I grew up in St. Catharines – once home to the ‘baby’ Jays and (later renamed) the Stompers in the New York-Penn League – and I have now been living in Toronto for over ten-years. I have been on some good Canadian road trips, but none that have taken me to Canada’s western side. I’ve always wanted to drive across our country, and I still plan on doing that.
I have seen my share of baseball stadiums and I have watched some great minor league ball over the years, but I have yet to take in the sights and sounds of baseball from the Vancouver C’s Nat Bailey Stadium stands. But, I can’t complain because I live next door to the place we all call Dome, so I’m kind of lucky to be able to walk over on any lazy Saturday afternoon and catch a Jays game.
But I do plan on visiting Western Canada and taking in a C’s game, that’s for sure. I interviewed Doug Fox (a.k.a Future Blue Jays) last year and we talked a bit about the Blue Jays’ minor league stadiums and he told me that ‘The Nat’ was his favourite park. And since I don’t have first-hand knowledge of The Nat stadium experience, I thought it would be interesting to share what he had to say:
It’s an old park, set in a beautiful Vancouver neighbourhood. The amenities are not state-of-the-art, and there are obstructed views in the grandstand behind home plate, but you feel like you’re taking in some baseball history when you sit there. To get to the press box, you have to go up some narrow concrete stairs, and walk across some carefully laid patio stones, but the view of the downtown and the mountains to the north is one of the best views of the city I’ve seen.
And every time I read his description of The Nat, I kind of want to go and see it for myself. I also kind of wish that Earle Birney was alive and could write a lil’ baseball Vancouver C’s prose to help capture the spirit of The Nat and the great C’s fans who all hurry on over to the stadium for a Saturday ‘nooner’ – what the locals call an afternoon C’s game. So, if you’re within driving distance, or will be in Vancouver this summer, I think going to The Nat should definitely be a summer something circled on the calendar.
Now, it’s no secret that the C’s continue to break Northwest League attendance records every baseball season. And it’s no secret that the Blue Jays fan base extends from coast to coast in the Great White North. And it’s definitely no secret that the sea of blue that takes over Safeco Field when the good Birds of Summer play the Mariners is coming from the strong support the Blue Jays get from the west coast. Along with their love of the good Birds of Summer, west coast Jays fans also love their Vancouver C’s.
When the Toronto organization put a team in Vancouver it was definitely not ideal from a geographical perspective, but it made absolute sense to put an affiliate on the other side of our continent to grow the brand. It’s great for the players who can get a taste of all things Canadian and it’s great for the fans, as they get to watch Blue Jays prospects come through their city. And isn’t it kind of cool that Vancouver and Toronto, two fan bases that are historically antagonistic towards each other, can share an interest in the same franchise.
In 2017, the C’s won the Northwest League championship and the fans got a firsthand look at big Nate Pearson, who Mark Shapiro, Ross Atkins, and all Jays fans are gushing over. And over the years, a lot of talented players have donned the C’s cap, as was showcased in the Blue Jays/Team Canada game this past weekend, when 14 players connected to the C’s were present in Dunedin.
So, in December I contacted J.C. Fraser, general manager of the C’s, and asked him if he could connect me with pitching coach Jim Czajkowski for an interview. He was kind enough to do so and I greatly enjoyed doing that interview, as we talked a bit about his time playing for the Durham Bulls (while America was feeling the Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh buzz), player development, and, of course, Nate Pearson. It was one of my favourite interviews that I have done and it was great listening to Jim talk about the game. I probably could have sat on the phone with him all afternoon shooting the baseball breeze.
Now, I just recently did a fun little interview with the great Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, where we talked a bit about the Blue Jays prospects that we can expect to see in Lansing this year and I thought it would be pretty cool to do something similar for the Vancouver C’s.
So, I reached out to J.C. again and he put me in touch with Rob Fai, broadcaster and director of communications, who was quick to respond and help make this interview happen. We discussed some Vancouver C’s baseball, the possible C’s prospect road ahead, beer, and bacon…
What impressed you the most about big Nate Pearson last season?
His sheer dominance. For fans to be able to look out at a radar gun reading and see 100 and 101 is enough on its own, but when you see three-pitch strikeouts and his compete level, you realize quickly how elite he was at this level.
I have seen Noah Syndergaard (2011) for about the same period of time and I would say Pearson is more advanced. If he gets a solid secondary pitch this season (slider, change-up) the sky’s the limit.
What players from last year’s awesome championship team are you looking forward to watching advance through the system?
Reggie Pruitt, Kacy Clemens and specifically Riley Adams. Reggie’s a guy that needs to work on his offense but his raw skills and plus defence is why he’ll get a look – and fans adored his effort level, personality and speed.
Kacy is the epitome of a “gamer,” which in my world is the best compliment you can pay a baseball player. Super competitive, near flawless glove at first base defensively and a bat that hopefully can take the next level. He also handles his father’s shadow extremely well.
Riley might be a year or two away from being in the same conversation as a Danny Jansen, but the guys at the Minor League complex are all beyond impressed with his maturity and understanding of the game. Decent bat, decent defence but his plus ability to handle a staff and call a game is what I think will eventually have him surpass a Max Pentecost and other bubble catchers within the organization. He’s got an old soul and rarely talks about anything other than baseball and players love him and are always surprised by his wit and charm – he’s a complete leader.
What are the chances that Eric Pardinho spends some time playing for the Vancouver C’s?
50-50. That’s more a question for Gil Kim and his staff, but he would obviously be more than welcome in Vancouver.
What prospect(s) are you looking forward to seeing put on a Vancouver C’s uniform in ’18?
Ryan Noda will likely pass us and go straight to Lansing, but I would be thrilled to see his bat here in Vancouver. Graham Spraker pitched in every post-season game we had and was outstanding coming up from Bluefield. I would be happy to see him here as well.
What amateur prospects are you excited about for this year’s draft?
I like prospects from big schools that aren’t overwhelmed by our atmosphere. Nat Bailey Stadium is so unique in that it only seats 6500, but I would put our youthful crowd against any affiliate in the system. Buffalo might occasionally outdraw us, but we are clear and away the most intense and vocal venue in the system and it’s not even close – that assessment comes from pretty much every rover and coach within the Blue Jays system.
To answer the question, a big bat, a plus pitcher and an outfielder that can cover some ground. I’ll take a kid from any school so long as they can tick one or more of those boxes.
For fans that are going to make the trip to Vancouver this season to take in a C’s game, what local brewery should they check out?
Take your pick (haha)… You can just come to the ballpark and hang out in our own Craft Corner, where we bring the world-renowned microbrew culture to you. You can’t walk ten minutes on Main Street located just minutes away and not hit a few incredible microbrews. We are extremely fortunate to be situated in the neighbourhood we are in – again, a world-class set of options are actually within a few base hits away from our ballpark.
What greasy spoon diner, which is close to Nat Bailey Stadium, do you recommend fans go to for their bacon fix?
Helen’s Grill is located at the corner of Main Street and King Edward (about five minutes from the park) and it’s been there for generations. Cheap food, awesome portions and a legit ‘diner’… You cannot ‘not’ go here. It would give Lenny’s in Clearwater a food run for their money.
I want to thank JC Fraser and Rob Fai for their time. I know that the winter air is still stretching itself across our great country, but we are one Stroman-quick-pitch away from the beginning of the Blue Jays season, with the hot lazy days of summer to follow.
If you’re planning on going to Vancouver this summer, make sure to go be a part of the raucous C’s crowd at The Nat – here’s the link to the 2018 Vancouver C’s schedule.
I’m going to do my best to get out west this summer. The only problem is I always say that, but it’s an arduous task for me to pull myself away from the beautiful Wahwashkesh Lake cottage just north of Perry Sound…..