|The Beginning of Baseball in Victoria, B.C.
From San Francisco to Royal Athletic Park
Victoria’s first introduction to the sport of baseball took place in San Francisco after the days of the 1849 Gold Rush. It seems a Victoria Cricket team traveled south to play in California. Victoria fared well by winning three ‘matches’, however they were soundly defeated when challenged to the new American game of base-ball.
Later the game came north with the miners when gold was discovered in the Caribou.
An 1863 issue of The Daily Colonist reported the first game of the season being played at Beacon Hill Park.
The game report was not very complimentary but finished by saying, “there is no doubt there will be more trials at this new sport.” Interesting, the same issue decried the fact that cricket was having difficulty recruiting young men into the game and thus, it’s no surprise that baseball quickly gained popularity in this area.
The first recorded baseball team in Victoria was the Olympic Club who played a game against the Victoria Cricket Club in 1866. The final score was 29 - 17 for the cricketers. Another of the early organized baseball teams in Victoria came out of the James Bay Athletic Association which began in 1886 when a group of men from the James Bay neighborhood formed a baseball team called the James Bays the other was the Amity Club, they formed in 1887, and ten years later actually got real baseball uniforms!
A baseball game was played in the1888 May Day celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. The game got a big boost in 1890, when the B.C. Railway Company introduced streetcars to Victoria. The Company constructed a fenced ballpark, complete with a grandstand, seating 2000 people way out in Oak Bay, where Windsor Park sits today. Of Course there would be no streetcar line running to the front entrance for those who thought the walk from town was too far.
In 1892, a try a semi-pro baseball took place and later the Victoria Baseball Club played there and won the BC Championship in 1901.
Outfielder, Jimmy Holmes, who later played Major League Baseball and long hitting Bernie Schwengers, were the team’s top players. Schwengers, who was also a soccer star and tennis player, was a great slugger. He turned down an $8000 dollar contract to play with the St. Louis Cardinals because he didn’t believe in professional sport as a career.
In 1903, an Inner-City Baseball League was formed and lengthy newspaper reports covered the games. It was before sports action photos but cartooned drawings accompanied the stories.
The cities first Professional baseball experience lasted only three months at the Oak Bay Ballpark in 1905. Although they were directed by Harold Homer "Hal" Chase, then at the age of 22 years old considered the finest first baseman in the game and who later joined the Chicago White Sox and New York Highlanders, (early Yankees) but rain, poor play and the long trek out to the Ballpark, resulted in low attendance so the team was transferred to Spokane. The local boys took over the diamond and the Fernwood Base-ball Club won the City League and the Amateur Baseball Championship of British Columbia.
Professional Baseball returned in 1911 and although the Victoria Islanders, who were later named the Victoria Bees, lost 125 games in 151 outings, they were well supported by local business and fans.
Young men in town were playing in an amateur city league that was won by the Victoria Capitals in 1913. The 1914 pros managed but 64 wins; however a local amateur hurler from the Beacon Hill team named, Bobby Steele, was a big surprise posting 18 wins. He went on to pitch six seasons in the Big Leagues with the St Louis Cardinals, Pittsburg Pirates and the New York Giants.
The newly named 1915 Victoria Maple Leafs topped the league in fielding and batting but couldn’t muster enough pitching to get them out of the basement before the war interrupted the season and the team disbanded.
The war in Europe filled the newspapers and the sports page featured long lists of local athletes who had enlisted. Baseball and other sports took a back seat until the war ended.
1919 saw the resumption of Professional Baseball in Victoria, but it was too soon and the four team Pacific Coast International League folded after only one month. Amateur baseball was back and the Straith-Two Jacks were City and Island Champions.
George Straith and Thomas Plimley were prominent shareholders in the 1920 Capitals who played out of a brand new ballpark (pictured below) constructed behind the Empress Hotel, were the Old Crystal Gardens and lawn bowling club now stands.
More than 4200 fans saw the season opening game and over 9000 took in the season-ending double header. It wasn’t only the new “Yard” that drew them; they came to see Victoria’s first winning Pro team and league champions. The 1921 team lost all but one of their championship players and dropped to a bottom place finish.
That finished Professional Baseball in Victoria for 25 years. Amateur teams used the Ballpark for a few seasons before construction of the Crystal Gardens began and baseball moved into Royal Athletic Park, known as RAP to the locals.
cont'd......25 years to the year 1946