Inside baseball: A tough way to go out
There will be no minor baseball in Niagara this summer. Photo by CHARLIE MARTIN.
The end came in the form of an e-mail. It wasn’t unexpected, but it hurt just the same.
Last week, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc with our lives, came word the Elite Baseball League had canceled the season.
The EBL was among the last leagues to officially put an end to their season, following in the footsteps of the Niagara District Baseball Association as well as the rest of the local associations across Niagara.
Cancelling the season was understandable and the proper thing to do — just look down south if you have any doubts — but the fact it was my son Ryan’s final summer of minor ball made it sting that much more.
After losing out on his graduation from high school like the rest of the Grade 12s in Ontario, now this.
What a lousy way to go out.
The night we received the e-mail, alone in my thoughts while Ryan was at work, the finality of the decision hit me like a ton of bricks and my emotions got the best of me.
This was to be the first season of the Elite League in Niagara Falls and the prospects of helping head coach Sean Krawchuk and working with Ryan for one last summer was so exciting.
It would have a been a great way for Ryan to wrap up his minor career and hopefully set the stage for more ball next year at the next level.
Instead, all we have is a hollow feeling of what could have been.
I have been beyond fortunate to coach my son for 10 seasons, starting with two years of house league with my pal Bruce Haun before we moved up to travel ball in minor mosquito with the Welland Mustangs.
Bruce, Steve DesRoches and I made up the core of the staff for four years with help from Russ Criddle, John Belford, Brook Teal and Lefty Falardeau. It was a magic time, although a few games into our first season, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.
It’s never easy getting a travel program off the ground and we certainly had our share of ups and downs. Truth be known, we took players who were in over their heads at the travel level simply to be able to field a team. It was that or house league and it was time to move up.
It was also very difficult juggling the time at the park with home and work — I often brought my uniform to work with me, changed in the washroom, and headed to the park without supper after working all day, but that was part of the deal. I also showed up at work from time to time looking resplendent in my polyester uniform, having just coached a game with no time or place to change.
It was worth it to see the progression of many of the players, including my son who began as a shortstop, moved to centre field, then finally settled in behind the plate which is still his primary position.
The games and tournaments gave us a chance to spend together as father and son and share our common passion. Often, the rides to the games, complete with classic rock and roll or a ball game on the radio and the requisite junk food stop, were as memorable as the action on the field.
The program began to gain some stability and by bantam it was time to move on to a regional team based out of St. Catharines and begin play in the Central Ontario Baseball Association (COBA).
Head coach Greg Carpenter was gracious enough to ask me to join his staff and I was privileged to work with Greg, Chris Jeffery and Luke Phelan for the next couple of years. The competition grew more difficult, but that was part of the journey.
In 2018, I took over the regional team, now based out of Niagara Falls, and with the help of Rob Jones, Russ and Jeff Vanderheiden, had a fun and successful year that culminated with a pair of wins at the Ontario Baseball Association championships. With a break or two, a title was not out of the question.
Of course, there were the usual issues with parents and grandparents that season, but overall the parents were exceptionally polite and appreciative of our efforts. One thing became apparent that season: No matter what you do as a coach, someone will be unhappy.
But that is part of the territory and a small price to pay.
Last season, I was again fortune enough to team up with Rob and Mike Paolone for another fun year based out of the Falls which ended in controversy at the OBA’s, both on and off the field, but that’s not really the point.
Ryan and I were so pumped for another challenge this summer. It would have been one last fling, one last summer of our passion, one last chance to challenge for that elusive OBA title.
But it was not meant to be. It was taken out of our hands, and that is a difficult pill to swallow.
Later that night as we bemoaned the fact it was all over, Ryan and I had a good chat about the fun times and experiences. It was good therapy to focus on the positives and not be so consumed with the fact it was all over.
“It was a great ride,” he said, as we went to bed.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
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