Few leagues or events featuring Island teams or athletes were hurt more by the pandemic than the Western Lacrosse Association and West Coast League of baseball.
The WLA and WCL each suffered through two consecutive dark seasons. A little light finally shone through, at least for the WCL, with the release of the 2022 schedule for the league that has produced 59 alumni who appeared in MLB games in 2021 and 305 in affiliated professional baseball.
The Canadian Premier League in soccer, Western Hockey League, B.C. Hockey League and B.C. Football Conference found ways to salvage seasons, even if in abbreviated or altered forms, and the many Island Olympians and Paralympians did eventually get to Tokyo a year later, even if in front of no fans.
Not so for the WCL.
“It’s been so long. So it’s a tremendous energy point for us today to get a schedule,” said Jim Swanson, GM and managing partner of the Victoria HarbourCats and Nanaimo NightOwls.
“Now we can plan for everything from group outings to games and our community events. We couldn’t do that for two years.”
The HarbourCats open May 31 against the Port Angeles Lefties at Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park. The NightOwls start on the road in Portland on May 31 and have the first home game in franchise history against the fellow expansion Edmonton Riverhawks on June 3 at Serauxman Stadium. The regular season runs to Aug. 7.
The expansion NightOwls, Riverhawks and Kamloops NorthPaws, expected to start in 2021, will finally make their debuts next year. The Springfield Drifters of Oregon will also debut in 2022.
The WCL did operate this year, but only its American franchises because of the closed Canada-U.S. border.
“It’s been a lot of work to get to this point in now a 16-team league,” said Swanson.
“Two Canadian teams [HarbourCats and Kelowna Falcons] are now five with Edmonton, Nanaimo and Kamloops added. There are now two ferry trips to the Island for other clubs, flight considerations to Edmonton and any lingering border issues.”
But nothing could dampen the optimism of the day.
“Now it feels real,” WCL commissioner Rob Neyer said, in a statement.
“After a 2020 without games and a 2021 without our Canadian members, a 2022 with everyone — including three new teams in Canada plus our fourth Oregon member — certainly figures to become the most exciting, dynamic and international season in league history.”
It’s a start to make up for what was lost. The City of Victoria may not be hosting Canada Day fireworks in 2022, but the HarbourCats will once again light the skies with their eve-of-Canada Day ritual.
“Fireworks, after our June 30 game, is a tradition for us,” said Swanson. “Royal Athletic Park has not been very busy the past two years. We are excited to be back to animate what is a big civic facility and asset.”
Now the WCL will have two Island presences with the NightOwls joining the HarbourCats.
“The [$1.2-million improvement] work that is going on at Serauxmen Stadium is incredible,” said Swanson, of the Nanaimo facility opened in 1976 by Mickey Mantle.