When it comes to spectator sports in Vancouver, hockey is king, football is a distant second and soccer is an equally distant third.
And somewhere well after that comes baseball. Yes, Vancouver does have a professional baseball team: the minor league Vancouver Canadians, a farm club for the Toronto Blue Jays. The Canadians play a brief summer season at Nat Baily Stadium in the Riley Park-Little Mountain area – a tree-lined, residential neighbourhood just minutes from downtown Vancouver.
And not only are the games a thrill to watch, they might just be the best sports value in the city.
Grandstand tickets for the Canadians are $12.50 – or roughly the price of a burger and fries at a downtown restaurant. For that modest sum you get nine innings of baseball in one of the most charming old stadiums anywhere in North America, kitschy promos every half inning like the dancing groundskeepers and timeless sushi race, and even the chance to indulge in what may be the city’s longest corn dog.
I checked out the action on a recent Saturday night when the Canadians were hosting the Spokane Indians. The first thing that stands out is convenience. Unlike at a big-time venue, parking is a breeze and there’s almost no lineup to get through the door. And as stadiums go, Nat Bailey – built in 1951 with a capacity of 5,157 – is a beauty, with its old-fashioned grandstand and wooden outfield walls covered with billboards for local businesses. Beyond the fence is the lush greenery of Queen Elizabeth Park, which makes an idyllic backdrop for all the action.
Of course, half the appeal of any game is the food. All your decadent favourites are on hand at the Nat – from nachos and pizza to chicken strips and foot-long corn dogs. But there are also some distinctly Vancouver options, including sushi and Granville Island beer. Plus – at least as stadium beer goes – the suds at Nat Bailey are reasonably priced, starting at $6.25.
And how about the action on the field? The Canadians play Single A baseball – still quite a few steps away from the majors. But in a lot of ways that makes for a more exciting game – more runs scored, more crazy plays, more unpredictability. On Saturday night, I saw my share of thrilling stolen bases, runners thrown out at the plate and the occasional ground ball that slipped past a green infielder.
Add to that the zany promotions that keep you entertained even when action on the field lulls. There’s the classic kiss cam, the chicken dance and, of course, the beloved sushi race. Every game, mascots dressed up as a piece of wasabi, a kappa maki roll and a BC roll race their way around the infield in a spectacle that would only make the slightest bit of sense in Vancouver (For some reason, wasabi almost always wins).
In the end, after three hours of action on Saturday, the Indians managed to get two runs in the ninth inning to pull ahead of the Canadians. But fans were hardly devastated. Almost everyone in the crowd stuck around for another proud Nat Bailey tradition: free fireworks. Eight times throughout the season, the sky lights up with a pyrotechnic display that – if a whole lot smaller than the Celebration of Light – still draws it share of oohs and aahs.
The Canadians regular season extends from mid-June through the end of August, with playoffs in September. Tickets start at $12.50.