The Vancouver Canadians keep on rolling.
The Northwest League baseball team continues to be a success story both on and off the field despite any obstacles it has to face.
Whether it’s an pandemic, a switch in schedules from short-season to full-season or a change in ownership, Canadians President Andy Dunn and his staff always find a way to make Nat Bailey Stadium a destination for sports fans in the summer.
The Single-A Northwest League affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays won the first-half Northern Division pennant with a 38-27 record and thus has already clinched a playoff spot.
“We’ve had great weather and the crowds have been great. We’ve also played great on the field. It was a little bit crazy first half because traditionally we’ve never won the first half but we’ll take it. We had a lot of fun and we’re looking forward to playing some baseball in late September,” says the 53-year-old Dunn, who has spent time as an executive in both the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals organizations.
The Canadians have been a success both on and off the field since Dunn’s arrival in 2008.
The organization has won four Northwest League Championships and has appeared in six championship series including losing to Eugene in the championship series last year.
Off the field, the Canadians regularly draw well over 200,000 fans per season at “The Nat” and are always looked at as one of minor league baseball’s biggest success stories when it comes to attendance.
The 2023 season also marks the first with a new ownership group in place as Jake Kerr and Jeff Mooney opted to sell the team to Diamond Baseball Holdings – an American company that owns 20 professional teams – this past spring.
Despite the ownership change, the organization hasn’t missed a beat.
“The transition has been fantastic. They (DBH) are the owners of the franchise and they’re great to deal with. These guys aren’t going to show up and runs things on a day-to-day basis. They’re supportive and they want to do what they can to make sure that we are putting out the best product locally for our community. There’s been no challenge whatsoever. It’s been a pretty seamless transition,” notes Dunn.
Change is something that Dunn and the Canadians have been accustomed to the last few years.
The Covid Epidemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 Northwest League season. When the league did resume play in 2021, the C’s played out of Hillsboro, Oregon due to border restrictions.
When the team finally did return to Nat Bailey Stadium for the 2022 season, it did so with a revamped front office staff as many long-time members of the organization left during the two-year break.
Then when Major League Baseball revamped the structure of minor league baseball prior to 2022, the Canadians and the Northwest League went from playing short-season baseball from June through early September to running a full schedule starting in April.
“The weather in April is always a challenge. I’m looking at our grounds crew back then – they’re out there every day trying to put out the best product they can for both for the guys on the field and for our fans to see what the fields look like – and the grass isn’t even growing yet and everything is wet. We were very heavy (with games) in April. Whenever you are heavy in April, it’s always going to be tough. Not only when it comes to getting people in the building but also in our staffing levels at the ballpark because we do have so many young people working for us that are in school. You just have to grind through and get to the summer months as people will come out with the better weather,” says Dunn.
The Canadians not only have a great reputation with fans when it comes to the game day experience at Nat Bailey Stadium but also in the community and with corporate partners.
When it comes to corporate partners, Dunn’s philosophy is simple. If you want to be involved, the organization will find a way.
When it comes to getting fans to come out, Dunn has a simple mantra– make attending a Canadians game an event that will create a memory.
“We take great pride in keeping it affordable. I mean there’s some tough times going on right now as everything’s going up in price, so we want to give people something fun to do. Just a few weeks ago, we had our ‘Dog Days of Summer’ and I think we had 700 dogs here at the ballpark. Some of those people weren’t traditional baseball fans but it was an outing and an event. It was crazy. We’ve also brought back our Superstar Nights – it’s just about doing some fun things to create a memory when they come to the ballpark. That’s kind of what we’ve always been after. We found a little bit of a formula that works and it’s just something we’re real proud of,” explains Dunn.
Dunn and the organization continue to look at how the game experience can improve at Nat Bailey Stadium which means making changes to the facility that was built in 1951.
The first base side of the ballpark that currently houses the BBQ picnic area will eventually be replaced by a new clubhouse for the Canadians complete with new workout facilities and batting cages to meet MLB’s guidelines for minor league teams.
“We need to bring the ballpark up to MLB standards and it’s something that we’re pretty excited about. Hopefully soon we will be unveiling some renderings to get people excited about it and to keep building on what we’ve done,” says Dunn.
As for a BBQ picnic area, it’s going to be relocated.
“We’re designing some things right now that will hopefully allow us to relocate the picnic area on the rooftop which will allow for some spectacular views. We have designers and engineers looking at that right now,” notes Dunn.
When it’s all said and done, Nat Bailey Stadium will look somewhat different.
However, when it comes to a game day experience you can bet Dunn and his staff will continue to make it an affordable event.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.