of River Falls Field the future home of UWRF baseball, …
The River Falls Baseball Council and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls are nearing an agreement that would make the First National Bank of River Falls Field the future home of UWRF baseball, which will be reinstated at the beginning of the 2024-25 academic year.
While monetary compensation and official timetables have yet to be finalized, Greg Peters, who is president of the River Falls Baseball Council Board of Directors, has indicated that the council and UWRF are expected to finalize a two-year, $45,000 per year contract in mid-July.
“That’s what is proposed, but we haven’t signed it yet,” Peters said. “I think it will be finalized in mid-July. That’s what both sides seem to agree on and both sides have been cordial the whole way. I assume it’s going to be good.”
The River Falls Baseball Council, which is led by Peters and vice president Ryan Bishop, along with a dozen other at-large members, calculated the annual cost for UWRF baseball through basic arithmetic regarding operational expenses and wear and tear to the facility.
“We looked at the longevity of the turf and all of the hours and games that will be on there,” Peters said. “That’s how we came up with the number. We’re going to have to replace (the turf) in probably 15 years and that will be a big price tag that we’re responsible for.”
In addition to a full turf replacement sometime in the next 15 years, the River Falls Baseball Council will have to provide smaller replacements annually to the most heavily trafficked areas that won’t survive the more than 600 practices and games per year among all teams.
Those areas include home plate, the pitcher’s mound and second base, all of which will create extra out-of-pocket costs for the River Falls Baseball Council. Peters spoke about how some of those smaller replacements factored into the price negotiations with UWRF.
“There will be needed repairs with home plate, second base and the pitcher’s mound and those will add probably $10,000 to our bills every year with UWRF coming in,” Peters said. “We’re not making money off of it, I’ll tell you that. We’re a non-profit organization, so we’re not supposed to anyway.”
The price negotiations regarding the future home of Falcon baseball came on the heels of UWRF’s announcement that it would be reinstating baseball as a school-sanctioned sport, as was made official by athletic director Crystal Lanning on Thursday, June 1.
“It’s been something that we’ve been discussing for a while, at least since I’ve been athletic director,” Lanning said. “Our new chancellor, Maria Gallo, was looking for new opportunities to grow enrollment and she saw the success of our student-athletes. Not just athletically, but they tend to have better GPAs, retention and graduation rates. We were the only Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) school without baseball, so it made a lot of sense.”
Both Peters and Lanning are closely tied to the future of baseball in River Falls, but they aren’t as deeply ingrained in its history as Josh Eidem, who is one of the at-large members of the River Falls Baseball Council. Eidem is also a player/manager for the River Falls Fighting Fish, the local amateur town ball team that he helped establish in 2008.
The sport is in Eidem’s blood, and his history within River Falls dates back more than two decades, as he was a captain on the University of Wisconsin-River Falls baseball team the year the program got suspended in 2002.
Although the day he found out the baseball program was being suspended was more than two decades ago, Eidem hasn’t forgotten the pain of learning that his dream of playing college baseball for four years was being prematurely extinguished.
Perhaps it’s a testament to how much Eidem loves River Falls and the game of baseball that he could only feel joy and excitement when he learned that UWRF was officially reinstating the sport.
“It’s great, but I was surprised by how excited I was for it to come back,” Eidem said. “When you get a program dropped and you’re a captain on that team, it’s a painful scar. Personally, as an alumnus, it’s a great and surprising level of happiness. For the guys who were a part of that, it’s healing. We can’t wait to sit in the front row and have a drink together before that first game.”
What Eidem went through with the program’s suspension in 2002 is a situation and feeling that he never wants another UWRF baseball player to experience. Because of his involvement with the River Falls Baseball Council and his history as a former captain at UWRF, Eidem has unique insight on how to give the program staying power.
In Eidem’s eyes, it’s not about signing the dotted line and then going separate ways until opening day in the spring of 2025. It’s about integrating the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with the River Falls Baseball Council and vice versa.
For the partnership to work, Eidem believes it truly needs to be exactly that – a partnership. He spoke about what will make this a successful deal between two entities that will further cement baseball’s place in River Falls.
“I think it has to be a true partnership,” Eidem said. “What we’re discussing is not a rental agreement, it’s discussing a contract for a partnership. It’s about how (UWRF) can become part of the baseball council and how the university can feel like the council is meeting their goals and expectations too. I think partnership is the right word and that will make it sustainable.”
The University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the River Falls Baseball Council are slated to finalize contract negotiations in mid-July. No official date has been provided for the next scheduled meeting.