You have to wonder what runs through Russ Parker’s head as he drives by his baseball cathedral on Crowchild Trail in Calgary.
Gone are the days where the sights, sounds and smells of minor league baseball wafted through the summer air as a capacity crowd cheered on their hometown team.
They have been replaced by, for the most part, silence. The Canadian College Baseball Conference’s University of Calgary Dinos play out of Foothills, as do a number of other community teams and groups.
The 6,000 seat venue rarely has fans in attendance, and when they do, they’re quick to hop on social media to point out the decaying state of the grandstand, including broken seats and weeds growing out of the concrete staircases, not to mention how it was clear that birds had used it to – ummm – take care of their business for many years.
It’s hard to believe this was once the rookie-level home of the Calgary Cardinals (1977-1978) and Calgary Expos (1979-1984) and the Triple-A Calgary Cannons (1985-2002), as well as the Calgary Outlaws of the ill-fated Canadian Baseball League (half of 2003), Calgary Dawgs (now the Okotoks Dawgs), and the independent Calgary Vipers (2005-2011).
READ MORE: The Pioneers – Calgary Cardinals
Unfortunately, here we are, 57 years after it opened, waiting for the building to meet a demolition crew.
I just wish the day would come sooner rather than later.
PASSING THE BUCK
Every major Canadian city has a fieldhouse – a multi-use, multi-sport indoor facility that allows summer athletes to train indoors during the winter months. Some have more than one.
The City of Calgary has none.
For years, the debate has raged on about where one would go, what should be included in it, and who would pay for it.
A fieldhouse has been on the city’s list of major infrastructure needs and was finally identified as a “big four” capital project priority not that long ago.
A concept plan for the 100-acre site, which is also home to McMahon Stadium, was released in 2021, finally putting to rest rumours that had been circulating for years about the eventual demise of Foothills Stadium.
READ MORE: Stealing Home
However, there is still no firm timeline on when the wrecking ball will be moved in and when the shovels will be in the ground on the new facility.
Yet again, the city has bunted the issue down the baseline, hoping to squeeze in a single. Instead, they have once again pushed it foul.
GIVE ME A VISION
I remember a conversation I had with a city planner a few years back about Calgary’s relationship with baseball.
He was a relative newcomer to the city, and was blown away by how much history the game has here. He was equally appalled by how the sport, and Foothills Stadium, had been left for the pigeons and magpies.
Instead of welcoming any potential long-term tenants, the city seemingly batted them away with the dream of returning to the glory days of professional baseball.
In the process, they lost a golden opportunity with the Dawgs, who moved to Okotoks, which is now home to the crown jewel of baseball with Seaman Stadium and the entire district around it with Tourmaline Field and other facilities. It’s not just a standard-setter in Alberta or Canada, but it is frankly one of the best you will see in North America.
Meanwhile, Webber Academy has set up shop on the city’s west-end with a beautiful new complex that uses the Rocky Mountains as its outfield backdrop. Other organizations have been looking around and believe the outer edges of the city or the bedroom communities will make a better fit.
It’s not just baseball. Spruce Meadows operates the Cavalry FC soccer team on the south side of Calgary, while the new Calgary Surge basketball team will have its headquarters at WinSport on the west side. And don’t get me started on the saga that has been known as the new arena/events centre project that will become the replacement for the Saddledome (eventually…maybe).
While feet are dragged to make any kind of investment in large sports infrastructure projects in Calgary, legacy facilities like the ‘Dome, McMahon, Foothills, the Olympic Oval, and many others keep on crumbling.
INVEST IN THE FUTURE
While this is all going on, the groups that continue to use these facilities are left wondering when they might be able to move to something new or different.
The Dinos, for example, will need to find a new ballpark to call their own (maybe it’s at Webber, who knows?) The numerous community teams and organizations are also trying to keep their training centralized, but for how long?
I know there are a few different interests at play, like the Flames (who own the Stampeders) and the University of Calgary (who owns the land). I also know this city likes to hide behind the excuse of “we’re waiting for commitments from the provincial and federal governments.”
But enough’s enough. No more committees. No more feasibility studies. And no more excuses. It’s time to get on with things and take the lead in investing in sport.
Get the fieldhouse built, then find some cash to build (or partner on) a smaller stadium to perhaps persuade a new Western Canadian Baseball League (I’m thinking north of the Bow River) or West Coast League (who is undoubtedly looking for a regional/provincial rival for the Edmonton Riverhawks) team to come to town.
Before we do all of that, let’s remember to give Foothills Stadium a proper send-off. We need to salute the heritage and memories created in that building. We need to give a proper thanks to the builders like Russ Parker for the work they put in to keep the professional baseball dream alive for as long as he did.
And then it’s time to tear it down.