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COMMENTARY: The umpire’s last call

In this photo from September of this year, umpire Carl Lake works the first base line at his last baseball game in St. John's.  – Submitted photo/Morgan MacDonald
In this photo from September of this year, umpire Carl Lake works the first base line at his last baseball game in St. John's. – Submitted photo/Morgan MacDonald - Contributed

Prior to his death, Carl Lake shared his baseball best with long-time friend Chris Facey

Baseball Hall of Famer and well-known local media personality Carl Lake passed away this week following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 68.

He was a baseball umpire for 53 years, and had been inducted into the St. John’s Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, and Baseball Newfoundland and Labrador Hall of Fame in 2006. He had continued to work games despite illness, and it was less than three months ago that he officially worked his last game.

Carl Lake - Contributed
Carl Lake - Contributed

 

Lake’s involvement in local sports went far beyond the baseball diamond. He was a sports broadcaster at both VOCM and CBC, had worked as a host for Cable Atlantic (now Rogers TV) televised broadcasts of American Hockey League games in St. John’s, and was founder and operator of The Sports Page, a website devoted to sports in the province.

He enjoyed a lifelong friendship with the well-known Facey brothers, who enjoyed success at the hockey rink and on the soccer pitch donning Feildians colours.

“As a young child in the late 1950s, myself and my brothers Nigel, Nick, and Tim would go from our home on Empire Avenue to Circular Road and gather up all the boys to play sports,” said Chris Facey, himself a Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Famer, along with Nigel. “One of the first kids we met was Carl Lake. Because he was the same age as Nigel, they became best friends well into their late teens. Every day we had enough friends to go down to St. Pat’s Soccer Pitch (today the Edgar Hartery minor baseball diamond) where we would play soccer, baseball, and softball for hours, both in the morning and afternoon, and then we would go swimming at Bannerman Park pool at 5 p.m.

“After supper we all headed to St. Pat’s Ball Park to watch our heroes on the Feildians, Guards, St. Pat’s, St. Bon’s, and Holy Cross play baseball.

“My team was the Feildians,” said Chris Facey. “I was the bat boy, so I went with my team, but my brothers and all our friends either sat in the stands to watch the game, sold tickets, worked in the canteen, or chased foul balls. At the end of the game, we all ran on to the field to run the bases as our heroes did in the game just completed, and then we pulled the bases up and took them in for Mr. Billy Aspel, the groundskeeper, before he turned out the lights.

“We loved the time we spent at St. Pat’s Ball Park and no one loved it more than Carl. Carl started umpiring in 1967 and he umpired his last game on September 1, 2020 as he was advised by his doctors to retire due to ongoing major health issues.

“He loved umpiring, and a number of players said he was fair and never carried a grudge on or off the field,” Facey said.

“I sat down with Carl on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, and asked his opinion of the best players he saw over his career, as he was certainly in a position to evaluate these players more than most of us,” said Facey.

Carl’s choices of the best of the best over his 53 years umpiring are:

Top Coaches

1. Sean Gulliver; 2. Charlie Riddle

Best Players

1. Peter Cornick 2. Gary Gulliver 3. Troy Croft

Best Teams

1. Shamrocks (1980 -1988, nine straight championships … hard to choose which one was the best, as many of the same players on all teams.) 2. Feildians (early 90s, three championships in a row) 3. Gonzaga (in the 80s, as they were Shamrocks’ main rivals).

His All-Time All-Star Team in St. John’s League

1st Base – Pat (Hoss) Cochrane, Shamrocks; 2nd Base – Bill Fitzgerald, Shamrocks; shortstop – Sean Gulliver, Shamrocks; 3rd Base – Doug Rex, Feildians; center field – Gary Gulliver, Shamrocks; left field – Keith Collins, Guards; right field – Gary Dowden, Feildians; left-hand pitcher – Aus Thompson, St. Pat’s; right-hand pitcher – Bob Kent, Shamrocks; catcher – Peter Cornick, Feildians/Shamrocks.

You may disagree with Carl’s choices (after all, he was an umpire) and everybody has an opinion.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

Chris Facey

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