(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - As the calendar flips to 2018 in just a few days time, it seems to be a perfect moment to stop and reflect on what might be one of the most remarkable seasons in franchise history. From unveiling Western Canada's first fully-accessible baseball field meant to provide hope and opportunity to Challenger Baseball right through to a Northwest League Championship for our hometown Canadians, this will most certainly be a tough act to follow.
The Vancouver Canadians hosted the 7th Annual Scotiabank Hot Stove Luncheon featuring the Toronto Blue Jays and with that it was a chance to local baseball fans to reconnect and revisit a wonderful season on and off the field. From the creation of a nwe Challenger Baseball field located steps away from historic Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium to the creation of five $15,000 scholarships that would give deserving children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Coast B.C. the chance to further their academic aspirations, this luncheon was the feel good moment of the off-season.
Challenger Field was created through the generosity of Variety - The Children's Charity, Jays Care Foundation, Vancouver Board of Parks & Recreation, Challenger Baseball and of course the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Foundation who spearheaded this effort with C's owner Jake Kerr, partner Jeff Mooney and team president Andy Dunn leading the way.
The field is a fully synthetic surface with a structure surrounding it that accomodates those who have physical and cognitive challenges. from wider entry points to dugouts and exits to properly situated water fountains and seating arrangements - this field was designed to ensure that athletes of all ability can share in the excitement and love of baseball.
The $75,000 in Vancouver Canadians Scholarship funding was presented by Jeff Mooney and his wife Suzanne Bolton who together ensured the academic development of five (5) gifted children who showcased a desire and passion to continue their education after high school. With the support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Coast B.C., these bright-minded children are selected from a committee of community leaders and awarded these scholarships through the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Foundation. What a dream come true for these young leaders thanks to the love and support of Jeff & Suzanne. It was a fantastic way to kick off the 2017 calendar year.
In addition to our luncheon, the Canadians were quick to make countless community appearances even under the snowy skies from one of Vancouver's coldest winters. The Canadians welcomed Community Relations Manager Oscar Duran who quickly planted roots in our community and contined our commitment to being at every event no matter the size.
From spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays to welcoming countless Little League and BC Minor Baseball teams to their start of their seasons, the Canadians might have been as busy in the weeks leading up to the season as they were once our games got underway.
Bob Brown Bear and the Vancouver Canadians community relations team welcomed more than 30 different leagues as Play Ball rang from Vancouver Island into the Interior and the C's were there every step of the way. We also christened a team from White Rock that ended up having quite the summer that ended up in Williamsport, PA as part of the Little League World Series!
The Canadians coaching staff was announced with Rich Miller, Jim Czajkowski, Dave Pano and Dan Leja leading the way in 2017. It marked the first time since 2013 that all three members of the Canadians coaching staff had a Northwest League Championship ring heading into the season as Miller led the C's to the 2011 NWL title while Czajkowski and Pano each had three from our wonderful run back in 2011 through 2013. (SPOILER ALERT: These gentlemen would need to make more room on their hand by the end of the year, but we'll get back to that in a few moments ;)
The Major League Baseball First-year Player Draft took place and the Blue Jays went to work selecting a number of players that would eventually find their way into a Vancouver Canadians uniform including catcher Riley Adams, 1B Kacy Clemens, RHP Nate Pearson and SS Logan Warmoth just to name a few. Combine these names with a wealth of experienced professional prospects within the Blue Jays system honing their skills down in Dunedin, Florida at extended spring training and it became clear before the first pitch of the season that Vancouver would be a formidable foe in the Northwest League.
After a busy off-season, the Canadians finally took to the field on June 15th down in Eugene, Oregon as eight (8) Northwest League teams once again begun the sprint toward the Bob Freitas trophy presented to the Champions of the Class-A, Short-Season level here in the pacific northwest. Vancouver drew the short straw to start the season having to play five games in the home of the defending Northwest League Champs down at PK park in Eugene but came out gangbusters winning the opening game of the season 6-1 followed by a 7-0 shutout victory in front of a sold out stadium. After dropping the next two games, Vancouver would take the series finale to head back to Nat Bailey Stadium having won their first series of the season, outscoring the Emeralds 22-14.
Vancouver would welcome Everett (June 20-22) and Spokane (June 23-25) for the first homestand of the season and go 5-1 (.833) over that stretch losing just once to the Aquasox as Vancouver suddenly found themselves near the top of the North Division standings trailing only Tri-City. The Canadians would finish the month of June with a 10-6 (.625) record and that was before all of Rich Miller's pieces had fully fallen into place.
July saw the Canadians drop the first game of the month only to win the next six straight with series victories over Boise, Spokane and Eugene. Vancouver had improved to 16-7 (.696) as the Canadians and Tri-City broke from the pack in the North Division making it a two-horse race over the final 15 games of the first half. Vancouver would struggle at times dropping eight of ten (July 8 - 19) including a five-game sweep at home at the hands of the Hillsboro Hops making many fans wonder if the Canadians would be able to hold on and win the North Division first half, which had never been done in the Canadians previous seven seasons (Note: The NWL switched playoff formats back in 2010 to present a first half and second half division winner. Vancouver had won five second half pennants, but never a first half). With the rest of the North beginning to make up ground, the Canadians with three wins over their final four games to hold off Tri-City by a lone game to win the First half for the first time. In all 38 games of that first half, Vancouver and Tri-City never met!
The 2017 All-Star Game would see three Canadians added to its roster as catcher Riley Adams along with pitchers William Ouellette and Orlando Pascual made the trip down to Hillsboro, Oregon to take part in the Northwest League vs. Pioneer League mid-summer classic. This would be the first of a handful of outstanding player acknowledgements for all three of these future Blue Jays.
Vancouver would start the month of August against the South Division powerhouse Hillsboro Hops, a team that just two weeks earlier came north to Canada taking all five games at Scotiabank Field. The C's responded in this series after losing the opener 9-8, Vancouver would finally solve the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate taking three of the series final four games leaving the hops with a message that should these two teams meet in the NWL Championship like they did in 2014, that Vancouver would be ready.
The Canadians would go 16-12 (.571) in August while Spokane emerged as the front runner to claim the North with Tri-City fighting tooth and nail to hold on to a spot in the playoffs. Tri-City had to beat Vancouver just once over the season's final 48 hours, but the Canadians would take all three games of a short series down in Pasco beating the San Diego Padres affiliate 1-0, 2-0 and 5-0 to roll into the post-season having not given up a run in the previous 32 innings.
The Canadians took that strong pitching performance into the post-season and were set to battle the Spokane Indians who finished the second half 23-15, one game better than Vancouver. The Indians came into the series as underdogs as Vancouver had taken 10 of twelve from the Texas Rangers affiliate despite the Indians taking two of the final three heading into the playoffs. Game 1 of the North Division best-of-three series was set for Avista Stadium but was cancelled (September 5) and re-located to Vancouver due to thick smoke from forest fires in the Washington State region. The change of scenery meant that Vancouver went from having to play in front of a hostile Spokane crowd to playing in front of a racous Scotiabank Field crowd and the energy shift could be felt immediately with the C's opening the post-season with a 2-1 victory. The Indians would grab their only run in the bottom of the 9th inning (Spokane was home team in Game 1 despite the contest being played in Vancouver), ending Vancouver's scoreless streak at 40 consecutive innings.
The Canadians would win 2-1 in Game 2 of the North Division Final as Riley Adams grabbed an RBI single in the bottom of the 1st inning and OF Brock Lundquist hit his 1st home run of the playoffs which proved to be the game's winning run. Vancouver swept the North Division series 2-games-to-none and extended its record over the past four North Division playoffs to 8-0 dating back to 2012.
Vancouver would face the defending NWL Champions as Eugene knocked off Hillsboro which might have been a good thing as the Canadians were 3-7 (.300) vs. the Hops during the regular season and 6-4 (.600) vs. the Emeralds with the last meeting between these two franchises dating back to July 3.
After splitting the first two games of this new best-of-five Championship format, with the C's winning the opener 7-5, Vancouver returned home to a pair of 2-1 victories to claim its fourth Northwest League Championship in the past seven years! Vancouver never won a post-season game by more than two runs, yet went 5-1 in the playoffs - truly a Championship effort led by Nate Pearson, a phenomenal pitching staff and timely hitting.
Canadians manager Rich Miller was named Manager of the Year and Vancouver added yet another metal name plate to the coveted Bob Freitas Trophy as Champions of the Northwest League.
Shortly after the season, Vancouver saw Head Groundskeeper Ross Baron receive the Sports Turf Manager of the Year award, the first-time Vancouver and its Head Groundskeeper had ever received this distinction!
Just days after the final out was recorded the Canadians, Salvation Army and Save-On-Foods were back in the community providing family-sized turkey dinners to local families in need. The echoes of a Championship could still be heard bouncing off of the walls at historic Scotiabank Field and yet it was right back to business for the Canadians front office staff. The players and coaches had head home, the footprints of players rounding the bases still imprinted on the field and already the Canadians were looking ahead to 2018.
Some might imagine the 2017 season and year as a whole to be a tough act to follow, but we will - and it will be awesome in its own distinct way as it always is.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.