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Jays-M's could make killing in Vancouver
They should be playing 150 miles to the north – at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C.
Just think of the buzz it would generate: Jays rookie Brett Lawrie, a 21-year-old from the Vancouver suburb of Langley, is a sensation in the North. He has an OPS of 1.104 after nine big-league games, and Canadians would surely turn out in droves to see their native son.
“It would be huge,” said Bart Given, the former Blue Jays assistant general manager who currently lives in Vancouver.
Of course, that’s not feasible this week. BC Place is still undergoing a renovation that began shortly after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. A retractable roof is being installed, and the building’s primary tenants – the BC Lions (CFL) and Vancouver Whitecaps FC (MLS) – are preparing to move back in.
But at a time when Major League Baseball is keenly aware of its international reach – and with the 2013 World Baseball Classic to promote – the sport shouldn’t ignore a slam-dunk option to grow the game where it’s already getting stronger: The Mariners and Blue Jays should play one series each season in Vancouver.
Really, it shouldn’t be that complicated. The Seattle and Toronto franchises would forgo a home series in alternating years. In a season like this, when the teams are scheduled to play three times, there would be one series in Seattle, one series in Toronto, and one series in Vancouver.
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If marketed properly, the teams could share revenues and end up making more money than they otherwise would. Besides, Mariners-Jays games haven’t been hot tickets in either town, with averages of 13,654 (Seattle) and 19,065 (Toronto) during their previous meetings this year.
Given, who now works as a sports consultant with Vancouver-based Twenty Ten Group, believes a series between the Jays and Mariners in Vancouver could draw between 30,000 and 40,000 fans each night.
“And if Lawrie’s hot like he is now, I could see crowds of 40,000 or more,” Given said. “I don’t think Vancouver could support a major league team on a fulltime basis, like an expansion team or one relocating there. But for one series, it would be big news. There would be great attendance. I think it would be fun for the Jays players and maybe some of the Mariners players, as well.”
B.C. has produced a number of impact players in recent years – Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Jeff Francis, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden – and its baseball loyalties are traditionally split between the Mariners and Jays. Seattle came to prominence with Ken Griffey Jr. in the mid-1990s, after Toronto’s run of postseason appearances ended.
Given said there are probably more Blue Jays fans now – thanks in part to Lawrie, although the phenomenon of Canadians crossing the border to cheer for the Jays in Seattle is hardly new.
To be fair, there are a few roadblocks to a series in B.C. during the regular season: It would be difficult for either team to surrender three home games off its season-ticket plan – particularly for the Jays, since Toronto fans (unlike Seattle fans) wouldn’t have the option of driving to Vancouver to see the series. Also, it’s unclear if the stadium renovations would make it overly complicated for the seats to be reconfigured to accommodate a baseball field.
Interest in baseball among Canadians – at least, as judged by attendance figures – has yet to return to pre-strike levels, when the Blue Jays won back-to-back titles and it appeared that the Montreal Expos were on the cusp of their own. Now the Expos are no more, leaving the reemerging Blue Jays as the country’s lone MLB club.
Hard feelings about the Expos’ departure (and the strike in general) remain in some corners of Canada. The return of regular-season games to another Canadian city – if only for one series per year – would be a gesture of goodwill, not to mention a boost to the game’s popularity across the country.
And if the Jays and Mariners are smart, they might turn a profit, too.
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