Going to bat for Telus Field
Pro baseball could thrive in Edmonton if fans can shift big-league expectations, says sports historian.
By BEV BETKOWSKI
(Edmonton) Edmonton fans will have to just relax and enjoy the game if they want to give baseball team prospects for Telus Field a sporting chance, says a University of Alberta sports historian.
Edmonton city council recently opted to keep Telus Field open for another five to 10 years in the hopes of attracting a major league baseball club, more than 10 years after the departure of its last Triple A team, the Edmonton Trappers. The City of Edmonton is mulling a proposal to demolish the 20-year-old baseball field in the downtown river valley area to build housing instead.
Telus Field still has another five to 10 years of life left, according to the city—and plenty of potential to attract quality baseball—but only if fans buy into the spirit of fair play, says Stacy Lorenz, an associate professor in physical education (kinesiology and sport studies) at the U of A’s Augustana Campus.
“People in Edmonton will have to shift their thinking to make a pure entertainment choice to just go watch some baseball and enjoy the experience of being at the ballpark on a summer’s night,” said Lorenz, who earned a PhD in history from the U of A, teaches and studies sport history and sport sociology, and has written on the topic of baseball and Canadian culture.
Accustomed to major league teams like the Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Eskimos, Edmontonians may be less accepting of a lower-level grade of baseball, Lorenz suggested. And baseball below the Triple A level is more of a likelihood for markets like Edmonton, which are too far north, with unreliable weather and too short a season for Triple A franchises, he added.
“I don’t see any way for Edmonton to get back into Triple A baseball. The leagues have compressed geographically and have moved down South to places like Texas and California.”
However, the world of independent professional baseball is another option, and is thriving in some Canadian cities like Winnipeg as well as smaller communities like Okotoks, Lorenz said. Both ballparks routinely draw crowds in the thousands.
“I think if Edmonton could find a team like that, it would be the best bet to host a successful franchise.”
And Telus Field is an excellent facility, Lorenz added. “It’s still one of the nicest ballparks in Canada for below-major-league play. It’s a good-sized park, it’s got a lot of features of the classic retro ballparks that were built in the major leagues for the last 20 years or so. I remember when it opened, it had a tremendous atmosphere, and there’s not a bad seat in the place.
“The question is whether you could draw enough fans to below-Triple A ball; could you get Edmonton fans interested in that second tier?” The community, he noted, has supported baseball teams including the Trappers and Capitals for decades, dating back to the early 20th century, so the potential exists for successful revival, “with the right situation.”