Saturday, June 4, 2011

Slow-pitch Tournaments of Yesteryear

As I glanced at the calendar this morning it occurred to me that, being the first weekend in June, it would traditionally have been the weekend when the Kipling Lions Club would host the old Stanley Can Slow-pitch Ball tournament. Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s slow-pitch was huge. I am not sure when the Lions Club hosted the first tournament but their annual tourney was one of the biggest and best in the area and undoubtedly one of their best fund-raisers for years.
The original slow-pitch games were played with a ball the size of a small watermelon or a large cantaloupe which made it very difficult to hit for any distance and almost impossible to find a glove large enough to catch the ball. I am sure that the first basemen would have had to have a glove the size of a small laundry basket to catch with. Over time the game morphed into a hybrid of the traditional big-ball game to a faster paced game using a standard softball sized ball.
Back then there was quite a league going in our area during the late spring and early summer, too. Kipling had three teams alone and the area towns of Kennedy, Glenavon and Windthorst fielded teams as well, with a wind-up tourney being held at the old Coronation School Fair Grounds, come rain or shine, for the league finale at the end of the season.
One particularly memorable finale was hit by a ferocious thunderstorm which brought over an inch of rain in a very short period of time and stopped the ball playing long enough for everyone to seek refuge in the old school house, and thereby allowing too many to over-imbibe on the ol’ wobbly pops, resulting in some very entertaining ball to be played once the games were reconvened. Oh, those were the days my friend.
Because of its huge popularity slow-pitch tournaments were often used as fund-raisers for many causes. Area community groups could host a tournament every weekend from the beginning of May until the end of July, it seemed, and have a very successful turnout. Every tournament would have anywhere from sixteen to twenty-four, or more, teams entered in their events. When some Kipling area residents banded together to raise funds for the community swimming pool one of the first fund-raising events that they hosted was the “Great Western Weekend Splash Slow-pitch Tournament”.
The first swimming pool tournaments were held a month or so after the Stanley Can and because Saskatchewan’s Great Western Brewing Company was also just a fledgling group they were keen to sponsor events to get people to try their products and the partnering of The Great Western Brewing Company and the Kipling and District Swimming Pool Committee began.
Remember those fluorescent coloured hats and t-shirts with the first Swimming Pool mascot, Ozzy the Otter on them, which stated “Be Cool Support the Pool” that were sold at that first tourney, too? Wow.
I was a member of that pool fund-raising committee and I had volunteered the use of the forklift, from the lumberyard where I worked, to handle the full pallet of Great Western Beer which the committee hoped to sell throughout the tournament weekend. By the way, there were only too types of weather for this tournament: too hot and dry (too seldom) or too cold and wet (too often).
That first “Splash” tourney was of the too cold and wet variety. It was pretty foggy on that particular early morning drive from the lumberyard to the ball diamonds while I transported that full pallet of beer down the street with the headlights and hazard flashers going on the forklift. As I was slowly driving down the street I saw a particular member of the community, who was known for his love of the drink, if you know what I mean, walking towards me out of the fog, (and in a little fog of his own from the night previous), when he stopped and gaped at this wonderful image of a machine delivering a full pallet of the golden fluid he so loved coming right towards him out of the mist. I am sure that he had to check his pulse to see if he had died and gone to heaven. Alas, to his dismay, it passed him by.
Over the years the participation waned and the Stanley Can and Splash tournaments were amalgamated into the “Stanley Can Splash Tournament”. Slow-pitch tournaments have been held in various forms for special events over the years but nothing compares to the old days when every diamond, (and some make-shift ones too) were full for two-and-a-half days and the beer tent was constantly hopping and the cabaret was a wall-to-wall crowded blast. As earlier stated…those were the days, weren’t they?
“Slow-pitch is life, the rest is just details,”-Author Unknown. Might have been Larry Savage, though.

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