Vancouver Bucket List: A Night Game at Nat Bailey Stadium

Photo credit: Ian Alexander Martin | Flickr

Photo credit: Ian Alexander Martin | Flickr

It’s a must on any Vancouver summer bucket list: a night game at Nat Bailey Stadium.

The historic 1951 stadium in the city’s Riley Park neighbourhood is home to the Vancouver Canadians, a minor league affiliate of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays.  A night at the “Nat” offers small-town charm, great baseball and beautiful views, all just minutes from downtown Vancouver.

I checked out the action over the weekend, when the Canadians were taking on their local rivals the Everett AquaSox from Washington.  At 7:05 p.m. game time, the stadium was already filled nearly to its 5,000-seat capacity. I managed to get a few “nosebleed” seats for the bargain price of $12.50 a ticket. (“Nosebleed” in Nat Bailey is a relative term – It’s a small stadium and there’s not a bad seat in the house.)

Photo credit: John Biehler | Flickr

Photo credit: John Biehler | Flickr

The game started off with a bang in the bottom of the first inning with a Canadians home run, which soared over the left field fence and out into the fields that surround the park. Nat Bailey must have the most gorgeous backdrop of any Vancouver stadium. Beyond the outfield walls rise the forests of Queen Elizabeth Park.  Meanwhile, neat rows of heritage houses stretch in all directions. If you’re coming from the urban jungle of downtown Vancouver condo towers, it’s a sight for sore eyes.

As with any minor league baseball game, half the fun at Nat Bailey is what goes on between innings.  A crowd favourite at Canadians’ games is the nightly sushi race, where three mascots dressed up as pieces of sushi sprint around the base paths (the speedy Wasabi character always seems to win).  Then there are the dancing groundskeepers, who come out in the middle of the game to groom the field and perform a stirring, choreographed rendition of Footloose.

Photo credit: janheuninck | Flickr

Photo credit: janheuninck | Flickr

Of course, there are also the concessions.  Nat Bailey has earned a reputation for its stadium fare and is one of the only minor league ballparks to serve freshly made sushi alongside the usual hotdogs, burgers and chicken fingers.  Fittingly, they also serve local beer for the fans from Granville Island. (Beer prices are around $7 – not cheap, but not the highway robbery of some sporting venues.)

And sipping a beer as the sun dips lower in the sky and the shadows spread across Nat Bailey field is one of the exquisite pleasures of summer in Vancouver.  I had – luckily – chosen seats along the first-base side of the field, which is shielded from the weltering sun that roasts fans on the third-base side of the ballpark.  As the night wore on, the sky turned from blue to pastel shades of orange and purple.  Big flocks of crows from Queen Elizabeth Park flew by on their nightly migration out of the city.  And a nearly full moon rose above the stadium.

But I haven’t even mentioned the action of the field.  As the night wore on, the Canadians pulled ahead with a commanding lead and ended up winning 6-2.  But the highlight of the game came in the bottom of the 7th inning. Canadians right fielder Boomer Collins smashed a home run that rocketed toward the left field wall before smashing right into the giant A&W root beer billboard.  At Nat Bailey that means one thing: Free A&W Teen Burgers for every person in the stadium.

Any other Canadians fans out there? What do you enjoy about a night at Nat Bailey? 

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