Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Club

The Victoria HarbourCats are Greater Victoria’s elite baseball club that have been bringing summertime fun to Royal Athletic Park since 2013. Each summer, the HarbourCats bring tens of thousands of fans out for their games, their fireworks, and their community events. As the HarbourCats gear up for their 10th anniversary season, we sat down with Christian Stewart, the club’s General Manager, to learn more about the team and the impact the HarbourCats have on the Victoria community. 

Can you give me an introduction into the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Club?

“The Victoria HarbourCats are our summertime elite baseball club in town. We have a stadium here at Royal Athletic Park—the Wilson’s stadium at Royal Athletic Park—that holds about 4000 people plus standing room, so we can get about 5200 people in here per game.” 

Christian explains that there are many areas to enjoy the game from, besides the traditional stadium seating. 

“We have a number of different seating levels and areas. We have our Wilson’s Group upper deck experience which is an old London double-decker bus that’s been converted into a VIP viewing area for the game—that’s on the first-base side. On the third-base side we have the Strathcona rooftop 100-person party deck that puts people in the middle of the game. We also have a Diamond Club Field Level which is field-level seating right behind home-plate. That’s been sold out since we built it a few years ago. People love that because they’re closer to the home plate than the pitcher is, so it puts them right in the action. It’s a really great spot to enjoy the game from.” 

The HarbourCats have a short season over the summer, but the club tries to schedule as many home games as possible to let fans come out and enjoy the sunshine. 

“The nature of our season is that it’s very quick and it’s very short. We start June 2—that’s our home opener this year—and then our last regular season game is August 3. So it’s a two and a half month season, it goes by pretty fast. If we are successful in getting into the playoffs we’ll go to about August 15th. So it comes and goes very fast but it’s intense, it’s fun. Normally we try to have about 27 league games at home, and then we’ll often schedule a bunch of exhibition games to make it into anywhere from about 30-35 home games that our season ticket holders and fans will come and enjoy.  This year we have 31 home games, plus we’re doing a special slow pitch showcase on May 31st.” 

What happens at the HarbourCats club during the year when the team isn’t in their season? 

“So, we’re trying to forget the two years of COVID, because the HarbourCats didn’t play during that time, but the nice thing about the pandemic was that we didn’t sit still. We opened up an indoor training facility on Cook street where now our players can go and work indoors in batting cages and pitching tunnels. It’s an awesome facility and it’s been very good for our player development.” 

Another new addition is the Victoria Golden Tide, their collegiate baseball team. 

“As part of the new training facility, we decided to form a college team. So we opened up a team called the Victoria Golden Tide, which is composed of Camosun College and University of Victoria students. They play in the Canadian College Baseball Conference, and they’re entering their second year of play. It’s been really great for local player development. Especially with COVID, a lot of players had scholarships to go to the states, but the pandemic messed up the US schedules so a lot of the players opted to stay home. Now, they have a team here in Victoria where they can play high-level baseball locally, and that also serves as a bit of a feeder for our HarbourCats team.” 

Can you tell me about the history behind the HarbourCats? 

“The HarbourCats first season of play was 2013, but the team was announced in the fall of 2012. My involvement with the team started right at year one when I came in as their initial Director of Communications and Photography. And I’ve been with the team basically since then. I’m now the General Manager.” 

Even more so, 2023 is a special anniversary for the HarbourCats Baseball Club. 

“In fact, this being 2023, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary, so that’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve got all kinds of fun stuff planned this year as part of that, some extra promotions, like an extra fireworks night this year. We’re also doing a Help Fill a Dream night this year with the Help Fill a Dream Foundation and BC Transit, as well as a special olympics pregame softball. So all kinds of stuff that relates to community, because that’s another big thing that we like to be involved with.” 

How does the HarbourCats Baseball Club positively impact the community? 

“I think on that side we try to get involved with as many different community organizations as possible. We have a 50/50 program here at the park that offers support to local minor baseball associations or other associations like the United Way. We often get requests for silent auction prizes to support charities or schools, so we’re very quick to contribute to those—whether it’s a ten-pack of tickets, or a cap, or a t-shirt.” 

Another very popular part of the HarbourCats is their mascot, who is frequently seen at community events all over Greater Victoria. 

“Our mascot Harvey the HarbourCat is frequently at different community events, whether it’s an opening baseball ceremony for a little league or a minor baseball league in town, and wherever we can get him out to things just to keep that visibility. I think one of the things that carried us through COVID was doing some of those community events and just keeping our name out there in the community. Doing some drive-by birthday parties and things like that were really cool.” 

As well, the HarbourCats employ pricing promotions geared towards certain communities. 

“We have Forces Friday nights, which is a $7.50 ticket for any military or first responders and their families. We’re doing $10 Tuesday night this year, so again, from a pricing point of view, we try to keep our prices very family affordable compared to other sporting venues in town. Our $10 Tuesday night is a great example of that, where you can get our reserved seats on the baseline for $10. We’re also having a kids free weekend this year, where any kids 12 and under come in free. And that’s thanks to lots of our great sponsors like Peninsula Co-Op and other folks like that that help support those initiatives.”

Christian also explains that the HarbourCats positively impact the community in an economic sense by bringing thousands of fans to the Downtown core on summer nights for more than just their baseball games

“The other aspect of the community side of things is when you look at the financial aspect. In 2019, our best year before Covid, we ran almost 80,000 people through the stadium. So that’s 80,000 people that are maybe going somewhere local for pregame eating or drinking, they’re paying for parking at the city, they’re going out after the game. If they’re visiting, maybe they’re staying in local hotels. So there’s a whole economic aspect in terms of what we bring not only to the city but to the whole North Park neighborhood directly in terms of that financial aspect. A lot of people I don’t think comprehend that, and that’s a pretty big value for the community to have.”

What are some favourite memories or highlights from your time working with the HarbourCats? 

“Our fireworks nights—we love them because we get the biggest crowds. But sometimes the most impressive thing to watch is how many people are actually lining the fence outside the stadium because they’ve come out of their houses to watch the fireworks. And that part is one of my favourite memories. There’s been some beautiful summer nights when we’re doing fireworks after the game where I’m sitting there thinking, this is what it’s all about. This is the fun part—there’s that feeling of joy and pride and that it’s been a great night.”

Christian also explains that watching players succeed to higher levels of baseball after their time on the HarbourCats is another highlight for him. 

“We have three players who have played at the major league level that were HarbourCats first. We’ve got about 30-35 players this year that will probably be playing pro-ball at some level soon. And with any luck this year we might have our fourth and fifth guy make the major league levels. So that’s another thing we’re very proud of—we’ve talked a lot about the community part so far, but in terms of the baseball part, we’re actually really good. These guys are top level college players, the product they put on the field is fantastic, and we’re proud that 30-35 of our guys are playing pro-ball. There’s probably another 10-15 that are playing pro-ball at the independent level or in Europe or somewhere internationally. So we want to keep that going.”

As well, the joy of watching these players succeed and being a community sports venue is even better than winning any championships, Christian says. 

“We’ve also been in the championship game two of the last four years that we’ve played. We haven’t quite won yet, but it’s always our goal from the player and coaching point of view. Our head coach Todd Hainey is back for another year. Todd has been a great head coach for us the last few years—he brings a style and demeanor to the team that’s awesome. And he’s also a good teacher of the game, which is great because the guys come here to get better. So for us, it’s actually probably more of a point of pride that our guys have gone on to the major level or the pro levels than it is that we’ve been in championship games, because championships are a by-product of the good players you put on the field. And again, does a championship help us at the box office? We don’t really care about that, because what helps us sell tickets is getting word out that we’re a fun place to go, we’re a family-oriented place to go. It’s a great way to spend a summer evening.”

Is there any key ingredient to keeping the HarbourCats successful? 

Being a community hub for fun and baseball for not just the North Park neighborhood, but all of Greater Victoria and fans even further away, is a large part of the HarbourCats success, Christian says. 

“We did a campaign a couple years ago with the slogan #WeAreYourHarbourCats. And the graphics we did up showed Sidney, Langford, Colwood, Metchosin—all these local names because we want to be everyone’s local baseball team. We love when people come in from all over the island and the world. We love those kinds of stories where someone comes to a game and they’re like, “I didn’t realize this was here, this is fantastic.” We love the networking aspects of groups like Think Local and the Victoria  Chamber of Commerce because we want to get the word out to as many groups as possible. So the more we can reach those people in Sidney and Langford and Colwood the better. Come and watch some great baseball and enjoy Victoria and the sports offerings we have here!” 

Community partnerships and sponsors are a huge key to the HarbourCats success as well. 

“We have a great working relationship with all of our partners, whether it’s Think Local Peninsula Co-Op, Island Savings, Save-on-Foods, or Wilson’s Group. Those are some of our bigger sponsors and they’re key to our survival as well. Like any sports team, we rely a lot on our sponsorships to keep us going, and we’re very thankful to all of those local partners that we have. And Think Local is a very important part of that, because when people are looking to go to a baseball game, we want them to think local and come to a HarbourCats game.” 

What makes the HarbourCats unique? 

“I mentioned the family friendly atmosphere, but related to that is our ticket pricing. We’re very conscious of affordable ticket pricing for families. I think our tickets are probably the lowest of any sports team in town. And that’s why we offer things like the $10 Tuesdays and the $7.50 Forces Fridays. At Save-on-Foods we sell $11 general admission tickets that are regularly $15. So if somebody says that going to a HarbourCats game is too expensive, we can counter that with the offerings we have, and we love the fact that we can make that happen. Our box office usually closes in the 7th inning, and it’s surprising how many people kind of sneak in after that to come and watch a few innings of baseball, and you know what, great. If they come in for three innings, maybe they come in for a full game next time.”

Moreover, the entire HarbourCats club always wants to ensure they’re creating the best possible experience for fans. 

“I’m super appreciative of our fans. My goal as the new General Manager and what I do is to make sure that we’re exceeding people’s expectations. I think we’re doing that, and I want to make sure we keep doing it. We had an intern one year who really summed it up best—he goes, ‘you guys make something so small look so big.’ It’s true, it’s a nine-inning baseball game between college kids, and we put it on like it’s a major league game of 27-year-old players. We take pride in that—we love putting on events for people, we love people leaving the park smiling whether we win or lose, and we love people coming back to the park. And that’s the nice thing about baseball—when I coached the game I always told my kids that baseball is the only thing where you can fail 7 out of 10 times and still be an allstar. Our fans are on that same train, where even if we lose it’s ‘oh well, tough luck, we’ll get them tomorrow.’ So we love that, we love our fans, we love our returning fans. And again, we always want to make sure that we’re exceeding what they expect at the ballpark. You know, if they expect just a baseball game between college players, I want to make sure that they’re getting a full-on entertainment experience that totally blows their minds. And then we want them to go tell their friends, because that whole network of word of mouth marketing is some of our best marketing. And I tell people, if you come to one game, you’re going to come to ten. That’s kind of my marketing slogan. I think a lot of people who have never come to a baseball game and don’t know anything about the sport would come here and be pleasantly surprised.” 

Share this article