Several months ago, my brother and I got to talking about baseball in Edmonton. With the Edmonton Capitals taking a year-long hiatus, the Edmonton Prospects amateur baseball team struggling in its summer league, Telus Field seemed empty. Telus is a beautiful stadium, and it needs something to fill the half-grass, half-turf field. My brother thought that the Bears should create a men’s baseball team to compete with UBC; I didn’t think the idea had any shot, with the field hockey team recently axed and budget funds looking dry. However, over the last months, I’ve heard more and more casual discussions about a Golden Bears baseball team, and Alana Willerton’s piece in the Gateway serves as yet another example.
Though many Albertans might assume that hockey, soccer and lacrosse dominate the province’s sports landscape, Alberta baseball is strong. In terms of Canadian competition, Alberta is generally among the four strongest baseball provinces, alongside British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. In terms of outstanding players, numerous high schoolers move from Baseball Alberta travel teams to the NCAA every fall. Moreover, Alberta players have represented most professional organizations in the Major Leagues, from Chris Reitsma (a Calgary native) donning the Seattle Mariners uniform, to Steven Inch in the Phillies farm system and Brad Cuthbertson with San Francisco.
The major barrier to establishing a team is that most Albertan players take their collegiate baseball south (and for those that remain in Canada, UBC is a marquee destination). Ontario has sprouted its fair share of university teams, and both Calgary and Lethbridge boast competitive college varsity teams, but British Columbia is Canada’s most prolific producer of college baseball talent. Look no further than Jeff Francis, a left-handed UBC pitcher that was drafted in the first round of the MLB Amateur Draft and then made his way to the World Series with the Colorado Rockies. Vancouver and Victoria love their baseball, and Langley is arguably Canada’s most avid baseball town. But many of the Langley Blaze‘s high school players head to UBC. If the Golden Bears have a team, enticing players to play in Edmonton versus Vancouver could be a tough sell.
Though many Edmontonians enjoy baseball, I’d be surprised to see consistent attendance at Golden Bears varsity baseball games. Just looking at soccer, the Bears and Pandas are among Canada’s best teams, and their attendance still doesn’t consistently break 300 students for an individual game. If the University of Alberta fielded its own baseball team, I think that it would need to join the NAIA – the same conference as UBC – and actively recruit not only Alberta’s best talent, but the top shortstops, catchers, outfielders and so on, from B.C. and our neighbour, Saskatchewan. We could also draw from the Vauxhall and St. FX baseball academies in Alberta, which are producing some excellent local players.
I’m surprised that the Golden Bears don’t have a varsity baseball team, but I don’t think that we should count out the possibility in the future. If the university started the initial planning process today, we could be looking at a solid NAIA team within the next five to ten years. That would be long after most readers’ graduation, but the wait would be well worth it.
What do you think about a Golden Bears varsity baseball team? Too much of a stretch, or just the right fit?