It’s three hours before game time at Nat Bailey and there’s a definite electricity in the air.
Everywhere you look in and around the 67-year-old stadium, there’s something going on. The box office is doing a brisk early business, staff is sweeping and tidying the grandstand, food is being loaded in for the concession stands, T-shirts and souvenirs are readied, and parking attendants are preparing for the impending arrival of thousands of fans.
In the midst of all this activity sits Vancouver Canadians’ team president Andy Dunn, tirelessly working the phone in his office. Clearly, he’s a guy who knows baseball, knows business, and knows how to get things done. And, despite the frenzy surrounding him, he’s completely cool and collected—the proverbial calm in the eye of a hurricane.
“Let’s go see some Canadians history,” Dunn says, after a friendly introduction and handshake, and the next thing you know you’re down at the team’s history corner, in the tunnel leading to third base.
When Dunn—a Georgian by birth, a Floridian for most of his life—speaks, you can hear a definite Southern cadence to his speech, not to mention the pride he feels for his team.
“Here are our championships,” he says, beaming. “And here’s some of the guys who have played here—Sammy Sosa, Alex Fernandez, Jim Abbott, Brooks Robinson, and even Satchell Paige, he pitched six innings here for the Portland Beavers.”
After pushing his way through flats of freshly-delivered hamburger and hot dog buns (enough to feed an army, it seems), Dunn continues his tour.
“Here's all the old affiliates, the A's, the Angels, the White Sox, the Pirates, the Brewers, the Expos, the Pilots, Kansas City, Minnesota, Milwaukee. So many guys came through here and went on to the big leagues.”
As in the past, the Canadians remain a stepping stone to the majors . And although the team won the 2017 Northwest League championship, the C’s squad is still subject to decisions by the team’s major-league affiliate, the Toronto Blue Jays. It can often mean that players don’t stay here long.
“It's early in the year,” Dunn says. “The Jays are still getting kids signed and down to Florida and getting them placed, so our roster will evolve for the next two weeks, but then we'll be pretty set in our lineup. We gotta get these kids in, see what the scouts saw in them, and get them used to a professional environment.”
If frequently gaining and losing players to the parent team seems like a tough way to run a ball club, it doesn’t seem to faze Dunn at all. Walking out into the grandstand, he surveys the C’s players warming up on the field, obviously relishing the team’s unique ability to help players on their way to greatness.
“I'm the first guy to say I'm thrilled when someone gets called up,” he says with a big smile. “That's what it's all about, these kids don't get drafted to spend four or five years in Vancouver, we want to see these kids grow, and have more guys like Marcus Stroman, and Kevin Pillar, and Aaron Sanchez, and all the guys that have come through Vancouver and are now having success at the major-league level.”
Dunn pauses thoughtfully, then continues.
“You look at where the kids are when you get them, and then look at them when they leave. It’s about developing players. That's the goal—to make the kid better than he was when he got here. And that's the most rewarding thing about what we do.”
Still, it doesn’t stop Dunn from getting excited about some of the team’s hot prospects. There’s shortstop Vinny Capra, third baseman Bryan Lizardo, pitcher Connor Law, and of course a local boy from North Vancouver, Will McAffer, who pitched on opening night.
A business veteran of the Grapefruit League and numerous minor league teams, Dunn also has a keen eye for what fills the stands, and what makes the baseball experience here so memorable.
For many years, the C’s weren’t long on promotions—sure, there’d be the odd visit from the San Diego Chicken or Max Patkin, or even a perogy night—but for the most part it was a pretty sedate experience. So when team owners Jake Kerr and and Jeff Mooney first hired Dunn in 2008, they were ready for him to work his magic.
“Jake and Jeff are just tremendous, they let us implement new things at our own discretion,” he says with a smile. “They thought we were crazy when we started the grounds guys dancing, and the sushi mascots, and the bullpen cart, but they've been understanding and supportive the whole way, and the fans have really enjoyed it and have come out to support us.”
In the end, Dunn seems to have a healthy awareness that the team is bigger—and means more to Vancouverites—than any promotion, any lineup, any championship, or any administrator.
“The bottom line is, we have a baseball team here, and it belongs to the community. We're just the guys trying to help steward the club, and the community will let you know how much fun they're having by whether they come out or not.”
At this point, Dunn motions out to the pitcher’s mound, where a uniformed player is tossing a ball back-and-forth with a young boy.
“Take a look there, that's our manager Dallas McPherson and his son. All the stuff he's going to go through this year, and this is going to be his memory, playing catch with his son. We can’t forget that it's a just a game.“
“At the end of the day, there's a real romance to what we do here. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”