Skip navigation

Tuesday July 28, 2009

Ultimate baseball fan helped save Nat Bailey Stadium

Special to The Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- On game days, Bud Kerr could be found at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver sitting in his usual spot - Section 7, Row 3, Seat 2.

From his perch behind home plate, he offered a running commentary on the game unfolding on the field. He was happiest telling a winding anecdote about some forgotten incident in the city's rich lore of baseball history.

Baseball excited Mr. Kerr from his earliest memories as a juvenile ball hawk to his final years as an unpaid goodwill ambassador for the Vancouver Canadians.

He joined local baseball fans in recent years in saving the stadium from the wrecking ball. "The prettiest little ball park in baseball," as it has been called, had fallen into disrepair and was threatened by a proposed curling facility to be built for the Olympics. Instead, it was preserved.

Mr. Kerr's informal reputation as a storyteller became official when the Canadians named him team historian. The club, purchased in 2007 by businessmen Jake Kerr (no relation) and Jeff Mooney, also decided to leave unsold two adjacent seats. Patrons were encouraged to join the historian for an inning or two of baseball chat.

On his 72nd birthday, Mr. Kerr was informed that a display inside the stadium was to carry his name. A year later, he was joined by former Montreal Expos star outfielder Tim Raines for the official unveiling of the Bud Kerr Museum.

His introduction to the game came as a boy living uphill from the original Capilano Stadium, a wooden bandbox at the corner of West Fifth Avenue and Hemlock Street. The park, which twice burned and was twice rebuilt, hung on the edge of an escarpment overlooking False Creek and Granville Island. Neighbourhood boys gathered outside the park in hopes of catching a prized baseball struck foul.

After the seventh inning stretch, young Bud and other kids would enter the grounds without having to pay admission.

Later, he would be hired as a ball retriever. He got a promotion and operated the scoreboard for the princely sum of 25 cents per game.

On June 15, 1951, the teenager joined what at the time was the largest baseball audience in Vancouver history for the opening of new Capilano Stadium, a modern park built of concrete across from Queen Elizabeth Park.

The park became home in 1956 to the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League, a popular and competitive circuit seeking to rival the major leagues. The Mounties closed their doors in 1969 and the park was leased to arts groups and fell into disrepair until a new team, named the Canadians, joined the Pacific Coast League in 1978. The park was renamed for Nat Bailey, an owner of the Mounties, who died shortly before the start of the season.

Away from the park, Mr. Kerr worked as a furniture maker and moonlighted as a security guard at the horse track.

He felt a lifelong cigarette habit combined with exposure to chemicals at his workplace was responsible for the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with which he struggled over the final years of his life. He used a portable oxygen tank in recent years.

After his death, a letter inviting him to a 1957 tryout with the Mounties was found among his papers.

Bud Kerr

James Robert (Bud) Kerr was born on July 9, 1935, in Vancouver. He died on May 9, 2009. He was 73. He leaves a daughter, a grandson, a brother, and a sister.

Back to top