To date, Newfoundland’s teams at the Canadian senior men’s softball championships have been akin to Danica Patrick on the NASCAR circuit: some sizzle, but little in the way of results.
That’s probably going to change this weekend as 3Cheers Pub from St. John’s, one of three — yes, three — Newfoundland teams at the Canadian championship in Fredericton, N.B., appears to be cruising towards a national crown, which would be a first for this province at that level.
Alas, there will be joy in Mudville.
Of course, we’ve been down this road before, only to watch Newfoundland go to a full count, then whiff on the final day. But let’s put it this way: if this province doesn’t cop it all this year, Newfoundland never will.
And forgive me, please, if I barely raise an eyebrow.
It’s not that I dislike softball, or disrespect the game. To the contrary.
But I find it difficult paying even remote attention to a sport that lacks governance, a sport that’s permitted its showcase event — the senior men’s nationals — to spiral into a free-for-all, a sport that’s covered its eyes and ears and whistled “Dixie” as the number of registered males plummets.
This year’s nationals have been mockingly referred to as the Eastern Canadians. That’s because of the 10 teams entered in the “Canadian” championship, not a single squad hails from west of Ontario.
In addition to the three clubs from Newfoundland, there are two each from Ontario and New Brunswick, with Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. represented by one apiece.
Not to say there aren’t players from — oh, I don’t know — Saskatchewan and British Columbia playing ball in Fredericton this week. Au contraire. A glance through the rosters shows athletes from Ontario and B.C. toiling with New Brunswick, Nova Scotians on the P.E.I. roster, P.E. Islanders with Newfoundland and Ontario pitchers (including the washed-up Darren Zack) suiting up for Quebec.
See THERE SHOULD BE, page B2
The 3Cheers team has a pair of imports, Ontario’s Ian Fehrman and Jeff Ellsworth of P.E.I., while the ICA Mark’s Hitmen of St. John’s has two Saskatchewan natives, pitcher Jeff Farion and Brennan Pokoyoway, on the roster. Pitcher Trevor Ethier, also of Saskatchewan, and B.C.’s Brian Abrey have joined Kelly’s Pub Molson Bulldogs from St. John’s, a third Newfoundland team.
So I guess the best players in the country are in New Brunswick this week after all. Thing is, they’re toiling for whoever is willing to provide a game, and shell out a few shekels (you know … travel, hotel, expenses, wink, wink).
I’m told the reason for the absence of teams like Saskatchewan, which used to be a softball power, just as it was a curling stronghold, has everything to do with money and little to do with available players.
While that province’s better athletes are attending nationals, teams from wheat country or B.C. or Alberta have taken a pass after, in some cases, spending a lot of money to attend the ISC championship, an unofficial world championship for club teams on the travel circuit.
Fine and dandy, I suppose.
If I’m Softball Canada, however, that’s not my problem. What is my problem, or should be, is a 10-team “national championship” with no clubs from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a tournament with three teams from one province, a tournament with “imports” dotting any and all rosters, a tournament which takes a backseat to the ISC’s in the eyes of some.
Where’s the concern? Where’s the leadership? Where’s the directive ordering provinces to appear at nationals, athletes to suit up only for the provinces in which they reside, or else face penalty?
Why, in other words, are two Saskatchewan pitchers — in this case Farion and Ethier — throwing for Newfoundland?
The whole thing makes little sense.
Ditto for Softball Canada’s rules, guidelines and leadership.
Heading into Friday and the start of the playoff round, 3Cheers was torching the opposition, a softball rendition of the 1927 Murderer’s Row Yankees with a 50-3 runs for and against ratio.
Today’s young stars are, for the most part, a little different from those of even 10 years ago. They’re well-conditioned, and perhaps a tad more professional in their approach to the game.
Still, the pessimist in me cannot help but wonder why this province has abruptly, without rhyme or reason, become a ripe breeding group for national team talent (eight Newfoundlanders are among the 38 named to the national team’s player pool).
Is it the coaching? The training? A deep feeder system?
No. Maybe. Definitely not.
Rather, is it a matter of national team job competition dwindling of late, a competition much more fierce in the 1970s and ’80s, when the Ross Crockers, Len Beresfords, Ron Bolands and Bill Windsors of the softball world were stalwarts at nationals, when traditional softball powerhouses in Saskatchewan and Ontario and Alberta could trot out not one, but two or three or even four teams which had a legitimate shot to win it all?
It appears Greg Healy, the erstwhile Black Horse Softball League star who elicited memories of a young Johnny Bench back in the day at Churchill Square, isn’t the best athlete among the Healy clan. Twice this summer, Tom Healy scored an ace on Bally Haly, the latest in early August on the 188-yard No. 13. That followed a hole-in-one on Bally Haly’s ninth hole in July … Bobber Thompson says nobody, outside San Jose teammates and fellow Newfoundland hockey players with whom he trains, has any idea just how hard Ryane Clowe works out. There’s a reason Clowe has a letter on his jersey … The Avalon East Senior Hockey League has announced two new teams for the 2012-13 senior hockey season, Bay Roberts and Mount Pearl. That means two senior clubs will have to co-exist in The Pearl this season, the new team and the existing Newfoundland Senior Hockey League club. But wait — word on the street is Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador is not convinced the two teams can co-habitat in The Glacier and may move to block the new AESHL organization, which would join St. John’s, Northeast and Bell Island. Looks like there could be a nasty dispute brewing …
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org