Vancouver is a more viable Major League Baseball city than you think

Jul 18 2018, 9:43 pm

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred raised a few eyebrows on Tuesday.

Speaking on the topic of expansion before the MLB All-Star Game in Washington, Manfred expressed his desire to one day expand from 30 to 32 teams, and even mentioned some possible destinations by name.

Vancouver, along with Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville, and Montreal were mentioned as cities not only being interested in having baseball, but also being viable options.

“We have a real list of cities that I think are not only interested in having baseball, but viable in terms of baseball,” said Manfred. “Places like Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States. Certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver in Canada.”

That was news to most Vancouverites, as the possibility of getting Triple-A baseball, never mind a Major League team, has seemed farfetched in recent years.

While a baseball culture and a proven track record supporting minor league teams is in Vancouver’s favour, it’s still a long shot.

And the biggest obstacle in the way is building a new stadium.

BC Place is not an option

BC Place can host baseball, but it’s not a suitable long-term venue for MLB in this day and age.

Its twin, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, was the home stadium for the Minnesota Twins from 1982 to 2009. Built with the possibility of one day acquiring an MLB team in mind, BC Place still has a separate baseball press box, and even hosted Blue Jays and Mariners exhibition games in the early 1990s.

BC Place would have been capable of hosting a team (despite balls getting lost in the old white roof) in the 1980s. Maybe even in the 1990s too.

But not now.

Most successful MLB teams have baseball-specific stadiums, with amenities that enhance the ballpark experience. Giant multi-use facilities are mostly a thing of the past.

MLB stadiums now average 42,765 in seating capacity, making BC Place a bit large at 54,500.

All teams but Toronto (Rogers Centre) and Tampa Bay (Tropicana Field), play on real grass. Built in 1983, BC Place is older than all but six MLB venues.

Nat Bailey Stadium, if you’re wondering, doesn’t have a footprint big enough for a new MLB ballpark.

The competition

While Vancouver has a lot of work to do before getting an MLB team, they’re not alone in that regard.

Of the other cities mentioned by the Commissioner, only Portland and perhaps Montreal appear to have some semblance of a plan to acquire an expansion team.

Portland already has a prospective owner who is in contact with Manfred, and has a location mapped out for a new stadium.

Montreal, a city that lost the Expos in 2004, knows the Olympic Stadium can’t support a new team. They have ideas, but are far from putting shovels in the ground on a new venue.

Las Vegas, Charlotte, and Nashville all have their own issues, and none of them have a suitable facility to play in – nor concrete plans for one in the future. In the case of Las Vegas, there’s the additional problem with their hot climate during the summer months. Nashville’s mayor went on record to say he’s more concerned about getting an MLS team at this point.

Market size

In terms of population, you can make a compelling case for Vancouver.

Montreal, with more than four million people in its metro area, is easily the largest market in the United States and Canada without an MLB team.

The second largest? Why that would be Vancouver, with 2.5 million people in the Lower Mainland.

Not only is Vancouver larger than the American contenders, who range between 1.9 and 2.4 million people, but it’s bigger than current MLB cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.

What it would cost

Portland is planning to follow the trend of playing in a baseball-specific stadium, with a surrounding entertainment district.

A potential ownership group, one that includes Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, recording artist Ciara, plans on building a 32,000-seat stadium.

For the total cost of $2.2 billion, the ownership group believes it can build a stadium and acquire a team by 2022.

While real estate costs are different in Vancouver, that seems like a pretty good model to follow.

Anyone have some spare change lying around?

Perhaps the Aquilini family, who have shown interest in acquiring an NBA team in the past, would be interested?

Let’s dream

MLB wants to settle situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay before expanding, and Vancouver should most certainly be considered a long shot to land a team, but let’s live a little.

Say Vancouver has someone willing and able to buy a team and build a ballpark. Let’s say the ballpark is a retractable-roof style stadium, like Safeco Field in Seattle, and the Port of Vancouver allows it to be built over the railroad tracks near Gastown – where the Whitecaps wanted to build a soccer stadium. Let’s say it holds 38,000 people.

It would be a smash hit.

Manfred’s plan in a 32-team MLB calls for eight divisions of four teams.

Move Oakland to Portland, Tampa Bay to Nashville, and award new franchises to Vancouver and Montreal. Put the new Canadian teams in the American League so Montreal can foster a rivalry with the Toronto Blue Jays, while Vancouver develops a Pacific Northwest rivalry with Seattle and Portland. Move the Nashville franchise to the National League to accommodate the new teams.

Then imagine this format:

American League

East North Central West
NY Yankees Toronto Texas Vancouver
Boston Montreal Houston Seattle
Baltimore Detroit Kansas City Portland
Cleveland Minnesota Chi White Sox LA Angels

National League

East North Central West
Washington NY Mets St Louis LA Dodgers
Miami Philadelphia Chi Cubs San Francisco
Atlanta Pittsburgh Milwaukee San Diego
Nashville Cincinnati Colorado Arizona
See also