The summer baseball experience at Royal Athletic Park is filled with the sounds of crackling bats, smell of sizzling onions and hot dogs, and the bracing taste of cold beer.
But when John Wilson and daughter Samantha took in a Vancouver Canadians Single-A pro game last summer at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, they saw atmosphere taken to another level.
The owner of the largest bus company on the Island came back so inspired that he decided to sponsor the whole thing on Caledonia for Victoria HarbourCats games in the West Coast League. The ’Cats home park for the next five seasons will be known as Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park.
“It has become a community-meeting place during summer months as fans get together to watch young, rising [NCAA collegiate] stars try to get to the next level. Royal Athletic Park in summer is the place to be and be seen,” said Wilson.
The HarbourCats have led the WCL in attendance the past four seasons.
“I love this place. But sports teams like this could not exist without business and community backing,” said Wilson, of why he stepped forward with his company’s support.
Wilson also announced he is helping to create a unique seating section down the first baseline. A retired, vintage double-decker bus will be retrofitted to hold groups of 30 to 40 people for HarbourCats games.
“I don’t know if you can get more Victoria than that,” said HarbourCats managing-partner Jim Swanson.
“There are more announcements coming about how we are improving the experience for fans.”
Minor-pro and collegiate summer baseball is the kind of sporting endeavour in which people remember the experience of the games more than they do the score.
“We want to create a place where you don’t have to be a 100 per cent complete baseball fan in order to have fun,” said Wilson.
The HarbourCats, 2017 playoff finalists, open the 2018 WCL season June 1 at home against the Wenatchee AppleSox.