Victoria HarbourCats owner John McLean admitted his hand only went up about halfway, and rather hesitatingly, during the West Coast League winter meeting when the call went out for teams willing to host the 2013 all-star game.
After all, it was a lot to bite off considering he also had many other things to do as his HarbourCats franchise prepared to enter its inaugural WCL season.
He need not have worried.
Tuesday night was a triumph, attracting 4,210 fans at Royal Athletic Park to surpass the all-time WCL attendance record of 4,156 that was set on July 22, 2011, in a league game at Klamath Falls, Ore.
The turnout easily demolished the former WCL all-star game record crowd of 2,517 established in 2011 at Corvallis, Ore.
The South rose again as that division won the game 7-5 over the North Division.
The assembled throng enjoyed the occasion as thousands of hotdogs and cups of beer were consumed by fans who basked in the sunshine on a glorious summer night. Before the game, a live band played while people happily soaked non all-star HarbourCats players in a dunk tank. The game was followed by an impressive fireworks display.
“This is wonderful,” said McLean, a Vancouver financial investor.
“Everyone is having fun and the weather is great. Victoria likes baseball. Simple as that.”
Seventeen MLB scouts were at the game to watch some of the top collegiate players in North America, and for a combine before it, in which the players were put through their paces in individual drills. Also there was the director of MLB Scouting for Canada, Walt Burrows of Victoria, who didn’t have to travel very far for this assignment.
“The combine was run superbly. Everything was done on such a professional level,” McLean said.
On a day like this, new WCL president Dennis Koho had every right to feel confident about the future of the league.
“We want to marry the minor-pro experience [with collegiate summer ball] as much as possible,” said Koho, the former mayor of Keizer, Ore., who was instrumental in bringing the minor-pro short-season Single-A Northwest League to Keizer-Salem.
He explained his philosophy in an interview before the all-star game.
“Teams need to add something for the fans every year that is a sort of a wow factor. It doesn’t have to be much — maybe adding a kid’s play area or something like that — so fans don’t get tired of coming year in and year out. Franchises have to make the players happy but they also have to make the fans happy.”
There appeared no shortage of happy fans Tuesday night — including 101-year-old John Bell of Sidney, who grew up in Pittsburgh, and saw Babe Ruth play.
Five Victoria HarbourCats — Alex Real, Alex DeGoti, hometown boy Austin Russell and pitchers Scott Kuzminsky and Ty Provencher — were picked for the North Division team along with Duncan’s Darren Kolk of the Kelowna Falcons.
The Island highlight came early when Atlanta Braves draft-pick Real doubled in the first inning and scored on a bruising play at home plate. The speedy Kolk had a hit, steal and run, while DeGoti had a run. Alex Calbick from Burnaby, who plays for the Bellingham Bells, also had a hit for the North Division.
The player of the game was Kyle Knigge of the South Division. The Cowlitz Black Bears slugger had two hits, two RBIs and a run in three plate appearances.
The scouts named Cody Poteet of the Walla Walla Sweets, one of 10 North Division pitchers who made an appearance, as the all-star game’s top prospect. Poteet pitched a scoreless inning with one strikeout.
With the all-star break concluded, league action resumes tonight for the 11 franchises. The HarbourCats travel to Bremerton, Wash., to take on the Kitsap BlueJackets.