July 1 2019, Vancouver- The Vancouver Canadians baseball game on Canada Day is a different experience than any other night of the season. There is not a hard piece of evidence which makes it different, but from the moment one steps into the Nat Bailey Stadium on July first, there is a feeling which is not there other nights.
Baseball may be considered America’s pastime, but that is not to say that it doesn’t have a spot in Canadian hearts as well. The second largest country by land mass in the world boasts only two professional baseball teams. Those being the Toronto Blue Jays of the MLB and the Vancouver Canadians, a Toronto affiliate in the Single-A short-season Northwest League.
The Vancouver Canadians have ingrained themselves in the community fabric of Vancouver, and Canada Day at the Nat Bailey Stadium has become something of a tradition in the Vancouver sporting community.
Being one of the lower level minor league teams, the C’s have massive roster turnover every year, meaning their roster is often times without Canadian content. Each season the roster is chock-full of Latin American and U.S. born talent, some of whom are destined for the major leagues. For the lucky few minor-leaguers who get assigned to Vancouver, they are treated to something not seen at other ball clubs at the Single-A level.
Canadians fans constantly fill the stadium, which has undergone capacity expansions in recent years; now sitting at 6413. While the atmosphere and crowds are always unique, there is no day is more special than Canada Day- even when there are no Canadians in the lineup.
The Canadians put on multiple fireworks, and special event nights each season, but for some reason Canada Day sticks out among the rest.
Baseball in Canada has a long history, dating all the way back to the early 1800’s, although the game at that time was nowhere near how we know it today, especially north of the 49th parallel. The popular bat and ball game in Canada at the time was rounders, a British game brought over by immigration. The game as we know it today, did not get its start in Canada until 1860- with the first documented game being played in Southwestern Ontario. Since that first game, the passion and popularity of the sport has exploded coast the coast.
By 1913 Canadian baseball was in full swing. In a country that now has two professional teams, the landscape was very different in 1913. Canada had 24 minor league franchises. Since then, professional baseball has declined significantly, but the talent and patriotic connection to the game has grown immensely. One of Canada’s big claims to baseball fame, is that the Montreal Royals were Jackie Robinson’s first stop in “white” professional baseball. While those legacies remain important, the game has changed so much that today’s baseball has forged an identity of its own.
After already becoming of the nations more popular sports, baseball got another shot of popularity in Canada with the introduction of the Blue Jays to Major League Baseball. However the Vancouver Canadians were around long before the Jays got their start. In 2019 the Canadians are the oldest pro baseball club in Canada, and they are by a long shot.
Up until 20 years ago, baseball in Vancouver was played only one or two levels below the bright lights of the major leagues. In 2019, that story is a little different. The current incarnation of the Vancouver Canadians five steps away from MLB, but the intrigue and frenzy around the team is more than ever.
The team sells out the majority of their 35 home games, and the atmosphere the fans bring to the ballpark every night is something unparalleled in Canadian sports. On Canada Day, the under-wraps, quiet patriotism comes out in full force, and is piled on top of the already excited crowd at The Nat Bailey. These factors lead to Canada day at the ballpark being a special night in the west-coast sporting calendar.
Canadians are very peculiar when it comes to their patriotism. Unlike their American counterparts- the outwardness of their countries passion is not always on public display. On July first, it’s as if every Canadian breaks out their shell a little- and for one day, doesn’t hesitate to yell the fact that they are Canadian. That passion is nowhere more evident than under the wooden roof at the sun soaked bleachers of Nat Bailey Stadium.
For the past few seasons, the Canada day celebrations have had another element of excitement, with the Canadians having northern born talent in their gameday lineup. In 2018 it was local boy Will McCaffer, and Sherwood Park, Alberta, native Tanner Kirwer. For fans, supporting homegrown talent brings a special connection to the day which is unlike any other. This year the lone Canadian player is Alex Nolan, an Ontario born pitcher- who was supposed to start for Vancouver on his country’s 152nd birthday, but was unable to- he eventually did come in as a relieving arm. On the other side of the diamond was Hillsboro’s Andy Yerzy, another Canadian. For young kids, seeing Canadian players have success in professional baseball- especially on home soil, is a massive inspiration.
So what makes Canada Day different?
Nothing that is easy to put one’s finger on.
The fireworks are special, but they happen other nights too. What makes Canada Day different is the unparalleled pride Canadians have for their country, that comes on a single day each year where Canadians come out of their shells and are not embarrassed to exclaim where they’re from. For some this patriotism can come through BBQ’s and social gatherings, although for 6413 people annually, it comes through by cheering on a group of young baseball players, most of whom are not Canadian within the friendly confines of Nat Bailey Stadium.