Monday, November 15, 2010

The Seals depart, leaving a void in Victoria

The Victoria Seals entertained fans for two seasons before abandoning the city. BELOW: Seamore the Seal was loved by children and adults alike. Photographs by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 15, 2010


Fans at Royal Athletic Park greeted every plate appearance of popular catcher Josh Arhart with a piratical cry of Arrrrrrr-hart!

Up by a few runs, or down by many (the latter unfortunately the more common scenario), the hearty salute to the slugging matey never failed to bring a chuckle.

In two summers at the park, through blustery afternoons and seasonably cool evenings, a small but dedicated corps of rooters cheered on the sometimes madcap adventures of the Victoria Seals baseball team.

Customers at the sad old park witnessed some odd events. In the final game of the season, Charlie Strandlund, the only Victoria-born athlete on the squad, played all nine positions — pitcher, catcher, four infield and three outfield. Eri Yoshida, an 18-year-old schoolgirl from Japan known as the Knuckleball Princess, pitched a game for a visiting team, striking out Victoria’s leadoff batter to the roars of the largest crowd in franchise history.

That same crowd endured unconscionably long beer lines. The ball park crew were unable to serve thirsty patrons whose queue stretched longer than the 90 feet that separates the bases.

At the end of each home game, one of the Seals players remained on the field to tidy up, repairing the pitching mound and removing the bases.

During one tense game, a Seals batter prepared to face a pitch before jumping dramatically away from the plate. The catcher spun around and the umpire retreated — a sprinkler had begun spraying the home-plate area.

It took several minutes before the geyser could be turned off. Then, the players tried to fill in a puddle on the field.

Welcome to the minor leagues, son. You learn to hit the curve ball and get an introduction to groundskeeping.

After two seasons, the club made a dramatic announcement last week.

Darren and Russ Parker, the father-son combination who owned and operated the Seals, announced the franchise had ceased operations.

The Seals had been clubbed.

No more Josh Arhart?


The Parkers blamed bureaucrats for not granting concessions in the lease for the city-owned park.

They blamed the independent league in which they played for being too far-flung, making necessary expensive airplane flights to Hawaii and such exotic continental locales as Yuma, Ariz., and St. George, Utah.

They blamed unionized workers for ... well, for having persnickety rules and for being too well paid.

Some of the complaints were disingenuous, as circumstances at Royal Athletic Park — a ground whose name is far more grand than the reality — are as they were when the Parkers came to town. They knew what they were getting into.

John Meldrum is a fan who followed the team by box office as well as by box score. An assistant professor at the University of Victoria, he has expertise in sport management and marketing.

“My thought is there’s probably no one to blame,” he said. “Could they get a better deal from the city? Probably. Should they push for the best deal they can for their business? Yeah. But the city has to say, ‘When you look at the business model of that league, how long are you going to be here?’

“How much concession are you going to give as a city to something that’s impermanent?”

The independent Golden Baseball League, a six-year-old circuit, has yet to announce the demise of the Seals on its website.

But wait. Upon further review, Ballpark Digest magazine is reporting three struggling independent leagues are in talks to merge. The economy has hammered minor-league baseball, but one drawback of an amalgamation will be even farther travel.

Meanwhile, the demise of the Seals puts out of work one of the finest mascots in the land. Seamore the Seal delighted children, amused adults, and otherwise brought a Looney Tunes mentality to the art of cheerleading.

Alex Pomerant, who worked more than 80 home games inside the overheated costume, taking breaks on hot days inside a walk-in beer cooler, will now complete his studies in law.

He wrote a gracious letter to his employer.

“I thanked them for letting me live out the dream I never knew I had,” he said.

In a tough economy, you have to wonder about Seamore’s future. Here’s a possible jobs listing:

Anthropomorphic pinniped, good with children, able to boogie to Village People’s YMCA despite oversized flippers, seeks part-time work with sports team, or perhaps sealant company. Will work for peanuts and Cracker Jack, but prefer fish.

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