The Victoria HarbourCats West Coast League baseball team is known to have a very strong local fan-base. Baseball fans from across Vancouver Island often fill Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park for most games – they continue to break team and league attendance records. The team has also grown its following from other markets.
Players from the US and Taiwan and Canada (outside of Victoria), who play college ball elsewhere love playing in Victoria. Their own fans, families and college teammates know all about the HarbourCats. There is one family of four, who live in a competing market that have embraced the team from over 400 kilometres away, the Bighouse family.
For the Bighouse family from Canby, OR (near Portland), they have been cheering on the Victoria HarbourCats from the moment they laid eyes on them.
Islanders love their HarbourCats, for example, one weekend in 2017, when Rock the Shores music festival was on as was the Tragically Hip’s farewell tour that sold out Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, on the same day, there was a very popular car show happening downtown that drew thousands, called Deuce Days and up at the University of Victoria’s Centennial Stadium a track meet was going on. With all of the competition for spectators, the HarbourCats still drew a near sell-out crowd.
It helps to field a winner and after a few years of competitive play, they have broken their own league attendance record for three years running. In 2017, they breached 70,000 for the first time, including non-league games. For all games played at the stadium during the 2018 season, the gates turned a total of 78,169 times. For West Coast League games alone, they achieved a new league record for 2018 with 62,599 in total attendance.
“It’s a little like a carnival,” said Roger Bighouse. “There is just so much going on at the park; it’s very entertaining.”
Bighouse travelled from Portland with his wife Michelle and their two teenage daughters Alison 16 and Sarah 14. They made sure that they took in three HarbourCats games while they were here.
Those three final games happened to be against the Portland Pickles.
“We saw the HarbourCats this time last year while we were up here on holiday and fell in love with them. The games are so much fun. We have been fans since,” said Michelle.
The Bighouse family do not watch local baseball. Even though the West Coast League added the expansion Pickles for 2018, they cheer only for the HarbourCats. There are three teams that play in the state of Oregon: the Bend Elks, Portland Pickles and the Corvallis Knights. At least two members of the four in the Bighouse family have been to each of the Oregon parks to cheer on the visiting HarbourCats.
“Yeah we have a good time with it. We go to the odd game at home, but we cheer for the HarbourCats while we are there, wearing our HarbourCats swag,” said Michelle.
“My dad and I saw two games in Corvallis this year,” said Sarah. “We met the Swansons there (Ken and Jim, the team’s managing partner). It a 90-minute drive each way, but it was fun to cheer on the HarbourCats.”
“The second night we were here, last year, we were planning to do something else, but enjoyed the game so much the night before, we went and watched them again,” said Roger. “We just kept cheering for them all year.”
For the final three games of the 2018 season against the Pickles, the HarbourCats needed to win out to make the post-season or win two and see the Kelowna Falcons lose their games. The HarbourCats made things interesting by winning the first two by scores of 4-2 and 13-6, but then ran out of gas and got thumped 10-3.
“Ten days ago, I didn’t think we would be in this position,” said Head Coach Brian McRae during the final game. “But we ran out of arms. We were going to have to win with the bats and it just didn’t happen for us, tonight.”
“It was too bad they didn’t win that last game to extend the season. We were hoping to see more HarbourCats ball,” said Roger.
Sarah and Alison are in Competitive Dance at Canby High School. They won the state championships in 2017 and 2018 and will look to repeat in 2019.
“Yes, it is pretty serious said Alison,”
Dance starts up the week after their holiday. The only window of opportunity they would have was the final week of the regular season. Then it is back to work for Roger, who is an engineer. The girls dance 12 hours a week, 10 months of the year and compete at least a dozen times.
“We came to Victoria to watch our home team play – the HarbourCats are our home team,” shrugged Roger with no apologies to their hometown Pickles.