Monday, August 18, 2008

Vancouver Canadians 4, Boise Hawks 3

August 17, 2008

Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, B.C., has, according to the Website of the Vancouver Canadians baseball team, often been described as "the prettiest little ballpark in North America." That's a fairly substantial claim, one that can't be proven or dis-proven during Weisenheimer's 2008 tour of Northwest ballparks. We do, however, have to give "The Nat" the nod among the yards we've visited this summer. We've been to parks in urban and suburban settings, but Nat Bailey Stadium sits right on the edge of a true gem, south Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park.

Fact is, Weisenheimer and his sweetie, the official scorer of the Weisenheimer Northwest Ballpark Tour 2008 (we should have thought of having T-shirts made up, but this whole tour thing came about on something of a whim) first discovered the stadium after having brunch at Seasons Restaurant in the park, and followed the sounds of stadium PA announcements to the yard below. It was a pied piper sort of thing. Then, as this weekend, it was blistering hot in Vancouver, though our visit (lo those many years ago) was in May, the heat was unseasonable, and we got sunburned to beat all hell. This time we were ready, as heat was in the forecast. They announced a game-time temp of 32, but it felt more like 90 to me. We ducked into seats in the shade even before the game began.

The Nat, to Weisenheimer's memory (admittedly feeble) has been gussied up a bit since our last visit, when it looked more as depicted at Ballpark Digest. We especially like the art that's on the outside walls of the stadium, including a depiction of the Seattle Rainiers (at right). There's another painting of Honus Wagner; we'll have to do the research some other day to see if Honus actually played in Vancouver. Certainly not at the Nat, which was built in 1951.

Vancouver, in days of yore, played in the Pacific Coast League. The AAA club left after the 1999 season, to become the Sacramento Rivercats, but in 2000 the Southern Oregon Timberjacks moved north to Vancouver to become the Canadians and join the short-season A-ball Northwest League. The Nat has a seating capacity of 6,500, and we expect it would be deemed "too small" to host AAA baseball today. We note that Sacramento leads the PCL in attendance at more than 9,500 per game. If Vancouver sold out at 6,500 per game it would rank in the middle of the pack. As an A-ball club, they're drawing an average of 3,474.

Our one quibble with the Nat -- no roster lists were available. They had a program, and a scorecard, and while the program had opening day rosters for Vancouver, there were no current rosters, and nothing for the visiting Boise Hawks. WTF? OK, a second quibble. The speed pitch displayed MPH. We're in Canada. Shouldn't it be KPH? As you can see, not a lot to gripe about at Nat Bailey Stadium. There's construction of some sort of Olympics venue going on next door. We're hoping they don't mess with this gem of a baseball park.

The game
One thing we learned at this contest, as we learned back on Aug. 1 in Portland and on Aug. 2 in Eugene: stick with the starters. Boise Hawks starter Aaron Shafer worked five innings, gave up one hit, issued no walks, fanned six, threw 57 pitches, faced the minimum of 15 hitters -- and that was his day's work! What, he couldn't have gone two more? Throw 70 pitches? Vancouver starter Trey Barham also strung up goose-eggs. Barham went six innings, gave up five hits (including a couple of the infield variety and one dunker), no runs, no walks, five Ks, threw 81 pitches, and that was his day. The hardest hit shot against him was an out: a liner that would have decapitated him had he not gotten the glove up in time.

As if to prove our point about starters, four of the five relief pitchers who worked in this game walked the first batters they faced, and this on a day in which the home plate umpire seemed to have announced, "It's hot out, boys, so you'd better be swinging." Neither starter walked anyone.

Once the starting pitchers were out of the way Vancouver broke through for two runs in the bottom of the sixth off Marcus Hatley to go up 2-0. Hatley walked Dusty Coleman to start the frame, Coleman scored on a two-out double by David Thomas, who came in on a triple by Marcos Luis. That three-bagger would have been an inside-the-park homer for most players, but Luis defies the typical image of the speedy secondbaseman. In fact, Luis was picked off third for the third out of the inning, perhaps still exhausted by the dash from home to third.

The Canadians tacked on another in the seventh to make it 3-0, and it seemed a nice, tidy affair was in the offing and that the home crowd would go home happy. But Boise plated a pair in the eighth off Edgar Tajeda, who walked a guy and was not helped by an error by third sacker Francisco Tirado, who also has a rusty gate swing and may not have a lengthy pro career. Sean Hoorelbeke, Boise's DH, doubled to plate the pair and chase Tajeda in favor of Ken Smalley, a hefty lad who seems to serve as Vancouver's closer. Smalley fanned Kyler Burke to end the inning and preserve the Canadians' 3-2 lead.

Smalley's inability to field cost him the coveted "save" in the ninth. Boise catcher Carlos Perez led off the final frame with a ground single to left. Shortstop Marwin Gonzalez laid down a bunt to the right of the mound; Smalley muffed it and everyone was safe. Shortstop Ryan Flaherty bunted, too, and this time Smalley made the play, a 1-4 putout, but the runners advanced to second and third.

This led to an interesting play. With the Vancouver infield playing in to try to cut down the tying run at the plate, Gonzalez, the go-ahead run, got a huge lead off second, almost halfway to third. So when left fielder David Macias lined one to short left field, Perez scored easily, Gonzalez was waved home, just eight or ten feet behind him, but was nailed at the plate on a nice throw from Thomas. With a normal lead, Gonzalez is probably held at third. Instead he was the second out, and Andrew Rundle fanned to end the inning.

At this point, the Weisenheimers were a bit concerned. We had a train to catch back to the States, boarding at 5-ish, but the game was tied 3-3 and pushing four o'clock. We could afford an extra inning or two, but no more.

Vancouver came through for us. Jeremy Barfield, son of former Toronto great Jesse who had whiffed three times (but apparently won the previous game with a grand slam in the ninth) was hit by a pitch leading off. Dusty Napoleon bunted him to second. Boise walked Jason Christian, who had doubled to drive in a run in the second, intentionally. But Coleman hit a gapper for a double that scored Barfield to win it for the Canadians.

It was a delightful game, we caught a cab, and made it to the train station in plenty of time.

Go visit the Nat!

Box score

1 comment:

Sweetie the Scorer said...

As official scorer I have to log my very strong objections to the lack of rosters and stats in the scorecard. Harumph.