Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart - ISN
Victoria, BC (ISN) - Victoria baseball fans will soon be able to enjoy the crack of the bat again at Royal Athletic Park (RAP), as the collegiate level West Coast League (WCL) announced plans today to place a team in Victoria for the 2013 season.
The soon-to-be named team has negotiated a three-year agreement as the anchor tenant at Royal Athletic Park and will become the 10th team in the well established league that is now in its 8th season and touts itself as the "Diamond Standard" for summer collegiate baseball.
The WCL features a competitive level of play and recruits players from high caliber baseball programs at colleges and universities across North America. Top players from top college programs play in the league, most aspiring to become professional players.
Other teams in the league include the Cowlitz Black Bears, Bellingham Bulls, Bend Elks, Corvallis Knights, Kitsap Blue Jackets, Wenatchee Apple Socks, Klamath Falls Gems, Walla Walla Sweets and the only other Canadian entry, the Kelowna Falcons.
The 54-game WCL season will start the first week in June and end in mid-August with 27 home games schedule for RAP. Average ticket prices will be under $10 and the entertainment and atmosphere at the park will be very family oriented.
West Coast League President Ken Wilson was excited to be bringing the WCL to Victoria and provided a bit of insight as to what the League is all about. "The WCL is an opportunity for the best college baseball players to hone their skills in a summer league and make strides to becoming professional baseball players. The level of play is excellent and will be superb. Perhaps the best comparison I can make is that the WCL is to baseball is what the Western Hockey League is to hockey. Last week for example, in the MLB amateur player draft, for example, 55 WCL players were selected."
WCL President Ken Wilson announces the new Victoria franchise at a press conference Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart - ISN)
Wilson also noted that the WCL is a very community focused league and the players will be very involved in the community here in Victoria. "One of our real goals is to have our teams connect with the community. Every team will integrate with the community and get involved, not only with sports and baseball associations, but also with schools, churches, non-profits, and helps them raise funds to continue to do what they do."
"Bottom line the WCL is about having fun and WCL teams provide affordable family entertainment. That's what it's all about. These college age players are also great role models for the younger kids and we hope our teams and our players can enhance the experience for those kids who strive to someday play at the college level and perhaps someday return and play here at Royal Athletic Park."
The new owners of the Victoria franchise include Vancouver businessmen John McLean and Dwight Willett. McLean who is in the banking industry, is a managing partner in Ansera Capital Partners, an IT investment firm, and is delighted to be a part of the Victoria ownership group. "Victoria has an impressive baseball history dating back to 1866, strong grass roots baseball associations, impressive fan support for previous franchises and a high quality ballpark, which all made this an easy decision for us to come here."
Victoria team owners John McLean (left), Dwight Willett (centre) and Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin were on hand to announce the team Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart - ISN).
"As investors, we also really liked the structure and stability of the League, which has been around since 2005, and it has a cost structure that works in a minor league environment" said McLean. "Our players are not paid, as they are NCAA players and our travel is minimal, so from that perspective the cost structure of a team in this league was attractive. Plus we would have a team that will have a high caliber of play and be entertaining for the fans."
Team owner John McLean addresses the media at RAP Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart - ISN)
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin was also on hand for the announcement today. "What a great day for sports fans in the City of Victoria! For me too, I am just a fan and thrilled to be here and proud to welcome back the boys of summer for 2013."
"Whether you are a fan or not you will know that this will be a good thing economically for the City and for the businesses around here" noted Fortin. "Royal Athletic Park is an icon and important asset here in Victoria and is regularly used and lit up on many nights throughout the year. Thousands of people come here every year for a variety of events and now once more again we will be welcoming back baseball."
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin was pleased to be bringing baseball back to Royal Athletic Park (Photo by Christian J. Stewart - ISN).
While the excitement of bringing back high level baseball to the City is certainly good news, the hard work now begins to make sure that a quality team gets put on the field next June and that the playing conditions and atmosphere at the Park are the best they can be.
The team will certainly be looking for community support for billeting players, looking for volunteers and interns to help during the season and to work with the City to maintain the ballpark in the best possible conditions for players and fans alike.
To that end, while RAP will remain a mixed use stadium, changes are afoot to ensure that items like the portable fencing that will be used is of a higher standard and quality than the fence used for the Seals a few years back, which was prone to fall over on windy days.
WCL President Wilson noted, "This won't be an issue at all, they will have a high quality professional fence that will work and make everyone believe that they are in a professional baseball environment and venue." The new fencing will also be on wheels and will be easily and quickly moved into or out of place as needed.
Team owner McLean also noted that they were aware of many of the concerns that arose regarding lease arrangements and concession revenues when the Seals departed. "One of the first things I said to Mayor Fortin when we sat down to discuss the team is that this needs to make economic sense for both of us. The last thing city needs, given the past issues, is a team to come in and last only a year or two. Both sides needed to be happy and we have an agreement with them that works for both of us."
Part of that agreement includes a concession sharing revenue that will see 30% go to the team and 70% to the City. While this is the same as that in place when the Seals were here, the revenue sharing model will work better for the WCL franchise simply due to the simple economics - reduced travel budgets and the fact that there are no player salaries to worry about.
Mayor Fortin also confirmed that 50 cents from the sale of each ticket will go toward an infrastructure improvement fund that hopefully will go to keeping the park in tip top shape for both the players and the teams.
"We are taking a look at all the issues we had in the past and trying to address what we can, especially the fencing for example. For the first year, there probably won't be any real significant changes, but the infrastructure fund will allow us to do the improvements we want to see here, not only for baseball, but for everyone that comes to this park."
The team will soon be looking to find a name for the team and will likely hold a "name the team" contest. The team is also starting a recruitment process to find a high caliber coaching staff for the season and have them in place soon so that the player recruiting process can begin.
The West Coast 2012 schedule is currently underway and the league will hold its All-Star game in Walla Walla later in July. For full details visit the WCL website at http://www.wccbl.com