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Bellingham Bells to host return of WCL All-Star Game

Event will be July 16–17 at Joe Martin Field

The Bellingham Bells
The Bellingham Bells will host the 2024 WCL All-Star Game with a two-day event at Joe Martin Field July 16–17. Bellingham last hosted the event in 2015, and its last edition was pre-pandemic in 2019. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Connor J. Benintendi Sports Editor

Bellingham’s athletic footprint — and its fans — will receive a boost in exposure after the city’s West Coast League baseball team, the Bellingham Bells, was selected to host the league’s 2024 all-star event.

The WCL All-Star Game will return this season after a four-year hiatus due to COVID-19 and subsequent recovery priorities by the league. The two-day event will be held on July 16–17, and was last hosted in Bellingham in 2015. 

“It’s an opportunity for Bellingham and Whatcom County to really show the entire West Coast League, and the nation, on some degree … just how much our fans support our team, because I’ve always been very impressed at how loyal people are and the crowds that we get,” Bellingham Bells General Manager Stephanie Morrell said.

The game, which will feature the WCL’s top players just past the midway point of the regular season, is set for a 6:35 p.m. first pitch on Wednesday, July 17 at Joe Martin Field. Tickets go on sale April 1.

As a result of a partnership with the MLB, announced in late 2022, the game will be broadcast live on MLB.com.

“For me, what’s going to be most exciting is to see the West Coast League on a national stage in a way that it never has been before,” WCL Commissioner Rob Neyer said. “This is only going to make our league stronger and more attractive to all the people we want in the league.”

Neyer, who has been the league’s commissioner since 2018, said the partnership with professional baseball — and the prospect of a national broadcast — gave the WCL a “real incentive to devote league resources” to reviving the event, which was last hosted by the Bend Elks in 2019.

Former Bellingham Bells Owner Eddie Poplawski speaks before the 2015 WCL All-Star Game hosted at Joe Martin Field. (Photo courtesy of Bellingham Bells)

After the canceled 2020 season, they were more focused on getting the league back to stability, Neyer said. Canadian teams, which make up five of the WCL’s 16 total clubs, weren’t able to resume play until the 2022 season.

Once it was decided the event would return, a competitive bid process ensued. Teams that were interested in hosting made a case for their candidacy, and the WCL’s board of directors (made up of representatives from team ownership groups) voted on it.


Bellingham had the edge. 

“What gave people confidence in the Bells is that they run an incredibly first-class operation,” Neyer said. “If you look at their attendance, year-in and year-out, it’s near the top of the league. If you look at the standings, the Bells are competitive season-in and season-out … If you are looking for someone to host an all-star game, that’s sort of where you start.”

Additionally, the Bells are somewhat central to most other clubs in the WCL, and they recently went through a similar bid process with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to move high school Class 1A and 2A baseball state championships to Joe Martin Stadium — eventually hosting one of Whatcom County’s own, Lynden, in the 2A title game last season.

The Bells worked with organizations like Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism to help them in the bid process, and that partnership bolstered their case for what the city had to offer.

“The Bellingham Bells have the infrastructure, the team and the name to go after bids like the all-star games,” said Katy Willis, director of destination sales at Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. “Our job is to work with local partners like the Bells to make their bids more compelling and robust by adding in the destination element … our goal is to help communicate that our area offers a capable, welcoming ecosystem for large events and meetings.”

While many of the event’s details will be a work in progress over the coming months, some overarching features are certain. 

Kids and parents run with Dinger between innings as the Bellingham Bells took on the Cowlitz Black Bears at Joe Martin Stadium June 7.
Kids and parents run with Dinger, the Bellingham Bells’ mascot, June 7, 2023 between innings as the Bells took on the Cowlitz Black Bears at Joe Martin Stadium. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

There will be a community adaptive baseball game, similar to the club’s “Batting against the Bells” event, a pro-style player workout with MLB scouts on site, and a skills challenge for the all-star players in lieu of a home run derby.

Neyer will be selecting the all-star teams, which will be divided by the WCL’s North and South divisions. It’s a role Neyer doesn’t take lightly, he said, and criteria such as season statistics, overall talent and games played will all be looked at.

“We’re trying to balance supposed talent [and] attractiveness to scouts with actual performance,” Neyer said. “There’s a little science involved, but there’s other things, too. I’ve got to make some tough calls.”

With 1,900 physical seats and about a 3,100-person maximum occupancy at Joe Martin Field, Morrell recommends interested attendees get tickets as soon as they go on sale. 

Even though there will be more highly-touted college baseball prospects, MLB scouts and out-of-town visitors wandering the facility than usual, Morrell’s goal is to make it still resemble the experience most Bellingham Bells fans are used to — just with a bit more publicity.

“As far as promotions and what the gameday experience is, we’re going to try to really crank that up,” Morrell said. “If people think about the busiest, most special Bells game that they’ve been to, that’s really what we’re trying to create here, but a little bit on another level.”

Connor J. Benintendi is CDN’s sports editor; reach him at connorbenintendi@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 104.

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