Sunday, 1 June 2014



Pucks, Peanuts and Crackerjack


Watching the Canadiens lose game six of their series against the New York Rangers a fan sensed that the players had already given it everything they had. A surprise visit to the Stanley Cup final was not in the cards.


I am a fan of the Montreal Canadiens who play in the National Hockey League. I am not an NHL fan. The distinction is such that other equally compelling storylines from these playoffs don’t exactly resonate with the same fervor. The Rangers have reached the final exactly 20 years after their previous championship. Their coach, Alain Vigneault, a fixture behind Vancouver’s bench for so many seasons and a loser of the 2011 Cup to Boston, is whiteboarding his strategic Xs and Os for the whole kit and caboodle after just his first winter in the Big Apple. Over in the Western Conference, it’s strictly Route 66. Chicago and L.A. play game seven tonight. If the Blackhawks advance, they will have the opportunity to become the NHL’s first repeat winners since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings. If the Kings get through and ultimately defeat the Rangers, the result would be their second Stanley Cup in just three seasons. By virtue of past experience, Vigneault knows each potential opponent intimately. And this time he’s got a genuine all-world goalie.


None of this matters to me. The darling buds of May have blossomed and my team has been eliminated. And so this afternoon we’re headed to our lovely little ballpark situated beneath the city’s skyline on the flood-prone flats of the winding North Saskatchewan River.


Alberta’s climate is as tough on baseballers as it is on gardeners: ‘Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’ The AAA Pacific Coast League franchises here in Edmonton and Calgary have long since departed. I remember one Old Testament game one April that featured thunder, lightning and swirling snow. The upstart Canadian Baseball League lurched through half a season before folding. Calgary and Edmonton proved to be too remote and too expensive to travel to for competing franchises in the independent Northern and Golden leagues.


As with any sport, baseball is best experienced in person. There are the sights, sounds and smells of the yard, you can see the entire diamond and the mowed green stretches beyond the infield all the way to the warning track and the looming wall. It works on radio; broadcasts invite the listener’s imagination to fill in and paint the gaps, to see. I’ve never much liked it on TV, the players and the plays seem too isolated and fragmented from the whole of the little action nine innings provides the fan; a pitcher looks in at the catcher’s flashed sign but you do not see the shortstop creep a step and cheat.

The Lethbridge (AB) Bulls are in town today, wrapping up a three game visit. Our home team is the Edmonton Prospects. This is short season collegiate ball, the Western Major Baseball League. The skill level is comparable to single A ball, good enough to interest major league birddogs and engage us as fans on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon. Hockey’s done.

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