Tales from the Doug-Out: July 21st, 2020
Over the years I have learned one thing about winning. You need to be lucky to be good. Trust your instincts. And a little superstition always helps too. This week our time machine takes you back 17 years to the summer of 2003. The Blue Jays finished third in the American League East. with 86 wins and 76 losses. The Florida Marlins won the World Series over the heavily favored New York Yankees. And the Elk Point Midget Sox won their very first provincial championship. My son Jordan finished playing midget baseball in the summer of 1999. I continued with the Sox for close to another 20 years winning four gold provincial medals and four silver medals in that time. But the first one will always be the one I hold in closest in my heart. And maybe because we really shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Or should have?
2001 we got our butts kicked in the provincial we hosted. The team was very young. Over half of them were still bantam aged kids. A few even first year bantams. Rick Bilak had been coaching with his son Greyson ‘Big Smack’ Bilak and the same bunch of boys since Mosquitoes. A great bunch of kids but they had never competed in provincials. In 2001 he brought all his bantam aged players up to midget to form a team with the few midget aged kids that I had left over. Rick was a wonderful technical coach. He was a teacher and brought with him some great knowledge of drills. He also brought discipline that we needed. I had the stats part of the game down pat by then and could do a winning line up. We worked well together. Kind of like the good cop, bad cop.
The next year 2002, we didn’t host the provincials and didn’t make the top eight cut but the boys were a year older. In 2003 the whole team was midget aged by then. The season went fairly well. We ended up hosting and coming in the eighth spot as usual. The team from Standard hadn’t lost a game in the round robin. We played them right after the opening ceremonies on the Friday night. Number one seed vs. number eight seed . Rick and I sat down and came up with a strategy. We figured if we need two wins to get in the semi finals. We would use the first year rookie Myles ‘Mylo’ Quinney to pitch in this game. Throw the game and save our more experienced arms for the next two games, Standard being undefeated came into the game very cocky Mylo just about put them to sleep. He lobbed a very slow ball with nothing on it. The Standard hitters were trying to kill the ball and continued to pop up. Our fielders were catching everything. Some called it luck. We had picked up a pitcher from Sherwood Park Kyle ‘K Rock’ Langstaff who closed out the game. At the time we knew nothing about him, but soon found out we had picked up a gem of a pitcher. The Sox won 5 to 2. Great start to the weekend.
The next morning we played Westlock. Maybe we were a little cocky now since we had easily defeated them earlier in the season. The Sox manager ( myself) sent another first year pitcher Nicky ‘Fish hook’ Myshaniuk to the mound. ‘Fish Hook ‘ was a curve ball specialist and one of our more consistent starters He started off well but the manager waited to long to pull him. The Sox were leading 4 to 1 until the fifth inning when the wheels fell off the cart. By the time we could make a pitching change Westlock had rallied for 7 runs in one inning. Lost the game but learned a lesson.
The third game that afternoon was a must win against Lac La Biche The winner of this game would go to the semi finals on Sunday morning. A must win game of course we send our number one ace Mark ‘the Marksman’ Letestu to the hill. Lac La Biche took an early four run lead. ‘ Marksman’ didn’t have his stuff, which was very rare for him. I gave him the hook and sent him to right field instead of riding it out to see if he got any better K Rock came in to chuck and the Sox started to add a few runs in the fourth and fifth inning. Bottom of the seventh the Sox leading by 9 to 7 K Rock walked the first two batters. Time to give him the hook and put the Marksman back on the mound. Lac La Biche protested and paid the required $100. But the Sox won the protest. All legal. Midget baseball rules at the time were the same as in the majors. As long as the pitcher stays in the line up and is pulled on the first trip to the mound you could put him back in to pitch. And we did. And we won the game. Baseball Alberta has now a rule that once a pitcher is pulled he cannot return to the mound. Another huge change came a few years later as well . The maximum pitch count for midget aged players is 110 pitches for a week. Back in 2003 we didn’t have pitch count to deal with and this as well came to our advantage . Saturday night at our post game meeting I was really choked up trying to tell the boys about how proud I was of them . This would be our first time ever playing in a semi final game.
The next day the boys came ready to play. Crowsnest Pass was our opponent. K Rock started the game. At the beginning of the tournament one of the players Jordan Cousins had taken the skin off an old baseball made an elephant out it. This became our superstition. Every time a batter went to the plate he was to touch the elephant first for good luck. Sounds kooky but it was working. Kevin ‘Mop Head’ Moneta forgot to touch the elephant and stuck out. Coming to the dug out cursing, “I forgot to touch that damn elephant.” His next at bat in the bottom of the six we were down by two runs. Mop Head didn’t forget to touch the elephant that time and hit a three run homerun. Up by a run the gunslinger the Marksman sent them home. Sox win.
The finals started at 3pm. Here we go again against Standard who had won the other semi final. Fish Hook, Mylo and K Rock all pitched in the first inning and got hammered badly.Their arms were like a rubber bands. The Sox down 7 to 1 after the first inning, The Marksman is sitting on the bench beside me saying “I can do this Dougie, I can do this”. I figure oh what the heck it’s his last year of minor ball. The worst we can do is a silver medal now. The Marksman comes in the second inning and started to shut the door. The Sox pick away and finally take a 13 to 12 lead into the top of the seventh. With two out and the tying run on base the Marksman gets a pop up from their clean up batter. Catcher Chris Looy who played every game behind the plate catches it and falls to the ground. The boys bail out of the dug out and pile up on top. The Sox win. I look over and Rick is crying . Even before me if you can believe it! Then boys dump the freezing cold water bucket over my head. But it feels great! The Marksman is named the MVP of the tournament. But as you know goes on to play hockey in the NHL. This year he is with the Jets but I truly believe he could have made it in baseball as well if the opportunity had existed like it did for hockey.
K.A. Campbell quote of the week. ‘ It ain’t over ’til it’s over’ – Yoga Berra