Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Vancouver in the Bigs

[Province B.C. Magazine, April 12, 1952]
Major league baseball in Vancouver by 1957—sounds slightly fantastic, doesn’t it? First reaction of a cynical sports writer is to consign the theory to the file-and-forget drawer along with other such full-blown and roseate dreams as a lacrosse league along the coast, a UBC football team in the Coast Conference, and 40,000 people at a Grey Cup final here.
But the baseball men who’d sell you THEIR particular baby have two big advantages over their ever-dreaming sports compatriots:
1. A stadium that could easily be converted to fill their needs, and 2, a powerful monied group laying the groundwork for them.
We’ll discuss the stadium later; monied groups are always more intriguing anyway.
This particular group happens to be the Pacific Coast Baseball League, which is run by a tough old baseball hand named Clarence Rowland.
Rowland has been plugging for several years now for better things for his eight-team coastal setup, which stretches from Seattle in the north, to San Diego in the south.
His eventual goal: Equal status with baseball’s two major leagues, the American and the National. His main moral support comes from Los Angeles and San Francisco, a couple of cities which are definitely major league in size and have ambitions to match.
These two giants look down their noses at the comparatively small cities like St. Louis, which has two big league teams, and Cincinnati, and want to know why they should be watching “second best” baseball.
Last December, Rowland and Co. got their point across. They were given an “open status,” which puts them a cut above baseball’s two other top minor leagues, the Class AAA International League and American Association.
The Coast League was also put on a more-or-less probation plan for five years, at which time they figure to emerge as the third major league.
Which brings us to 1957—and Vancouver’s role in this setup.
Most local ball fans feel we should in the Coast League, and back in 1946 we almost made it, despite te fact that then our ball park was the old Fifth Avenue bandbox. But Sacramento, which was in danger of losing its franchise because of financial troubles, suddenly developed a community spirit—and some astute businessmen—and they managed to hang on.
That left us right where we still are, in the Western International League, also with such metropolitan cities as Bremerton, Wenatchee and other hamlets of the same ilk.
Since then, a couple of things have happened to make Vancouver fans a little happier with their lot. This winter, the WIL got a boost in baseball’s rating system from Class B to A, and though we’re still mixing with the hoi polloi of Wenatchee and Pasco-Kennewick, the brand of ball threatens to be a little better.
But the big thing was the new ball park, the pride and joy of Vancouver’s Mr. Baseball, Robert P. (Bob) Brown, the new Capilano Stadium at Ontario and Thirty-third.
Brown has been in baseball here since 1910, and though it wasn’t quite that old, the former stamping ground of our Capilanos—Athletic Park with the fanciful name of Capilano Stadium—wasn’t exactly conducive to a pleasant, restful evening. There’s more, too—but requiescat in pace.
The switch to the new park had an immediate effect where it’s important—at the box office.
In the first year of pro baseball here after the war, 1946, Brown drew around 85,000 customers through his turnstiles for the season. Last season he set a new attendance record for the city, with 168,000 paying their way into the luxurious new stadium, which is patterned after Seattle’s posh Sick’s Stadium.
And that record was set despite the fact that the park wasn’t ready for occupancy when the season opened. The Caps had to struggle along with the old one for more than a month.
This summer, Brown has set his sights at the 200,000 mark, and he’s being cagy, as always, with that figure.
He should hit that figure with ease. With the season not due to open until April 22, fans were clamouring for season’s reservations in February.
Now, there’s nothing like a neat, impressive row of attendance figures to attract the attention of the baseball president, and sooner or later the word is going to get out to the Coast League’s Rowland—probably sooner, for Rowland and Brown are old diamond buddies of long standing.
As Brown so succinctly puts it, when queries on our chances of crashing the Coast League: “If you were running a league, and had a city of 150,000 like Sacramentoo and another cities of 400,000”—that’s us, eh, Mr. Hume?—“which would you take?”
In other words, it would appear that we can’t miss. Geographically, we’re perfect—a six-hour hop from Seattle, and ball teams make six-hour hops in their sleep. At the moment, our stadium is too small for the Coast League, but it is so constructed that it can be expanded on the ends.
“Adding to it would be no trick at all,” says Brown. “And the expensive part of the building—the offices, dressing rooms, concession and what not—that’s already been done.”
So, before you know it, there we’ll be, with a park seating 10 or 12,000 and a Coast League franchise.
Then all we have to do is wait around for Rowland—and those monied fellows in Los Angeles and San Francisco—to make their next move, and—
See you in the majors in 1957?

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