Congratulations are in order! Last week the Vancouver Canadians baseball team did it again, the Canadians won the Northwest League Championship for the 5th time since 2011.
But before there was a Vancouver Canadians Baseball Team, there was a team called the Vancouver Mounties. They played in the same beautiful little ballpark as the Canadians do today, but that stadium wasn’t called Nat Bailey Stadium, it was Capilano Stadium, or Cap Stadium as we called it.
The Vancouver Mounties played there from 1956-1962 the first time around and then made a comeback from 1965-1969.
It was the first time around that drew me to the ballpark as a young baseball fan. There was a church youth group leader by the name of Johnny Bell who used to organize trips to the ballpark for a few of the kids in the neighbourhood, and we couldn’t wait to hear from Mr. Bell and pile into his car to head off to Cap Stadium.
Capilano Stadium was as magical then as it is now. Maybe more so, as the trees weren’t as tall up on what Play by Play Broadcaster, Jim Robson dubbed Scotsman’s Hill. If you couldn’t afford a ticket to the game, or you just didn’t want to spend the money, you could listen to Mounties games on the radio, and watch the game from atop the hill across the road. That was in the day when the Scots didn’t mind being called “thrifty!” Haha.
Jim Robson would bring the game to life, even if you weren’t up on Scotsman’s Hill. I can remember listening on my Rocket Radio, with a little earpiece and alligator clip that clipped onto the screen of the school backstop. Jim would even do the play-by-play of “away” games without leaving town. They were called reconstructed games. Jim would be in the radio studio in Vancouver relying on a teletype operator in the ballpark in the city where the game was being played, to type out what was happening in the game, and Jim would make it sound like he was actually there, complete with sound effects. But that’s another story, and a story only told properly by the Hall of Famer, Jim Robson.
The ballpark, whether it was Capilano Stadium or Nat Bailey Stadium was and still is a magical place, especially at night when the game is played “under the lights.” But even during the day, walking into that ballpark with the smell of popcorn brings back a flood of wonderful memories of days spent in the sunshine watching the game in a way it was meant to be played, don’t rush, we’ve got all day!
In the days of the Vancouver Mounties we saw some amazing talent on that field. The first name that always comes to mind when thinking of the Mounties is George Bamberger who pitched for the Mounties from the mid 50’s into the early 60’s before making a few appearances in the Major Leagues as a pitcher and then later as a Manager and Pitching Coach. Sal Bando went on to be an All-Star third baseman with the Oakland A’s, and of course, the Hall of Fame third baseman, Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles wore the Mounties uniform in the mid 50’s.
Back to the field trips with Johnny Bell. We’d always sit in the right field bleachers when we took in a game with Mr. Bell. I don’t know if it was just the perspective from those seats he liked, or maybe the ticket prices were cheaper, but best of all the kids were all hoping for a foul ball to rattle into the bleachers of the right field benches that served as our seats. There usually wasn’t much of a chance for the little guys out in the bleachers. That included me! At the age of 10 or 11, I wasn’t very big, especially compared to some of the teenagers who roamed the bleachers, also waiting for a ball to come our way. But one day, one that I’ll never forget, there was very little opposition to deal with when a ball came sailing over our heads and rattled around the seating area, and fell underneath the bleachers. I ran around and down and dove on the ball and came up with it! Bleeding knuckles and all, I had finally come up with the prize! I was speechless! As I headed back to sit with the others an usher came up to me and told me that if I was to show the people in the office my foul ball, they’d give me 2 tickets to the next ballgame! Bonus! So, I hurried to the ballpark office and showed the woman behind the counter that I got the foul ball. She congratulated me, took the ball out of my hand, and replaced it with 2 tickets to the next game! NO! NO! I had waited all my life (10-11 years) to get a foul ball, and now it had been taken away from me! I was heartbroken. Little did I know it was going to be a swap, ball for tickets! If I’d known that, the ball would still be in my pocket! In all the years that have followed, in all the games I’ve attended, I’ve never been able to get another foul ball.
But there’s a silver lining to this story. Many, many years passed and I told my wife, Jeri, about my sad little tale of the foul ball, and unbeknownst to me she went and got a ball from the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Club, put it in a box, and wrote on it, “Happy Birthday to the little boy with the skinned knuckles!” Now that’s a Home Run!
Till next week...
Listen in as Jim Robson calls a reconstructed baseball game in August 1968
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White Rock, BC • Canada V4B 3Z2