by Jonathan Hodgson
2016 was a banner year for the HarbourCats and baseball in Victoria as a whole, and the man behind it is closing the year by picking up a significant honour from one of Canada’s true baseball giants.
Jim Swanson, managing partner of the HarbourCats, has been named to Bob Elliott’s annual list of the 101 Most Influential Canadians in Baseball.
A former baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun and editor in chief of the Canadian Baseball Network, Elliott was the recipient of the 2012 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
2016 was Swanson’s third year with the HarbourCats and second as managing partner. He relocated to Victoria from Prince George, BC in the fall of 2013, where he was the sports editor Prince George Citizen from 1997-2011 and was the beat writer for the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League for 12 years.
Swanson served as general manager of the HarbourCats in 2014 before becoming managing partner the next year. He held both roles in 2015 before promoting Brad Norris-Jones to the general manager’s post in 2016.
Swanson makes his debut on Elliott’s prestigious list at #76.
Cincinnati Reds star slugger Joey Votto took the top spot this year on a list that includes other Canadian baseball giants such as:
Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (#2), Baseball Canada director of national teams Greg Hamilton (#3), Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black (#6), former major Montreal Expos and Colorado Rockies great Larry Walker (#8), former Blue Jays and Mariners general manager Pat Gillick (#10), Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins (#14)
There are so many great people in baseball across Canada,” says Swanson. “I think this just reflects how much Victoria loves baseball and the HarbourCats, and how hard our owners and staff work to make West Coast League baseball work so well in this market.”
“Our organization’s focus is on growing baseball, helping people who may not otherwise have the networks to advance in the game, and showing young players that there is something bigger out there,” Swanson concludes.
This is the first time that Swanson, also an area scout for the Detroit Tigers, has been named to the list, and when you look back on the year that was for baseball in the city of Victoria, it is easy to see why.
Under Swanson’s leadership, this was easily the best-ever year for the HarbourCats on and off the field.
In March, the HarbourCats took a group of loyal season ticket holders to Arizona for Major League spring training. The trip was given inside access by former major league pitcher and Victoria native Steve Sinclair.
The West Coast League season got underway in June, and the signs of special things to come were evident early for the HarbourCats. After an 0-3 start, the club reeled off a league record 19-consecutive wins, not losing a game after June 5 until July 1.
June 30, 2016 was perhaps the greatest night in franchise history to date. With their 18th straight win, the HarbourCats won the WCL first half pennant, clinching the franchise’s first-ever playoff berth in their fourth season, and the first playoff berth for a Victoria-based baseball team since 1952 (Victoria Tyees, Class-B).
The game was played in front of a WCL-record 5,133 fans at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park, and was fittingly capped off by a postgame fireworks show.
The HarbourCats would go on to win 40 games during the 2016 regular season, a new WCL record. Their 40th win came on the final day of the season as they won their 23rd home game of the season, tying a league record.
The HarbourCats sent six players to the WCL All-Star Game in Longview, WA in July, and were represented by six players on the league’s postseason All-WCL Teams.
60,466 fans entered the gates of Royal Athletic Park for a regular season average of 2,223 per game, both franchise and league records.
The HarbourCats broke their own league record for total attendance by more than 10,000 fans over their mark of 49, 647 set last year.
Victoria’s attendance average ranked ninth in North America among summer-collegiate teams in 2016, and second among Canadian clubs trailing only the Okotoks Dawgs.
Three of the largest single-game attendance marks in WCL history took place in Victoria this season (June 30: 5,133; August 6: 4,976; June 7: 4,544).
On August 10, the HarbourCats became the first Victoria-based baseball team in 64 years to host a playoff game in the B.C. capital.
At the conclusion of the season, Swanson was named the WCL executive of the year.
In September, the HarbourCats hired Brian McRae to a two-year contract as head coach. McRae played 10 years in the major leagues, primarily with the Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs, and is currently a student manager at the University of Missouri (NCAA Div. 1; SEC).
In November, Victoria was awarded the next two national men’s baseball championship tournaments — the 2017 and 2018 Baseball Canada Senior Championship, to take place at Royal Athletic Park in late August the next two summers.
“Attracting the Baseball Canada men’s nationals in back-to-back years clearly shows what Canada thinks of the history of baseball in the B.C. capital,” says Swanson.
Swanson comments on a member of the HarbourCats staff being recognized with an honorable mention.
“I am beyond pleased to see Jonathan Hodgson, our broadcaster, communications director and baseball operations advisor included as an honorable mention,” says Swanson. “He helps us in ways our fans may never see, and is a great addition to the Victoria sports scene.”
Others on the list with connections to Victoria or Vancouver Island include Jeff Mallett (#29), a part owner of the San Francisco Giants and Victoria native; Walt Burrows (#38), a scout for the Minnesota Twins from Brentwood Bay, BC; Mike Chewpoy (#97), head coach and general manager of the Victoria Mariners; Tim Hallgren (HM), Victoria native and Detroit Tigers pro scout; Nick Pivetta (HM), Philadelphia Phillies prospect, Victoria native and former HarbourCat; Michael Saunders (HM), major league outfielder and Victoria native; Carson Vitale (HM), Victoria native and Latin American field co-ordinator for the LA Dodgers; Jordan Will (HM), Victoria Eagles general manager; Steve Wilson (HM), Pacific Rim supervisor for the New York Yankees.
In two years under the leadership of Jim Swanson, the HarbourCats have emerged as a model franchise in the West Coast League and all of summer-collegiate baseball.
Swanson has guided the HarbourCats to improvements in all facets of their operation each year as they strive to deliver on their mandate to deliver quality baseball and affordable family entertainment to the city of Victoria.
Never one to look back for too long, Swanson, the HarbourCats, and nationals staff has been hard at work for months already, preparing to top this year’s achievements in 2017.
“We have a big year ahead, and we’re excited,” he says.
Congratulations to Jim Swanson on being named to the most influential Canadians in baseball.