Baseball in Vancouver, B.C.??
As the 2010 Winter Olympics proceed in Vancouver, British Columbia, some folks in Canada recall back in the mid-1980s when that city had hopes for attracting a Major League Baseball team. Believe it or not, that was one of the primary reasons for building BC Place, home of the CFL B.C. Lions, currently being used the main venue for indoor Olympic events. Philip Delisle wrote to ask me about the possibility of doing a diagram of that stadium, since it has been used for baseball exhibition games over the years, including the Blue Jays and the Brewers.
Philip pointed me to a discussion thread in which some photos and illustrations of a baseball configuration are shown: hfboards.com. Let me tell you, it is weird! The diamond is angled to the left, so that the foul territory on the third base side gradually shrinks as it approaches the foul pole, while it steadily expands on the other side. I'm very dubious about that alignment, which leaves a huge vacant area between the seats and first base. As somebody at baseball-fever.com pointed out, "Temporary seating on the 1st base side would kind of be reminiscent of old War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo." (That's where the movie The Natural, starring Robert Redford, was filmed.)
With its fabric roof, BC Place looks almost exactly like the Metrodome from the outside, but it is more elongated in order to accommodate the larger size gridiron used in Canadian Football League. The B.C. Lions have played there since 1983. It has about 60,000 seats, but there are very few sellouts, except for when the CFL "Grey Cup" championship game is played there. BC Place will undergo a thorough renovation after the Olympics are over, with a new retractable roof that is suspended from 20 or so outward-leaning poles rimming the outside perimeter. The project will cost an estimated $458 million, in Canadian dollars. Obviously, the B.C. Lions will be unable to use BC Place this year, so it was decided to build a large temporary facility located where their former home Empire Stadium used to stand; it will be called "Empire Fields." See the Vancouver Sun.
In any case, the dream of big league baseball in Vancouver is still alive, and the future retractable roof at BC Place, with blue skies and fresh breezes, makes that an appealing thought. As fans in Montreal, Seattle, and Minneapolis know, there is no sense in staying inside on a bright summer day in the northern latitudes. At Canadian Baseball Network, Adam Fine argues that BC Place will flop unless another major professional team makes its home there. The NFL is out of the question, which leaves baseball. With a population of just over 2.3 million (third biggest in Candada), Vancouver rivals Portland, Oregon as a prospective location for a possible future MLB expansion franchise. (See the Baseball cities page.) One would think that Montreal (about 3.8 million) would get first preference, but as Mr. Fine says, it all depends on fan interest and investor willingness.
Speaking of Montreal, the present situation in Vancouver reminds you of what a financial and engineering debacle Olympic Stadium (a.k.a. "The Big Owe") proved to be. Awkward compromises in multi-sport stadiums are rarely satisfactory to anyone, and the result is often a "white elephant" which nobody loves. They could just as well invest that $458 million on a brand-new baseball stadium, making it open at one end to allow for a CFL gridiron.
At a hearing of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly in May 1993, the provincial Minister of Economic Development, David Zirnhelt said he was busy promoting Vancouver as a future MLB venue. As an alternative, he also suggested that the Seattle Mariners could play some of their home games in BC Place every year, sort of like how the White Sox played some of their home games in Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968-1969, or the Montreal Expos played some of their home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in 2003-2004. (See the Anomalous stadiums page.) That sounds like a reasonable idea to me; why not give it a try? I still think Major League Baseball ought to consider having teams from southern states (especially Florida) play some of their midsummer games in Canada.
Seattle Mariners fans recall that BC Place was where their star slugger Edgar Martinez tore a hamstring during a Mariners-Brewers exhibition game prior to the 1993 season. He never fully recovered from that injury, which is why he spent the rest of his career as a designated hitter. Anyway, I guess this means I'll have to add BC Place to my "to do" list. The baseball seating chart at bcplacestadium.com will be of great help.