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O’Fallon Hoots excited to bring back local baseball

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of all things baseball this spring, the O’Fallon Hoots reached out to St. Charles County youth teams to see if they could fill a need.

After discussions with St. Charles County, the Hoots decided to make their field available to local youth clubs to rent for games and practices.

“One thing that I think we’ve done a great job with is that we’ve tried to work with everybody that we possibly can to try and find an hour [or] two hours if we have it available in our schedule,” Hoots general manager David Schmoll said. “We want to make it so that we give everybody the opportunity to get on the field and be able to play. If we have that time period [open] and there’s somebody that wants it, we’re gonna work with them to try and figure out a way to be able to get them on the field and rent that time because we know these kids are missing baseball.”

Because of the club’s ability to charge for field time, it did not need to rely on federal relief funds to help it maintain operations during the pandemic.

One team that has benefitted from getting time to play at CarShield Field is the STL Patriots.

STL Patriots meet before their game on Thursday, May 21 at CarShield Field. [Steven Keating photo]

The Patriots, a homeschool organization, fields teams from seventh grade through high school.

Patriots coach Mark Valle reached out to The Hoots last fall when the Prospect League team first set up shop in O’Fallon. He reached out again in early May to get his teams back on the field.

It has been a welcome opportunity for the Patriots so far.

“We’ve played a couple of games there earlier this week which was really nice,” Valle said in mid-May. “None of the municipalities, like St. Peters or O’Fallon, will let you reserve a field right now [so] it’s about the only place in town you can reserve a field.”

Valle said the Hoots have made field rental and use very easy.

“They were very hospitable. They just gave us some rules to follow and that was about it,” Valle said. “It was just like normal baseball, honestly.”

For Patriots players, such as senior catcher Nick Rudin and senior outfielder Matthew Keating, getting to play some games this spring was a major break from being stuck hitting in the backyard or working out at home in the basement or garage.

“I feel very fortunate to get to play because a lot of high schoolers just [had their season] ended abruptly and didn’t get to finish at all. It’s really sad for us seniors that did not get to play,” Rudin, of Dardenne Prairie, said. “I just feel very happy that I get to finish off with my teammates.”

Matthew Keating takes a swing during a Patriots game on May 21 at CarShield Field. [Steve Keating photo]

Keating echoed those sentiments.

“It means everything,” Keating said. “I feel so fortunate that we were able to get some games in at CarShield because a lot of teams around the area can’t play. To get to play with my teammates right before the summer season starts is huge and to finish on a good note is huge instead of [baseball] being ended by the coronavirus.”

Schmoll noted that more than two dozen teams are using the field during the week for practices or games.

“We’re very blessed to have the turf here and that we can work through these types of things,” Schmoll said.

As the start of the Hoots’ season looms large — just over a month away on July 1 — the team is thrilled to be able to fill the void left when the River City Rascals ceased operations in O’Fallon last fall.

“This is incredibly exciting,” Schmoll said of the upcoming inaugural season. “A couple of our staff members were with the Rascals and obviously we had really high hopes and high expectations at the end of last season for what we could do for the Rascals in 2020. When it all fell apart, we didn’t know what was going to happen and when we got the opportunity to move over with the Hoots, it was incredibly exciting.”

While the coronavirus has been challenging, Schmoll said the team has been fortunate.

“We were really excited to get started here at the end of March and then coronavirus hit. It’s been challenging for sure to try and navigate everything but we’ve been fortunate in St. Charles County that we’ve been able to utilize our facility for a lot of different events while still maintaining all of our social distancing and necessary protocols from state and local agencies.

The Hoots inaugural season slogan is “More than A Game”.

“The all-inclusive experience is something we really wanted to bring to O’Fallon,” Schmoll said, adding that is builds “value for fans.”

One big way the Hoots plan to achieve that goal is with their Hoot and Holler mini plans.

The mini plan is a five-game package that includes all-you-can-eat food and soft drinks plus reserved seating to five of the biggest theme night games, including superhero/princesses, Star Wars and fireworks. Replica jerseys also will be available on those dates.

“We wanted … a package available to [fans] that once they pay for it, [they] don’t have to pay for anything else when [they] get into the ballpark,” Schmoll said.

“We also have a free parking option, so you can park across the street and take the bridge straight over,” Schmoll said. “So you can … come over, walk right in, get your wrist band, get all you can eat at the concession stand and … get your replica Hoots jersey. So, you’ve got your merchandise, your ticket, your food all paid for.”

The Hoots also will have single-game tickets, group tickets, suite tickets, and Family and Friends Nights tickets available during the season.

Schmoll said he hopes this season will help start a great relationship down the line with local youth teams.

“We want to partner with [them] and in a weird way it’s been great because we have had so many different teams coming to our facility now to practicing and play. [Our focus is] really working with those guys and seeing what they need [from us],” Schmoll said. “Also, we want to get out to the local athletic events, get involved in those whether it’s bringing our mascot and some players when we have the ability to do that and making all those connections and finding out how we can best serve them.”

The Hoots are slated to open the 2020 season on July 1. Schmoll said the Summer Prospect League, which the team plays in is hoping to have a schedule finalized sometime in early June.

The Summer Prospect League is a College Wood Bat League with teams in Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and West Virginia.

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