Publication:

Journal Pioneer - 2021-07-21

Data:

AN ANNIVERSARY

SPORTS

JASON SIMMONDS SPORTS REPORTER jason.simmonds@theguardian.pe.ca @JpsportsJason

SUMMERSIDE — Generations have come and gone, the equipment and technology have changed, the facilities are improved, and today’s structure may be different than it was years ago — but the love and passion for baseball in Summerside have remained constant. The Summerside Area Baseball Association is celebrating its 40th anniversary during the 2021 season. SABA was formally incorporated in 1981 under the leadership of its inaugural president, the late Gregg Guptill. “They created an organized version of Summerside baseball, putting teams together and actually starting to play against other neighbouring communities,” said current SABA president Tanner Doiron. “That is what they started here. From there, they grew it to be a part of the Baseball P.E.I. umbrella and join the rest of the Island. “They started by having a couple of fields, some secondhand gear, some good volunteers and some kids who wanted to get out of the house and play something. They took it to where we are today.” Doiron said it was satisfying learning about SABA’s impressive history. “We are proud of the 40th year,” said Doiron. “Last year, with COVID, it was tough, but we continue to grow our program every year. The goal is to get more kids playing baseball. The tagline we use is ‘Growing the game since 1981.’ “It’s an important milestone that we recognize it.” FULL CIRCLE Summerside resident Gordon MacFarlane began playing Tball with SABA at age seven in 1984. He played through 18-under and would go on to play junior and senior baseball. Today, MacFarlane coaches the Summerside Chevys’ 13-under AAA team. As he reflects on his journey, MacFarlane said a whole bunch of thoughts flow through his mind. “One, you always think back to your childhood, so I think of fellas like Gregg Guptill, Billy Schurman, Gary Somers and my dad (Malcolm), who were some of the original directors of SABA back 40 years ago,” said MacFarlane. Growing up, MacFarlane said he was fortunate enough to live just down the street from Queen Elizabeth Park (QEP). He spent every Monday to Friday of the summer at the ballpark beginning at age seven. “Back then, SABA ran a morning program, and I was one of those kids, whether my team was practising or not, I was there, and I was practising,” said MacFarlane. “You had guys like Blair Creelman, Marcel Arsenault, Steven Haslam, Paul and Ian Power around. Those guys were working for SABA and running the program at the time. “Growing up, nine, 10, 11, 12 years old at the time, they were legitimately my heroes. You would go and watch them play with Curran and Briggs Juniors.” MacFarlane, the deputy CAO with the City of Summerside, remembers there would be more than 100 bicycles parked each morning where the Gordie Arsenault Field is now located. LONGTIME VOLUNTEER Mike Cameron of Summerside served on the SABA board for 15 years, including 12 as president. Cameron feels SABA has earned recognition as one of the top baseball organizations in Atlantic Canada. “We did the city proud, and we grew the baseball game pretty well,” said Cameron, who travelled to Japan with his oldest son, Nick, in 1996 for the World Baseball Children’s Fair. “People around the Maritimes, they know who the Summerside Chevys are.” Along with his administrative responsibilities, Cameron also coached SABA teams for many years, including the host Summerside entry that finished fourth in the 1998 Cavendish Farms Baseball Canada national 13-under baseball championship. “It was a busy, busy time, but it was a good time,” said Cameron. “It was something like Grand Central Station coming into my house. “Everything is done online now. Before that, we didn’t have internet, and all the registrations went through our house for years and years. We enjoyed it.” NATIONALS One highlight for SABA was a run where the City of Summerside hosted the 13-under nationals for 10 years that began in the mid-1990s. With P.E.I. annually fielding two teams — host Summerside and a provincial representative — it provided the opportunity for many Islanders to play in a national championship. “It was an unbelievable opportunity for Summerside ballplayers knowing that if they made the team, they were going to get a chance to play in the nationals,” said MacFarlane. “It was a little bit like the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.” MacFarlane recalled a story of his nephew’s team in Burlington, Ont., playing in the game that decided Ontario’s representative for the 13under nationals. “His team lost, but his best friend got picked up by the winning team to come to Summerside,” said MacFarlane. “Summerside was known all across the country where you went to play the peewee nationals.” SABA’s programming has benefited from improved facilities over the years. The Very Important Volunteer (VIV) Field and Legends Field underwent significant renovations for the 1994 International Softball Congress world senior men’s fastpitch championship. The Gordie Arsenault Field officially opened in August 1995 for the Cavendish Farms Baseball Canada national peewee championship. The VIV Field, known as the Softball Field at the time, also received improvements for the 1989 International Softball Federation world junior men’s fastpitch championship. MacFarlane noted the infrastructure from those, and other, events resulted in QEP now one of the finest ball facilities in Eastern Canada. “Sports tourism wasn’t a thing before (Summerside began hosting tournaments),” said MacFarlane. “I get thinking about people like (former community services director) Billy Schurman, (Mayor) Basil Stewart and (former chief administrative officer) Terry Murphy.” TOURNAMENTS A big part of SABA’s programming in recent years has been its tournament series. There were no events held in 2020 due to COVID-19, but planning is underway for tournaments to resume later this month. “Pre-COVID, we started to grow the tournaments and had to start using fields like Kowalski (Park) in Freetown and Cornwall even,” said Doiron. “We will start back on a small scale, and we will also work with our partners at the City of Summerside to continue hosting national and regional events.” Along with providing significant economic spin-offs from the individual teams and events, SABA has been good for community pride, noted Doiron. Fans also know that if they wish to catch a ball game, there’s a good chance there will be some action at QEP each evening. “Recently, there were a couple of games during a weekend, and I was talking to a couple of people who do not have any kids but were just watching,” said Doiron. “The association brings out the whole community.”

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