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When fast-pitch was king

The Antigonish U-16 A's line up on the first-base line at the conclusion of their Sunday morning playoff game.
The Antigonish U-16 A's line up on the first-base line at the conclusion of their Sunday morning playoff game. - Richard MacKenzie

Penalty shots

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - It took me back.

Spending some time at the Eastern Canadian U-16 Championships, held in Antigonish Aug. 16 to 19, reminded me of a time when competitive softball – fast-pitch to be precise – was the summer equivalent of hockey.

I played baseball growing up in Truro but, at that time (1980s), fast-pitch was the game everyone just outside of the town limits played and was the predominant recreational summer sport with the very good Colchester Major Softball Association boasting anywhere from 7 to 10 teams from all over the county (Brookfield, Belmont, Onslow, North River) and the Commercial League, a step-lower in caliber, with closer to 20 teams.

I made the baseball-softball move by playing one year in the Commercial League and was then fortunate – thanks to a family connection – to join one of the best teams in the higher league.

At a recent retirement party for my brother-in-law (my family connection), I shared a few laughs with a couple of my former MacDonald’s Insurance teammates about the ‘good ‘ole’ days at Stanfield’s and other ball diamonds. Our reminiscing ended with the question ‘how did we find the time?’

It was not uncommon to play double-headers on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the odd Monday, Wednesday, and even Friday, thrown in there.

Then there were the two or three tournaments we would enter a year and, of course, you registered for the intermediate provincial play-downs which meant, usually, a play-off series or two versus teams from your region and then, if you won those, a provincial tournament.

We advanced to the provincials each of my years with MacDonald’s and one, an intermediate ‘C’ tournament in the mid-80s, was played at the very field I just watched the youthful Antigonish A’s play on.

A couple of recent announcements had me thinking about my fast-pitch days as well.

The first was seeing Mark Smith recently being named as one of Nova Scotia’s Greatest Athletes, at number 10, by the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

During my couple of years playing senior ball in the late 80s, with the Truro Miller’s Excavators, I faced Smith a few times as he pitched and played first-base for the Glace Bay Alpines, who – not coincidently – won the provincials both of those years; beating us in the final my second year.

Of course Smith, as dangerous a hitter as he was a dominant pitcher, would suit up for a few teams each summer, including Canadian entries at events like the Pan-American Games.

A deserving recognition for sure; and I think Smith’s inclusion on the list also recognizes how significant the sport was, at that time at least, in the province and country.

Going into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame this year is my old coach from the Miller’s days, the late Tom Doucette.

I remember Tommy’s passion for the sport – so infectious – and his boundless knowledge. He also had a great sense of humour and fit right in with the fellas during times away from the field. It’s nice to see him being recognized with the Hall induction.

Finally, one of my teammates from that team – Greg Patton – was selected for entry in the Softball Nova Scotia Hall of Fame last month.

Greg, simply, is the best player I ever played with. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do on a ball field and it was a pleasure getting a front-row seat to watch him man shortstop and hit. And he could hit anybody; any time, any place, any count.

Yup; the times, the championships, the coaches, opposing players and teammates; we made the time and it was worth every second.

I commend guys like Antigonish coach Richie Connors for keeping the sport alive at such a high level shown by the A’s over the weekend; and the players and coaches in the AGR who continue to keep fast-pitch alive and well in, at least, this corner of the province. I just wish there were more A’s and AGRs around the province … like in the good ole’ days.  

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