A Ballpark in the Dead of Winter
Down on the river flats here in
south-facing windows of the Hotel Macdonald perched on the precipice of the
valley’s northern slope is a ballpark. Depending upon your seat relative to the
lines stretching from the apex of home plate, the view above and beyond the
outfield fence may offer you downtown’s skyline, the Alberta Legislature, the
stacks of the decommissioned, massive brick Pink Floyd power station or the
green canopy shading the city’s extensive river-side leisure path network. Edmonton
The modest yard, at once bucolic, urban and industrial was precariously and publicly financed and engineered by a local character, one who might be politely described euphemistically as a ‘flamboyant businessman.’
In the mid-90s AAA minor league baseball got too big for its britches because clubs that had once traded hands for a dollar were suddenly deemed to be worth a million of them. Ergo, existing rickety wooden parks and the paltry amenities they offered were required to upgrade in order to enhance the fan experience and ownership revenue streams – same difference – because the main event, a game, was now secondary to the bells and whistles of the facility. The clown, the mascot and the Blues Brothers tribute act could stay for the seventh inning stretch provided they covered their costs.
The pro arguments for what became Telus Field included the civic prestige associated with Pacific Coast League baseball and the incalculable yet positive effects of economic trickle down provided by pro sports. The cons were just those, convoluted within bluffs and threats of relocation. Canadian PCL sister cities
were held up with the same gun but did not raise their hands above their heads. Vancouver
The Trappers, affiliated variously with the White Sox, Angels and Marlins, despite having their demands met, headed south anyway, as did
Calgary’s Cannons and ’s Canadians.
Some said it was because of the weather. Some said it was because of the
geography. Some said it was because of the value of the Canadian dollar. Some
said the local market of hardcore seamheads was just too small, although maybe
they tired of the vacuum hose in their wallets and the endless idiot distractions between innings.
Some said it was just a business decision pure and simple; a bigger cash grab
was to be had elsewhere. Some agreed it was all of the above. Vancouver
The failures following the PCL’s exit mounted: the Canadian Baseball League, the Northern League and the Golden League were all dead on arrival. Telus Field is now used maybe 30 times each summer by the Edmonton Prospects, a low level collegiate operation which cannot afford to replace the signage all of the defunct franchises left in their wakes. You can count the fans with your index finger. The most memorable moment in recent seasons was when my pal Tim, who always enjoys a visit to a ballpark, was in town from
He announced between pitches that he was eating the worst hamburger he’d ever
eaten in his 50-plus years of existence. God bless him, he somehow managed to
swallow every last bite. Rancid food became the new normal, it never used to be that way. Calgary
As white elephants go, Telus Field is a mouse compared to Montreal’s decrepit Olympic Stadium (Hello, Brazil! Is this a bad time to call?), the recently vacated 20-year-old pro football dome in St. Louis or even
own recently renovated though soon to be abandoned NHL arena, Edmonton Rexall Place. It’s
strange to contemplate, but of all the structures that comprise a city, venues
dedicated to professional sports seem to have the shortest life spans.
State of the art gets old fast when the game being played is no longer the prime attraction, when the competition is the ease and comfort of a den equipped with a hi-def flat screen TV, when a rooted for team has no compunction about pulling up stakes on the whiff of a sweeter deal.
possibly transformative and as yet unfinished new downtown hockey rink will
likely be derided as an inadequate relic by its main tenant a quarter century
hence even as we hail sports arenas as our new and great public undertakings. Edmonton
The first visit from the edge man is always a cheery one, rife with friendly advice. NHL boss Gary Bettman was in Calgary last week attempting to extort civic support for a massive, pro-centric athletic facility on contaminated land that in no way could be ‘cost-justified’ as a strictly private venture, according to Bettman; Calgary’s hockey team also owns a junior hockey team, the Canadian Football League’s Stampeders, a lacrosse team and a nightclub. Construction of the Flames’ existing home ice was completed in 1983.