Victoria HarbourCats and Nanaimo NightOwls baseball seasons cancelled

The crack of the bat and smell of hotdogs will be absent from Royal Athletic Park for a second year.

The 2021 West Coast League baseball season has been cancelled for the Victoria HarbourCats and the expansion Nanaimo NightOwls due to the pandemic.

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“It’s unfathomable this would happen for two consecutive seasons,” said Jim Swanson, managing-partner and general manager of both teams.

“There is no business plan for this.”

The Victoria and Nanaimo clubs are operated by the same ownership group.

None of the five Canadian teams in the West Coast League will operate this season. The Kelowna Falcons had opted out earlier, with the HarbourCats, NightOwls and expansion ­Kamloops and Edmonton teams coming to the same conclusion Wednesday.

“Right about now, what many people would like to do is something normal like ­having a burger and a beer and ­cheering on our home team,” said ­Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, in a ­statement.

“I respect the decision of the HarbourCats management and thank them for keeping our ­community safe. In the meantime, I know we’ll all look forward with anticipation to the 2022 season.”

The 10 American WCL teams, five in each Washington and Oregon, will play this season. Those states are even allowing fans into their sporting venues now on a percentage-of-capacity basis.

“We had to give our players time to find other teams because they need to play,” Swanson said.

Other Island teams have begun to play — including the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League and Victoria Grizzlies, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Nanaimo Clippers and Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the B.C. Hockey League — but in hub cities without fans.

The pandemic has been particularly hard on gate-driven leagues such as the West Coast League.

“We appreciate the efforts the WHL and BCHL have put in,” Swanson said.

“But we don’t sell a hotdog, beer or T-shirt if fans are not allowed to buy tickets. And what we do is for the fans. We do this for the community, and no fans means no atmosphere.”

There is the hard reality of the bottom line.

“This has made it very ­difficult for us financially, no question,” Swanson said.

“But we will get through this. All tickets purchased will be applied to next season. Our fans have been very supportive. We will return for them.”

The ripple effects will be many for a HarbourCats team that drew 80,000 fans through the turnstiles in 2019. Swanson said the HarbourCats have an annual economic impact of $3.8 million in the community, based on the standard sport ­tourism economic model used in the industry.

Swanson said the cancellation will affect the summer business of four to six local food trucks that operate during games, security guards and also the work of between 15 to 20 City of Victoria employees, mostly CUPE members, who are groundskeepers and who operate the doors and concessions.

“We are the major economic driver of that venue [Royal ­Athletic Park],” he said.

The club also has a charity component, with groups such as Anawim House and Our Place, that will be affected.

“We are not major league, we are grassroots, but even that has an impact on the community,” he said.

Swanson said the NightOwls are expected to make a similar imprint in Nanaimo. But that debut will have to wait until 2022.

The West Coast League is a summer collegiate league featuring players from top U.S. NCAA Div. 1 conferences. There were 317 league alumni in affiliated pro baseball in 2019, including 45 in Major League Baseball, according to the league.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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