By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Since 2007, Dom Dinelle has wanted to found a professional baseball team.
Now, with the official kickoff of Chatham-Kent’s yet-to-be named Intercounty Baseball League team, his 15-year vision is coming true.
“Baseball has been a passion for all my life,” a beaming Dinelle told a crowd gathered at the Ewald Homes Field House at Fergie Jenkins Field Friday to mark the announcement. “This has been my dream for a very, very long time.”
The new addition is the ninth team in the IBL, with the first pitch expected to be thrown in 2024. Between 20 to 25 home games will take place in Chatham.
Next year will be a busy one for the management team. Renovations at the field will continue, player recruitment will take place, and a roster of community helpers will be built.
When it comes to supporters, Dinelle has some big-league help. Two of Chatham’s most famous native sons are stepping up in support. Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins has agreed to serve as the team’s honourary president, and former Montreal Expo Bill Atkinson has been named team ambassador.
Dinelle was effusive in his praise of Mayor Darrin Canniff’s leadership, the support from Chatham-Kent council and staff, Chatham-Kent Minor Baseball, and the backing of IBL administrators and other team owners.
With the cost of operating the team running at about $400,000 annually, the team is also on the hunt for corporate sponsorships. The team hopes to attract between 15,000 to 20,000 fans in the first season.
A contest to name the team was also announced Friday and the public is invited to participate. Entries will be received until Jan. 20, with the winner taking home a family season pass.
The team’s general manager will be named in the spring, Dinelle said, and player recruitment will follow. Local players will get a chance to try out, but management will be looking for talent around the globe.
Dinelle, a resident of Trois Rivieres, Que., has deep roots in the game. He played professionally for 12 years, coached professionally and was an amateur scout for the Expos and the Miami Marlins.
Mark Jackson, executive assistant to the president, said the team’s mission is to provide Chatham-Kent with “high-level” baseball, building a long-lasting legacy the entire community can be proud of.
Dinelle said he “fell in love” with Chatham-Kent right away when he visited in 2020, adding he was impressed with the facilities at Fergie Jenkins Field and the minor baseball program.
He said he didn’t understand why “nobody had showed up” yet to start a professional team.
“It’s a baseball place. We have legends and a nice facility,” Dinelle said, noting the field is “as good” as any minor league team.
“Even today in December, it’s like a pool table,” he said of the diamond, joking, “we don’t see that in Quebec.”
Dinelle said the games will be a family-centred experience and will include a host of fun activities, including live entertainment.
“We have many other surprises in store,” he added.