West Coast League gears up for 2021 season

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Derek Harper

The Yakima Valley Pippins will play new opponents this year, the Kamloops Northpaws and Nanaimo Night Owls.

Derek Harper , Staff Reporter

The West Coast League (WCL) is gearing up for the 2021 season with hopes of a regular June start for all of their clubs in the United States and Canada. The WCL is a premier summer collegiate baseball league that’s been around for 13 years. 

The league currently has 15 teams and spans across two states and two provinces. This includes Oregon and Washington in the United States, and British Columbia and Alberta in Canada. 

The closest team to CWU is the Yakima Valley Pippins that plays at the 3,000 seat Yakima County Stadium. The next closest team would be the Wenatchee AppleSox that plays at the 1,200 Paul Thomas Stadium. 

Like Minor League Baseball, the WCL didn’t have a 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It did, however, add three new expansion teams in Canada: Nanaimo NightOwls, Kamloops NorthPaws and Edmonton Riverhawks. The Nanaimo NightOwls will have a built-in rivalry with the Victoria HarbourCats.

Jim Swanson, owner and general manager of the Victoria HarbourCats and part owner of the Nanaimo NightOwls, talked about the upcoming season. He said teams won’t play in front of empty stadiums, but there is one thing that gives him hope for an open border and normal season. He said that one thing is time.

“We still have the time of another essentially 90 days and drifting away that hopefully the vaccinations, the numbers and the trends and the safety issues around transmission and safety is hopefully going to be a positive thing for us to get back going,” Swanson said. “If we get told on May the 20th that we can go then we need to be ready to go.”

According to Swanson, if the border isn’t open, the possibility of a Canadian Division and an American Division isn’t out of the question.

But for those in Southwest Washington, a new franchise debuted in 2019 with the Ridgefield Raptors. The Raptors had a lot of success in their first season according to Executive VP and General Manager Gus Farah, but were unable to build upon that in 2020 due to the canceled season.

“Ridgefield’s really a unique beast that we had a fantastic initial season, inaugural season in 2019,” Farah said. “We had the sixth highest attendance in the league. We had a high season ticket base about top three in the league and the community support was just really really important and really really good.”

Farah said they were bummed out that they weren’t able to keep that momentum into year two in 2020 since the pandemic caused the season to be canceled. However, Farah said that going forward people will continue to see expansion to provide more regional competition.

“I think what you’re going to get is you’re going to see continued expansion, the league has a high propensity for people to want to join us and I think eventually you will see more regionalized divisions,” Farah said.

Both Swanson and Farah talked about what makes the league special and why fans should come out to see games. Farah said there have been multiple generations of people who come out to games with grandparents, moms, dads and kids, not just baseball enthusiasts.

“This is about entertainment while you’re at the game, not just who wins and loses the game and so our communities are so important,” Farah said.

He said engaging with the community is crucial to being as successful as they want to be.

“I think it’s community. I think it’s mom and apple pie. I think it’s the level of ball, we had 90 major league draft picks in 2019 the last time there was a real draft,” Swanson said.