Or, as they say in Canadian, ‘Baseball in Canada.’
It starts at the border.
“And what is the reason for your visit today into Canada?”
“To watch a baseball game.”
She eyes me – the border crossing guard. She pauses, dramatically.
“A game? You’ve coming up all the way from Seattle for a baseball game?”
“The Vancouver Canadians versus the Boise Hawks!”
She grimaces, waves me on, stares at me like a hawk.
Do you remember Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium (pictured above)? No, probably not. It was demolished in 1979. There’s a Home Depot there now in Rainier Valley. Have you seen pictures of it, at least? It was home to many a minor league ball team for decades and, in its last throes of existence, the mighty poor Seattle Pilots. It was built, Sick’s Stadium, in 1938 by Emil Sick, owner of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. He was also owner of the fabled Rainier Brewing Company.
The reason I bring all of this to your attention is that up north, past the surly border guards, is Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Vancouver Canadians and very much a younger sibling to Sick’s Stadium. Why, you may ask? When Sick’s Stadium was torn down its primary assets were purchased and shipped up north to be used in the Nat Bailey park.
It’s a beautiful thing, the stadium, is what I’m saying. It’s like a gleaming postcard of games gone by. It’s a living reminder of all the rich history that baseball has in the northern climes. A rich history, indeed. Vancouver has fielded a team in most every version of minor league baseball in the northwest since minor league baseball made its way to the northwest. Teams that have played at ‘The Nat’ include the Mounties (1959-1969) and various iterations of the Canadians.
Players who have donned cleats and taken to the field include such luminaries as Nelson Cruz, Nick Swisher, Jim Abbott, Jack McDowell, and more.
There’s a woman playing tuba out front. She’s playing Ricky Martin songs as well as Ricky Martin. Entering the park is a delight – livin’ la vida loca – these baseball fans. The Canadians are a minor league farm team for the Toronto Blue Jays. They’re currently tied for 1st in the Northwest League North Division with the Spokane Indians. The playoffs are dead ahead and the fans are here to cheer them on to victory.
Inside the main entrance is like taking a step back in time. Nostalgic it is – even if it is a beautiful sports living thing. There are quaint little concessions inside. There’s the little gift shop selling shirts and hats. There’s the popcorn being popped, the pretzels being salted, and the beer being poured frothy and cold. There’s a display case with trophies and a wall of fame highlighting players who have gone on to the majors.
7 million fans have made their way through this entrance to see a game at this park. Make that 7 million and one. I make my way along the third base line and find a seat right up against the field. The foul lines run right up against the stands. Foul balls aplenty make their way into the stands.
Here comes Bob. Bob is a Brown Bear. Bob Brown Bear is the official mascot of the Vancouver Canadians. He’s officially listed at 6’8.” Weight – Tons of fun. I get a selfie with him right before he does the chicken dance with the rest of the spectators. It seems to have done something. Vancouver scores and then scores again.
Did I mention the sushi races? People are dressed up like sushi and are running around the bases. Here comes Ms. BC Roll, and Mr. Kappa Maki, and, uh oh, the dreaded Chef Wasabi. Looks like there’s a couple hunks of tofu running from first, around second, curling around third and heading for the finish line. THE CROWD ERUPTS. 6,413 people GO CRAZY.
Canadians like tubed meats. Based on a brief overview of what people are eating in the stands – Canadians like tubed meats. I might even hazard to say that Canadians like tubed meats more than Americans like tubed meats. There’s this thing called ‘The Yard Dog’ at the game. It’s a three-foot-long hot dog. It looks gross and by gross I mean amazing.
Here comes the A&W Root Beer Bear wandering around. Canadians like mascots. There’s Bob Brown Bear. There’s various pieces of sushi running around like mad. And here comes the A&W Root Beer Bear. His name is Rooty, the Great Root Bear. To note: There’s a couple of giant posters of frosty root beer mugs in the outfield. If a home run ball hits one of those signs? Free A&W treats for EVERYONE.
No one hits a home run in the game but it is an exciting game. Tied going into the bottom of the 8th, the Canadians rocket into the lead with three unanswered runs. The team wins! Fans rejoice! Fans reach of the Tums. A THREE-FOOT-LONG HOT DOG.
We all filter out through the main gate again, delighted with the park, the punchy lady on the tuba, the family fun, the history, the sport, the day.
I filter out of Canada.
“What was the score?” The border guard asks me, suspicious-like.
“5-2. They rallied to victory!”
He smiled, “Welcome home.”