Nanaimo NightOwls take flight in baseball's West Coast League

The NightOwls will fly after dark.

But it’s the Nanaimo Bars, named in honour of the Harbour City’s world-famous confection, that will sweeten matinées at Serauxmen Stadium.

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The newest franchise in the West Coast League of baseball will be dubbed the NightOwls, it was announced Wednesday. The players will wear jerseys bearing a cartoon image of a Nanaimo Bar with two eyes, a mouth and forelock for afternoon games. The city’s most famous export, concocted in 1952, will be used to market the club on many levels.

“We will utilize Nanaimo Bar diplomacy,” said Jim Swanson, GM, co-owner and managing partner of the NightOwls.

“We will take Nanaimo Bars, provided by Save-on-Foods, on the road with us for away games and sell them in the concessions of opposition stadiums.”

The NightOwls name is also significant in several ways. Serauxmen Stadium was opened in 1976 by the late baseball legend Mickey Mantle, but has previously been without lights. Eight LED lighting poles of between 21 to 24 metres were finally installed this year at a cost of $1.1-million. That will allow for evening games, hence the nickname NightOwls. The project also includes a new scoreboard.

“We liked NightOwls from the beginning,” said Swanson.

“It is a tribute to the City of Nanaimo for the field-lighting project that will allow for night games at Serauxmen Stadium. Without lights, there is no team.”

The Owls were also a Nanaimo championship baseball team that played a century ago, adding another layer of connection.

Swanson said the most popular pick in the name-the-team contest was Coal Miners. Bars was the second-most popular choice followed by Pirates [name of the existing junior team] and Islanders. Other suggestions included Bastions, Prospectors, Loggers, Whalers, Captains, Dockers, Riptides, Geoducks, Surf, SeaDogs, Humpbacks, Black Ravens, Jinglepots, Tommyknockers and all manner of bathtub race references such as TubMen, Tubbers and Tubbies.

“The response showed tremendous engagement,” said Swanson.

“There were so many great suggestions.”

Nanaimo will begin play in the 2021 WCL season, joining the Victoria HarbourCats and Kelowna Falcons as the Canadian franchises in what will become a 13-team league. Other clubs are in Washington and Oregon.

The WCL is a collegiate league featuring players in summer ball from top NCAA Div. 1 conferences, such as the Pac-12. Five WCL alumni were selected in last month’s abbreviated five-round MLB draft. Former WCL players have been drafted in the first round in each of the past four years. Ninety alumni or then-current WCL players were selected in the 2019 MLB draft and 73 in 2018.

The HarbourCats had played in the WCL for seven seasons before the 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nanaimo team is owned by the same company that owns the HarbourCats, which includes Swanson, his brother Ken Swanson, Victoria businessman John Wilson and Richard Harder of Vancouver. Dual ownership of teams by a single person or company is allowed in the WCL. The Yakima Valley Pippins and Walla Walla Sweets are both majority owned by John Stanton, majority owner of the MLB Seattle Mariners.

“It will be a great rivalry between Victoria and Nanaimo,” said Jim Swanson.

“The Western Hockey League looked at that [before an arena referendum was defeated in Nanaimo in 2017, leaving the Victoria Royals as the lone Island team in the WHL]. But we did it for baseball.”

The NightOwls versus HarbourCats rivalry adds to the existing Nanaimo-Victoria derbies featuring the Clippers and Grizzlies in the B.C. Hockey League, Timbermen and Shamrocks in the Western Lacrosse Association, Raiders and Rebels in the B.C. Football Conference and VIU and Camosun in the PacWest college conference.

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