You wouldn’t expect the president of a sports organization to billet players out of their own house or fund the team out of their own pocket.
That’s not the case with Gary Brotzel.
Both himself and Bernie Eiswerth have been paramount in ensuring the success of the Regina Red Sox baseball team ever since the organization came to be in 2005.
In fact, Brotzel still goes as far as picking up the beer for the team’s annual dinner and auction.
“Three or four of us meet at the Normanview Liquor store and basically fill up my truck with liquor. That’s priority number one,” the president says with a laugh.
The growth of the team and their annual fundraiser hasn’t always been a walk in the ballpark like it is today.
“We knew in May 2005 we needed to raise $60,000,” Brotzel says about meeting his team’s budget.
“I’ve been to a few similar dinners. I thought maybe it will work for us.”
The first dinner was held in ’05 at the Travelodge. With 160 in attendance, the dinner didn’t raise an overwhelming amount, but still more than what Brotzel expected.
“I was going to be happy if we made $5,000 on it. I think we made eight, which is unbelievable,” he adds.
Brotzel says in the team’s early days, due to lottery license requirements, the money from the event had to go to meals, equipment, and travel, which are the “bare necessities.
“The first year, we took two vans – two 15 passenger vans, which the coaches drove, and we packed the players, and all our gear in the two vans, and away we went,” he says.
“We actually did that for two years, and we realized that wasn’t a safe or efficient way to travel. We were worried about liability and everything else. It was just an accident waiting to happen.”
In 2006, the event venue was changed to the Austrian Club to accommodate 300 people, which helped the organization clear a $13,000 profit. The following year, the Red Sox held their dinner at the Italian Club where they broke the $20,000 mark for the first time.
Brotzel’s duties as president aren’t as intense as they used to be. Surrounding him is a volunteer support system that believes in Regina’s baseball organization.
Volunteers, like Sharon Clarke, have a personal connection to the team.
“My son was part of the Red Sox team in year one,” Clarke says.
“That sort of got me involved and I’ve known Bernie forever – from another life.”
Clarke is currently the organization’s chairperson of the dinner committee. Her, along with the team’s board of directors, took the dinner to the next level in 2008 when they called upon former Montreal Expos pitcher from 1973-1985, Steve Rogers, to speak at the event.
Getting him to the city didn’t quite go as planned. Clarke, along with fellow volunteer and board of director Nancy Legard, had to drive through a blizzard to Saskatoon to pick Rogers up.
“We flew him in to Saskatoon the first day, and then discovered we couldn’t get him here by plane the next day without having him go to Toronto. So, Nancy and I drove up, spent the night in the hotel, went to the Saskatoon dinner and brought him back the next day… He was absolutely awesome,” Clarke remembers.
The brisk Saskatchewan weather didn’t scare away the Jefferson City, Missouri product, though.
“While we were driving down there, there was a howling blizzard. Definitely were in whiteout conditions,” Rogers recalls with a laugh via phone call from New York.
“It was one of those deals where coming as far north, there was plenty of snow to be had, but the city was definitely beautiful… I’m from the Midwestern in the States, and I felt very comfortable there with the pace of life, and the people, and the friendliness. It was very Midwest-feeling.”
The five-time MLB All-Star adds the dinner is similar to many he’s been to in the past, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“You couldn’t tell whether it was in Regina, you couldn’t tell whether it was in Vancouver, or you couldn’t tell whether it was in Chicago. In other words, you want that level of sophistication to transcend that it’s in one of the Western provinces and that’s what I think they did,” he explains.
“I would say it’s a testament to all the hard work that the organizers put into building those early dinners that they were able to match that level of sophistication.”
Rogers was the first of many MLB alumni to take the stage at the Turvey Centre as a guest of the dinner. Tommy John, who closed out his career with the New York Yankees, spoke the following year. The event also saw Jesse Barfield, Duane Ward, and most recently, Jose Canseco.
The 2014 dinner saw roughly $11,500 increase from the pervious year – the largest it has ever been. Brotzel says the $43,000 raised by the dinner goes almost entirely to paying for the team’s bus fees.
“Just Regina to Weyburn is $1,200. So, it adds up,” he chuckles.
“It doesn’t take long to chew through that money.”
Other funds come from the team’s annual Big Apple Raffle, merchandise, and game day vendor sales. Very little of it goes to the team’s personnel. The president says the only paid employees are those who work in the press box on game days. Even he, a founder of the organization, doesn’t take a paycheck.
“I enjoy baseball and I want to see good baseball stay in Regina,” Brotzel humbly says about his dedication to the team.
“I tend to live the years where there was none. People, I think, would miss it if it went away.”