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Sunday , 27 September 2020

Ready for the Prime Time

Image: Opening ceremonies Alberta Midget A Baseball Provincials 1998

Tales from the Doug-Out: June 16th, 2020

Stage two of our historical Covid 19 relaunch has just started. Let’s hope we can get through it in flying colours and get on to Stage three, and then on to Exit Stage Right?! This week the time machine will take you to 1998. The Blue Jays finished third in the American League east winning 88 games and losing 74 games. 35 year old Roger Clements was the Jays ace at the time. The late great Hall of Famer, 21 year old Roy Halladay was just starting his career as a rookie pitcher for them.  The New York Yankees sweep the San Diego Padres in four games to win the World Series.
Baseball Alberta was still a good old boys club at the time. They didn’t like change and were really not too fond of any new associations coming in and wanting to host a provincial final. Most of the locations that had hosted provincials were either close to the city of Edmonton or a location that  the guys were all buddies. I wasn’t about to give up on my dream to host. It took a lot of politicking and some campaigning from our Zone 7 director, my buddy George Laskey, but in December after the Baseball Alberta AGM we got the confirmation letter that we would be hosting the  Midget A Provincial finals at the end of July.
The town of Elk Point had hosted the hockey provincials many times and I knew the people I could count on to come out and help. A good chunk of them didn’t have any kids playing hockey or ball. But they were the best volunteers anywhere and I knew they didn’t know how to say no. Everything was ready to go. We had a concession and attached gazebo for sitting out of the sun or showers, if heaven forbid that was the case. New campgrounds right beside a golf course with new grass greens. Before that summer they were still sand. A brand new major league sized ball diamond with power, water and covered dug outs. A sound and score booth high above the bleachers. Bull pens for warming up the pitcher.
Because we were hosting a eight team tournament we needed a second diamond for the Saturday. All the teams would play one game on Friday. Then on Saturday the pools would be split and four of the teams would have to play on a second diamond. St. Paul being our closest town with a midget diamond was the logical choice. I had spoken with them at the end of the last season. Gary Ward and the Town of St. Paul were more than accommodating.  In fact, Gary Ward came through with a grounds crew for the day as well. Perfect. It meant we only needed to send  two people  to St Paul.  One for the official score keeping and one to communicate with the teams if there’s a tie or dispute of any kind. Everything came off without a chinch. Our Sox team pool would stay in Elk Point for the entire weekend. On Sunday only four teams would be left to play in the semi finals and that would be on our diamond.
Now to get the team ready to play in the main event. We knew we were hosting but didn’t want to just squeak in. For some of the boys this was their third year of playing midget baseball. They would be done after this. The Sox played their regular season in the North East League losing out to our arch rivals Cold Lake in the final tournament . Then starting the end of June the Sox played three weekends of round robin. Some of the teams included Oyen, Strome, Edmonton Warriors, Beaverlodge, Castor, Athabasca, Fort Saskatchewan, Wainwright and Armena. The Sox did the first  road trip to Oyen But it was raining there all weekend. The games were played during the week. The Sox winning over Edmonton and Oyen, Then it was off to Athabasca for a weekend where the boys bobbled the ball and lost to Athabasca and split two games with Castor. The final weekend the boys headed Fort Saskatchewan winning all three games giving the Sox a .600 average after the round robins had been completed.  Even if the Sox were not hosting they would have been going to the big show. The Sox finished the round robin in third place in the province. We had a good strong team and were ready to prove it.
This was going to be a real baseball tournament. Sixty foot six inches from the pitching rubber to the plate. Ninety feet between the bases.330 feet to the flag pole down the  right and left foul lines and 400 feet to center field. Lead offs and pick offs. Guys getting dirty sliding into the bag. Pitchers squinting for the sign a firing a high inside fastball that gets a glare from the batter. Players chirping at each other. Real baseball not the kind you play with a ball the size of a cabbage and loop it high into the air.
The Sox had prearranged with Baseball Alberta, which was often the case, to play their first game right after the opening ceremonies on Friday night. The boys and coaching staff looked sharp as they marched onto the field at the opening ceremonies. Matching uniforms, hats , socks, and jackets. This was a big deal at the time, the whole town showed up for the opening pitch from old timer Phil Sheplawy . Phil was a left-hander that had a reputation as one of the best when he had pitched for the Elk Point teams in the fifty’s and sixty’s. He also owned the local Home Hardware and had many friends. That’s why we asked him. Our town mayor Ed Buck who also played a lot of ball caught for him. Ed had helped build the mound at Bassett Field. He had a stash of good blue clay and delivered it with his loader to the spot. Real good stuff it’s still holding up to this day. Thirteen year old Michelle Friesen sang O Canada while the flags waved at center field .
The boys had finished the round robin in third place and would play Fort Saskatchewan the sixth place team. We were favored to win. The boys understandably had a bit of the jiggers. Playing in front of the whole town they bobbled the ball and struck out a lot  but even still only lost the game by one run in the end. The next day they dropped the ball again losing both games. Not our finest hour.  The Strome Lakers would go on to win the gold medal, Oyen getting the silver. This was the first time we hosted a final, but far from our last!
It was the final minor ball games for three  of our veterans Shaun ‘Barney’ Moroziuk,  Tyler ‘the Mouth’ Warawa and Tyson ‘Stick’ Ballas. I may have shed just a few tears that day. All three of them turned forty this year. In fact Tyson’s 40th birthday was just the other day. And all three are married and went on to coach their own kids in ball and hockey. Tyson and Tyler both coach minor ball in Elk Point. In fact Tyler’s midget provincial team would have been playing on Bassett Field right now if we didn’t have this damn Covid 19. And I would be in my glory up in the sky box announcing the players names and keeping score. Shaun who shares the same birthday as me, January 1st,  lives in Calgary and coaches one of his girls hockey teams. Hopefully they didn’t suffer too much damage this past weekend from the flooding or hail damage. As if we needed our insurance rates to go up even more after that.
Now for the K.A. Campbell quote of the week. ‘Good ball players make good citizens.’ – Chester Arther

About Doug Bassett