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Ben's Biz: An evening of High-"Eh" baseball in Vancouver

Ben Hill goes north of the border to majestic British Columbia
June 2, 2023

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

When I first visited Vancouver’s Nat Bailey Stadium, in 2012, I fell in love. A classic ballpark in a beautiful area, filled with enthusiastic fans. What more could you want? My time in Vancouver this time around was limited, as I drove straight to the ballpark from Tacoma and flew home early the next morning. But what a time it was. The home of the Vancouver Canadians remains a spectacular place to visit.

I arrived at Nat Bailey Stadium after navigating past rows of cars doing pick-ups and drop-offs at the curling club next door (how Canadian). Fortunately, I had just enough time to explore the immediate surroundings before going inside. Queen Elizabeth Park -- the highest point in Vancouver -- is located across the street. After walking for about 15 minutes in a generally uphill direction, this was my view. Amazing.

It was hard to pull myself away from that, which marked the start of me feeling frustrated with how little time I would have in Vancouver (but no regrets -- I was excited to get back home and see my 2-year-old son, Harry). Upon entering the ballpark, I met up with Canadians broadcaster Tyler Zickel. He showed me the view from the home bullpen…

…as well as the bullpen that the relievers use to traverse their grass and dirt road journey to the mound. No one asked me, but there should be more bullpen carts in Minor League Baseball. Get with it, America.

Prior to that evening’s game against Everett, I engaged in conversation with a variety of stadium stalwarts. This included a pair of, generally speaking, my favorite kind of people: veteran ushers. Gerry, tanned and rested after having just returned from a Panamanian cruise, remembers attending his first game at Nat Bailey Stadium (then called Capilano Stadium) in its inaugural season of 1951.

Hans -- he’s originally from Holland and pronounces his name like “hands” without the d -- has been an usher for 40 years. His association with the team goes back further than that, as he and his wife served as a host family for Canadians’ players beginning in 1978 (host families are no longer utilized in Minor League Baseball, as the Major League parent club now arranges housing for the players).

A night at the Nat is doubly anthemic, as every game starts with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “O Canada.”

Soon after the first pitch was thrown, I met with Alec Du Hamel, my Designated Eater. We began in the concourse with something comparatively modest, the Extreme Katsu Dog (Tonkatsu sauce, cabbage, green onion, Japanese mayo, tempura crunch). It’s available at the same stand where sushi is sold. (Sushi is huge in Vancouver, given its proximity to water and large Japanese population.)

Despite having “Extreme” in its name, that Japanese-style hot dog was only a warm-up for the main course: The metric system-eschewing Yard Dog, which costs $29.50 (in Canadian dollars). That’s less than ninety cents per inch.

Later in the ballgame I spent a couple innings on the air with the aforementioned Tyler Zickel. This marked my 2023 broadcast debut, and was all the more memorable because it took place in a rooftop press box. (It was also memorable because Tyler has a great vocabulary and asked me questions related to the presence of both ethos and pathos in my work.)

Rooftop press boxes used to be common -- I can recall them in locations such as Helena, Mont. and Hagerstown, Md. -- but the one at Nat Bailey Stadium might be the last remaining rooftop press box in Minor League Baseball. Here’s the view from the roof itself.

My favorite spot at Nat Bailey Stadium is located just down the stairs. The last row of the seating bowl offers a great view of the field and the acoustics are amazing.

Vancouver fans are engaged throughout the game, and hearing their resonant reactions from underneath the roof feels timeless. So much has changed since 1951, but environments like this offer a direct link to the game’s past.

I always find things to like about every ballpark I visit, but at Nat Bailey Stadium I don’t even have to try. I just like being there. I’ve visited 186 ballparks in my career, and Vancouver’s gem is easily in the top five.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.