Jack Knox: Ripples from cancelled baseball season felt across Greater Victoria

The great thing about going to a baseball game in Victoria is that you don’t actually have to like baseball.

Hot sun. Cold drinks of varying strength. The intoxicating aroma of freshly cut grass, malt vinegar on chips, the fried onions from the Royal Athletic Park concessions. Slow conversation, followed by dozing in place. There are days they could forget to bring bats and balls and nobody would care. Or wake up.

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Really, at one home opener, the HarbourCats started this six-foot-nine Nuke LaLoosh fireballing pitcher who had a no-hitter going in the seventh inning and half the crowd didn’t even notice. That’s the year the team stumbled badly out of the gate, were a miserable 8-16, but the more they lost, the more fans they drew. That’s because the HarbourCats knew their town, knew its tone, knew what it takes to make Victorians happy, which has more to do with vibe than victories.

Not in the year of COVID-19, though. On Friday, three weeks before the first pitch, the HarbourCats pulled the plug on the season. See you next year, Mudville.

“We do have our own brand of beer, but Saturday I bought a six-pack of Corona just to change the karma,” lamented general manager and co-owner Jim Swanson on Monday.

Right, the beer, HarbourCats Ballpark Blonde, produced by Duncan-based Red Arrow Brewing. Guess they’ll sell less of that this summer.

Greater Victoria hotels will take a hit, too: Even with players bunking four to a room, the visiting teams, league officials and the pyrotechnicians who come to town for fireworks nights account for 325 rooms each season.

Also losing out will be the Commissionaires who do game-night security and the city workers who take tickets and flog those hot dogs. (And don’t forget the rent paid to the city itself.) Wilson’s Transportation, B.C. Ferries and the Coho won’t be carrying the team to games. The minor sports teams and charities — everyone from the Tour de Rock to Make-A-Wish — won’t split $50,000 from the year’s 50-50 draws.

A clutch of food trucks had built their entire summers around the 30-odd home dates the HarbourCats squeeze into a 74-day season that runs from the end of May to mid-August. “We totally rely on it,” says Paul Kingston, who owns Molly’s Fish and Chips.

It would take a crew of four or five to keep up to the demand during games. Now Kingston has had to lay off three people. He’s down to running Molly’s three times a week, at the Metchosin Golf Course, the Spectacle Lake firehall and in Colwood outside — ahem — Corona Foods.

In other words, losing the baseball season means a lot more than missing out on a summer’s fun. It takes away people’s livelihoods.

And that’s just baseball. The TC’s Cleve Dheensaw rhymes off the other sports, and events, where the coronavirus has played havoc: The start of Pacific FC’s soccer season has been postponed, hockey’s Victoria Royals, Nanaimo Clippers and Cowichan Capitals didn’t get to see their years end on the ice, and jeez, is anyone taking bets on the lacrosse season going ahead?

The Canadian women’s rugby team was to have hosted a sevens tourney at Westhills Stadium last week. The same venue lost Canada’s soccer games against Trinidad and Tobago. The TC10K was cancelled. June’s pro golf stop at Uplands has been bumped. Ditto for the men’s Olympic qualifying basketball tournament. These represent not just lost games, but lost paycheques.

And that’s just sports. Look at all the concerts and festivals that have been cancelled. (Anyone holding tickets for the Stones in Vancouver tonight? Don’t worry, they’ll still be good post-COVID, when the only surviving acts will be Keith and Mick on one side of the pond and Donald Trump and the Bleach Boys on the other.)

All those holes in the calendar don’t just mean missing shows, but missing jobs. You can extend that to any sector, really.

A couple of months ago, Swanson hoped the crisis would have eased by now and the season could begin. “I had hoped we would be an opportunity for people to celebrate.” Nope, we’ll have to wait.

Patience, we’re told, though this is easier at the ballpark than in real life. We can’t live on emergency benefits forever, but nor can we risk letting the virus loose. Like a hitter in baseball, we’re left looking for the sweet spot, the place where jobs live and the pandemic dies. Pray we get the timing right.


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