West Coast League Bringing Top Level Amateur Baseball To Nanaimo This Summer
NANAIMO – They went to a community event, and a baseball game broke out.
That’s what Central Vancouver Island is about to welcome at Serauxmen Stadium, as the Nanaimo NightOwls officially, finally, join the top-rung amateur baseball West Coast League this summer.
It was a year ago, March 5, 2020, that the ownership group of the Victoria HarbourCats, a WCL franchise since 2013, announced to a packed room that they were bringing a rival team to Nanaimo.
A year of COVID-19 later, the Nanaimo franchise is ready to go, and the city seems eager to see the first pitch.
When restrictions lift and crowds can gather again, the NightOwls will aim to dominate the HarbourCats in every meeting. Current plans call for nine games between the clubs this coming summer, and perhaps even a playoff series.
The West Coast League, around since 2005, showcases some of the best National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) collegiate/amateur players on the planet, and in 2019 the league had 90 players chosen in the Major League Baseball draft, including Adley Rutchman, first overall to the Baltimore Orioles, and Andrew Vaughn, third overall to the Chicago White Sox. Rutchman played for the WCL’s Corvallis Knights, one of the founding teams, while Vaughn was with the HarbourCats.
The WCL has grown during the pandemic, too, adding teams in Nanaimo, Kamloops and Edmonton, giving the league five Canadian entries along with Kelowna, one of the original clubs, and Victoria. The 10 Pacific Northwest U.S.-based teams are in Bellingham, Port Angeles, Portland, Corvallis, Bend, Yakima, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, Cowlitz and Ridgefield.
Serauxmen Stadium is transitioning into a feature piece for the City of Nanaimo, as lights and a new scoreboard have already been added, with more amenities to come.
“Anyone who has been to a HarbourCats game in Victoria, knows the baseball is outstanding – but it takes a back seat to all the food trucks and the entertainment around the game,” said Jim Swanson, Managing Partner of the group that owns both clubs. “The mascot is having fun with kids, people are enjoying a traditional ballpark hot dog, or something more upscale through the other food offerings we’re working on.
“Sipping a local craft beer at a ballgame is a near-religious experience on its own. And all the things going on between innings, the music, the smells and sights, make the game a rolling production.
“And that will be the case at Serauxmen Stadium. It’s an atmosphere like no other, the hum of a crowd of 2,000 in the Nanaimo sunshine, in a city known for great baseball and strong community ties. This will be magical.”
The NightOwls, who will do the minor-league-baseball-thing and be branded as the Nanaimo Bars for daytime games, already have a seasoned staff with Greg Frady as Head Coach, and Gorman Heimueller leading the pitching staff. The outgoing Frady has 34 years of college coaching experience, while Heimueller is a former Major League Baseball lefthander with 34 years of professional coaching experience.
“It’s been fun to have people signing up early for season tickets, and companies wanting to support through the many corporate opportunities,” said Swanson. “Major local players have jumped on this, including Island Savings, Save On Foods, Panago on Fourth, Arbutus RV, Mid-Island Co-op and Liquor, Coca-Cola, Drip Coffee, Days Inn, Wilson’s Transportation, Western Timber, Lanson’s Drywall, Jones Coatings. It’s getting to be quite a list, and growing.
“There’s a lot of room on the NightOwls bandwagon, and we can’t wait to see the Nanaimo-Victoria rivalry hit a new level.”