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Sunshine League to see shake-up heading into new season

The Sunshine League is line for a shakeup for its 72nd season of amateur baseball this summer.

A new team is forming in Wagner, while the Mitchell Mad Dogs and the Parkston Bullheads are not going to play in 2017, South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association District 5B Commissioner Bill Ernster said this week.

That will bring the league down from nine teams in 2016 to eight teams, with Wagner joining Alexandria, Corsica-Stickney, Dimock-Emery, Mount Vernon, Parkston Mudcats, Platte and Winner-Colome.

Wagner, which will be nicknamed the Rockets, will have an amateur baseball team for the first time in decades, although the last year for the team is not known. They were previously in the Sunshine League, which made the league a logical fit for their return.

Ray Johnson, of Avon, will manage the team. He has umpired many area games and is a former baseball player himself, playing until he was 48. Johnson said Wagner has benefitted by having a crop of strong teener and Legion players in recent years, who will likely make up most of the amateur roster.

"We had a couple of kids that had the initiative to get a team going and they've ordered the caps and the shirts. They got me on board to manage the team," Johnson said. "We've still got some things to figure out before the season but I know we've got players that are looking forward to playing."

Johnson said upgrades have been made to Heinnes Park in Wagner to improve the city's primary baseball field. The infield was recently re-sodded and a new sprinkler system has been installed. In addition to the mostly Wagner team, a few Avon players are expected to play and the two towns' high school students currently play in a co-op, as well.

"We'll put the team together and we'll see how we do," Johnson said. "I think it will be good to have an amateur team in the area once again."

Ernster said both the Mad Dogs' and Bullheads' team representatives said there wouldn't be enough players this season to field a team. The Mad Dogs were the only amateur baseball team in Mitchell and competed in Class A, while the Class B Bullheads had a roster of players age 38 and older while competing in the Sunshine League.