Monday, 11 April 2022

A FAN’S NOTES


Baseball Is Back


Somehow baseball’s major leagues managed to stop arguing about insane amounts of money long enough to stage the traditional opening day for their quaint sport. Come the sixth of June, Edmonton’s downtown ballpark will host its first opening day in two years. Locked down, socially distanced summers are, for the moment, a thing of the past and the Canada – US border is pretty much open with proof of vaccination. Enter the West Coast League’s (WCL) Edmonton Riverhawks. I’m no ornithologist but their logo resembles the head of a bald eagle.


The WCL was established in 2005. It’s short season, collegiate level baseball. As all of its other franchises play in the province of British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon, Edmonton, Alberta northerly and on the other side of the Rockies, will be one hell of a long bus ride away for the other 14 teams. The WCL follows on the spikes of the Western Canadian Baseball League, the Northern League, the Canadian Baseball League, possibly the Golden League if I remember correctly - God knows which other leagues I’ve forgotten – and, for a glorious time, the legendary Triple A Pacific Coast League. Seamheads will recognize a pattern of faith and foolishness here, one as exact as a diamond. Once more into the batter’s box, dear friends! Weather permitting.


I remember watching the Class D Edmonton Tigers back in the seventies. Since then local baseball fans have cheered for the Trappers, the Capitals, the Prospects and the unfortunately named Cracker-Cats. That name was spun straight-facedly as a whimsical play on the hydraulic technique of fossil fuel extraction known as cataclysmic fracturing. Riverhawks is another one of those clumsy and curiously unathletic sports neologisms, a proper noun that’s no portmanteau. I know what a river is. I know what a hawk is. My Birds of Edmonton reference book describes both sharp-shinned hawks and red-tailed hawks. I don’t know what a riverhawk is; must be a mythical creature, like a roc.


The team’s base colours are two shades of blue accentuated with black and gold. Their colours all have special Ralph Lauren paint swatch names of course because, because uniform palettes require a certain exclusive designer gravitas. Anyway, dark and light blues and black to me caw magpie. There are more than a few around town. What the hell was wrong with Edmonton Magpies?


John Feinstein is an incredibly prolific sportswriter. In 2014 he published a book about life in baseball’s minor leagues called Where Nobody Knows Your Name. This is the level of baseball I’ve come to appreciate since I moved from Quebec to Alberta 32 years ago. While the infield’s dimensions are universal, the scale of the game is human, intimate. Feinstein has also written a book about the men’s professional golf tour called A Good Walk Spoiled. I’ve not read it because I absolutely and utterly loathe golf. But, his title never fails to make me chuckle. Watching live baseball in Edmonton is similar, a leisurely conversation with a companion in a clich├ęd storybook setting infrequently interrupted by the action between the foul lines.


Barely edible food, icky condiment dispensers, revolting toilets and overpriced beer, what’s not to love about a fine summer’s afternoon or evening at the ballpark? A particular quirk of mine is critiquing the signage on the outfield wall, a hangover from a life in advertising. Billboards are generally viewed from moving vehicles, the drivers and their passengers have perhaps three seconds to register a simple message. An outfield sign may seem like a billboard looming over a captive audience, but the reality is that fans see a rectangle about the size of a business card. For all the outfield (and sundry venue and hockey rinkboard) signage I conceived and executed on behalf of a former employer for various markets in Alberta, I like to think I instinctually got it right - for the most part. Whether those branding exercises ever realized a return on investment remains an unquantifiable mystery.


The Riverhawks market what the club describes as a “flex” pack. Ten discounted tickets that may be used in any combination for any game. I bought one for $150, my order number is 44. Oh, Henry! The gods of the game have smiled upon my need to return to the ballpark. In the latter half of the eighties I used to buy Montreal Expos “mini” season tickets. Two seats for six (possibly eight) designated games. They were affordable on a grocery store union wage augmented by freelance writing cheques; I want to say about $150 total. I don’t remember, but I do recall the visitors being the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and not the Portland Pickles.


Between my cash outlays, when I was working on all that baseball signage, I was the default recipient of Trappers graft, a pair of season tickets for three seasons running. No one else in the advertising department, indeed the entire division office, cared about Triple A baseball. I did.        


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of hard-hitting, insightful sports coverage since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

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