VICTORIA, B.C. — The Lefties have the most successful team in the West Coast League right across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The HarbourCats, in their sixth season of existence, led the West Coast League in attendance last year (The Lefties were a very respectable third in total attendance). They have a big facility that rivals some minor league parks in a much larger market than Port Angeles. Thus, a lot of things are going well for them.
Yet, the HarbourCats owner said the name of the game continues to be promotion.
“It’s nice to have this market, but we still have to focus on having an interesting product,” said Jim Swanson, managing partner of the HarbourCats.
And that means plenty of beer choices, lots of food trucks, karaoke, races involving fans or mascots, seats in a bright-red Victoria double-decker bus and much more. For instance on Wednesday night, the HarbourCats had fans singing along with the Boston Red Sox favorite, “Sweet Caroline.”
Jim Swanson, managing partner of the HarbourCats, said he “loves” having the rivalry with the Port Angeles Lefties. He doesn’t want to take the credit for the formation of the Port Angeles Lefties, but said he was a big advocate for a team across the strait from Victoria.
Swanson said he doesn’t really give advice to the Lefties, so much as he and the Lefties share ideas.
“[Lefties owner] Matt Acker is a smart guy … more than anything, we bounce things off each other,” Swanson said. “We think about mutual promotions, options to fuel the rivalry. There are a lot of opportunities there.”
Wednesday’s game was what Swanson called a “soft opening” — The HarbourCats are promoting tonight’s game as their main opener. The stands were about half-full (there was a Stanley Cup Finals game on TV Wednesday night and hockey is king in Canada.), but the crowd was loud and enthusiastic.
Another thing going for Victoria’s favor, is that the city with its mild climate and pleasant summers is a baseball town. Hockey is near-religion in Canada, but fortunately for the HarbourCats, most hockey is finished by May.
“This is a big baseball town, we’re much more rounded than a place like Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,” Swanson said. Most of the Canadian Major Leaguers in baseball come from the Vancouver-Victoria area (for instance, the Mariners’ James Paxton is from Ladner, a suburb of Vancouver).
The HarbourCats have local players from Victoria to help with their crowds and they bring in players from other countries such as Cuba and Taiwan, though their two Cuban players cannot travel to the U.S. on road games. They also have Claire Eccles, a young local woman who is a knuckleballer, back this year.
All in all, it’s a formula for success that has the HarbourCats and the West Coast League thriving.
The Lefties return to Victoria for league games June 15-17.