Baseball Breakup Leaves College Summer Ball in Limbo Across Nebraska

4 de Mayo de 2022 a las 05:00 ·

Pioneers team photo after the last game of 2019. Baseball team photo on the grass of a baseball field with a night sky behind them.
The Western Nebraska Pioneers pose for a photo after the last game of the 2019 season. (Photo courtesy Pioneers Baseball)

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Next week, three college baseball summer league teams in Nebraska head to court with the organization they separated from. The teams are fighting to keep summer baseball in their Nebraska communities.

Seven total teams around the Midwest from four states will defend their right to play in a new league. That includes the Western Nebraska Pioneers in Gering, the Hastings Sodbusters, and the Fremont Moo.

Recently, the seven teams announced they wanted to leave the Expedition League and start their own association, called the Independence League.

The Expedition League went to court in Pennington, South Dakota. It’s seeking an injunction to keep the defectors from playing in a new league this summer.

The lawsuit claims the defecting teams cannot use the same logos and names in a competing association. The Expedition League believes they’re entitled to $1.4 million in dues and fees from the departing ball clubs.

Western Nebraska Pioneers home stadium and crowd.
Western Nebraska Pioneers' field is owned and leased out by the City of Gering. (Photo courtesy Pioneers Baseball)

Chuck Heeman and his wife, Mayra, own and operate the Pioneers baseball club in the panhandle town of Gering. Chuck explains why they left the Expedition League.

“The way that players were being treated by the teams that are owned by the other league,” Heeman said. “There's a lot of stories that came out about player treatment, player revolts, vendors not getting paid, staff not getting paid. A lot of things that came out, and, you know, there's a lot of things that didn't come out.”

Heeman said the Independence League would be different. Everyone will have a voice. No league office will impose decisions.

The departing teams released a list of articles describing poor money management and communication about travel and food accommodations for a team in Butte, Montana. The team's owner also runs the Expedition League.

Expedition League

The court records on file claim the Expedition League held up its part of the contract.

Terrance W. Moore, attorney for the Expedition League, said Heeman’s claims about the league are nonspecific and untrue.

Moore said his client will operate this summer, regardless of the outcome of the case.

“Absolutely! The Expedition league is playing,” Moore said. “The number of teams is unknown at this point, but they will have at least five teams and perhaps more.”

Currently, the Expedition League’s website lists only four members. If the injunction is approved, it’s unlikely the defecting teams would play at all this year.


Scott Golusha, general manager and owner of the Hastings Sodbusters, said his team hasn’t changed goals since breaking away. ‘Behind-the-scenes’ differences were the demise of their former partnership, Golusha said.

“All the teams that moved away from the Expedition League are owned inside or right around the communities,” Golusha said, “and we just feel like community is more important than some of the other factors.”

Creating the Independence League was the best choice for his baseball club and the Hastings community, according to Golusha. He said the defecting teams plan on studying its values, fixed on creating a strong athletic franchise.

“It’s about treating people the right way, and it’s entertainment,” Golusha said. “And, obviously we want to be profitable, but I'm not going to sacrifice my standards of how I treat people and what we try to do, in order to better my bottom line.”

Golusha said he’s thankful the Expedition League brought summer baseball to Hastings. He’s also proud of the team’s reputation in the community and believes it’s strengthened by breaking away.


Pioneers’ owner Chuck Heeman said, if Gering doesn’t play baseball this season, the result could be catastrophic for his family and community.

“It would be pretty devastating to, obviously, our business, if we can't play. My wife and I - we don't have another job. It's not like we do this as a hobby. This is our job,” Heeman said. “Our job is to bring this thing to our community, so it would be pretty devastating. Would we survive it for the future? I really, honestly don't know that, because I've never been through this situation where you might sit out a year and come back.”

Heeman said the Pioneers need an answer soon, so they can notify fans and stakeholders.

Western Nebraska Pioneers ballpark aerial shot from a drone.
An aerial photo of the Western Pioneers baseball field in Gering, Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of Pioneers Baseball)

City Leases

In February, the City of Gering received a letter from the Expedition League - warning the city would be liable for breach of lease, if it allows the Pioneers to play. The City of Gering owns and leases the Pioneers Field. The city said in a statement in late March, it fears no compromise between the Pioneers and Expedition League can be reached before the season starts.

The city released a statement in April, too. It stated the city's confidence a new agreement could bring baseball to Gering this summer.

Heeman said the city and the baseball team agreed on a new contract and signed it last week. Heeman believes the new lease will allow the Pioneers to play this summer, no matter the court’s ruling.

Sodbusters’ owner Scott Golusha said the city of Hastings continues working toward a similar deal.

Heeman’s confident all parties can get what they want - and all he wants is baseball.

“Those of us in the Independence League - we do this because we love it,” Heeman said. “You know, we’re not doing it to get rich, ‘cause we’re never going to get rich doing this. We do it because we love doing it.”

A court date scheduled for Monday, May 9th, will decide the Independence League’s fate - just weeks before its season is scheduled to start on May 24th.