When it comes to potential offseason uses for a Minor League ballpark, "support venue for an Olympic curling arena" is probably not the first option that springs to mind.
But Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Class A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians, is being used for precisely this purpose. The nearly 60-year-old facility is located next door to the brand new Vancouver Olympic Centre, the exclusive venue for curling throughout the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"[Nat Bailey Stadium] is hosting meals for [Olympic Games] volunteers and workers, and all the logistics that come with that. It's also serving as the media center for curling," explained Andy Dunn, who is entering his third season as the Canadians president. "Since November, we've undergone a huge transition. There are security fences up, cameras up and different decorations inside. We're probably the first Minor League ballpark to ever be part of the Winter Olympics."
Curling, which somewhat resembles shuffleboard on ice, remains an obscure sport an America. In Canada, however, the situation is far different.
"This is really a huge event and one of the more popular [Olympic Games] tickets," said Dunn. "There are going to be three to four [curling] sessions a day, with 6,000 fans per session, over 12 days. Things will be really interesting around here."
It's already been an interesting offseason for Dunn and his staff, who have to be cleared by Olympic Games security before entering their own stadium. Logistical difficulties such as this will only increase once the games begin on Friday.
"I've told the staff to embrace the situation, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Dunn. "We'll have people working at the ballpark, but it will be a skeleton staff. There won't be too much work that can get done, because so much of the city is going to be shut down. It's not a good time to be calling people, asking if they'd be interested in purchasing a mini-plan."
From a longer-term perspective, there was some worry that the Winter Olympics could adversely impact the team's bottom line.
"We were concerned of a drop-off [in revenue]. Maybe instead of buying Canadians tickets, our fans would spend money on the Olympics instead," said Dunn. "So we got started real early and offered multi-year sponsor and season ticket deals. Otherwise, this could have been a real headache."
But the Olympics are worth such hassles.
"One of the greatest things about the Olympics coming to Vancouver is the legacy program. As a result of hosting, the city's roads, building and overall infrastructure will all be improved," said Dunn.
This certainly extends to Nat Bailey Stadium, which received a much-needed power upgrade.
"Since our new ownership group came in [in 2007], we've redone the concourse and seating areas and added new suites," said Dunn. "The upgrade was a big-ticket item for us and something [the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee] was able to get done at a very quick pace."
Even after the Olympics conclude on Feb. 28, it will take some time for a feeling of normalcy to return to Nat Bailey Stadium. The Paralympics take place in March, and Dunn said he expects it then will take three to four weeks to return the facility to a baseball-ready state.
"This is one of those times when being a short-season club really works in our favor," he said. "If Opening Day was in April, we'd really be sweating it."