Red River Pilots coach resigns, dismisses team due to player safety concerns

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GRAND FORKS, ND (KMOT) – Coach Matty Holem said he believes he should have seen the writing on the wall.

“When I was calling coaches recruiting, a lot of guys that I’ve had relationships for years with told me, no, they would not send players here,” said Holem.

When he arrived in Grand Forks for the Red River Pilots’ inaugural season, he said he spent more than $2,000 out of pocket on baseball equipment he believed would be supplied by the team.

“There was no effort put into anything in Grand Forks,” said Holem.

Steve Wagner, the owner of the Expedition League and its four teams, said he told Holem any out-of-pocket expenses will be reimbursed.

Seven franchises left the Expedition League at the end of the last season. Wagner filed a lawsuit against the teams, and the owners countersued.

“I understand what he’s trying to do as a businessman. But this game ultimately belongs to the players. That all comes before the business side of it. Your players have to be taken care of the right way,” said Holem

Wagner said Holem emailed him at 7:30 Wednesday morning informing him of his resignation

“He and I were communicating all the time and then all of a sudden, he decided it’s time to go… if we had a chance to talk to the players, there are a number of players who would have stayed and would have continued to compete,” said Wagner.

In a release Friday morning, Wagner said Holem’s decision to dismiss the players was unauthorized.

Holem said the decision to end the season came down to player safety.

“If they get hurt doing something stupid by playing in that mess or one of these kids throws at our guy and hits him in the face, that’s his education. That’s his scholarship. That’s his career. That’s his life. Those things are more important to me than games in the Expedition League,” said Holem.

The shortest road trips for the Pilots were to Minot, a three-hour drive. The longest were the nearly seven-hour trips to Bancroft, Iowa.

“On the road, it was always pizza, hot dogs, or a loaf of bread with some sandwich meet. (We were told) here, make a sandwich, that’s your dinner for the night… and take a water bottle,” said Pilots pitcher Santiago Gomez.

Wagner refuted that claim.

“We always endeavor to work very hard to provide good and nutritious pregame and postgame meals… I could line up 100 players right now that would attest to that,” said Wagner.

Calvin Canges, an intern who relocated from Tennessee, said he believes Wagner was not entirely to blame.

“I think he cared about everybody there. It’s a lot when you own four teams and you’re trying to make sure everything is running smoothly,” said Canges.

But Holem believes otherwise.

“None of that stuff was of concern to him. It was all about money and him making money. The players across the league come last,” said Holem.

The Souris Valley Sabre Dogs are left with two teams to play; the Pierre Trappers and North Iowa Ragin’ Roosters. Neither team has beaten the Sabre Dogs yet this season.

The Sabre Dogs have outscored Pierre by a 96-run margin so far this season.

RELATED CONTENT: Northwoods League baseball coming to Minot in 2023

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