Ah, those old Westville tales

Pictou Advocate sports

I love lobster rolls.

Truth be told, I love lobster in just about any cooked state — as long as I don’t have to open it myself. That’s a special skill I’ve never accomplished.

At this year’s Pictou Lobster Carnival, I was devouring one of those delicious treats in a bun during my initial visit to the Breakwater Restaurant on the Shiretown’s waterfront as boats raced outside the window next to our table.

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Just then, a man approached, said he recognized me and, out of the blue, wanted to know if I had seen Babe Ruth during his visit to Westville years ago. He was looking for details.

No I didn’t see the Babe, I told him.

I explained that Ruth’s visit to the county — that actually included an appearance at the Lobster Carnival — happened two years before I was born.

It was in the summer of 1936 that Ruth came and, besides attending the carnival, baseball’s first huge superstar also played a round of golf in Pictou. I never heard what he shot that day.

Why was he in Pictou County?

A Westville doctor, the handed-down story goes, had become a friend of Ruth’s in New York City and invited him to a baseball game in the old mining town.

He accepted the doctor’s invitation and appeared at a Westville Miners game in the Central Baseball League. The Miners played against such teams as the Stellarton Albions, Truro Bearcats and Springhill Fencebusters.

The plan was to have the Sultan of Swat go to the plate and hit a few balls in front of what was a large crowd at the Westville field.

The generations-old story tells how a pitcher went to the mound and threw a few floaters over the plate – the belief that Ruth would be able to loft the balls out of the park. But Ruth didn’t like that idea and shouted to the pitcher to throw the balls as fast as he could.

The late Ace Foley, long-time sports editor of The Chronicle Herald, was in Westville that evening and reported that the last pitch went over the plate and Ruth “teed off and hammered the ball into the next county.”

The story of Babe’s visit is one I have heard many times — and it never loses its appeal.

There’s one thing I have never found out — who was the Westville doctor and how did he become a friend to such an iconic star?

I always enjoy old stories of baseball in the county.

My fondest memories, of course, are of the Stellarton Albions and the Halifax and District League in the 1950s. That was the team and league I grew up with.

I do recall my father taking me to a game or two in Westville in the late 1940s. Because of that, I really relish tales about that era and the Miners.

It was 15 years ago this month that I was able to reminisce with a member of the Miners of 1948 and 1949.

Sid Hale, who played for later Miners teams — including in the Twilight Senior League in the 1960s — phoned me one day in 2002 and told me a Westville player in 1948-49 was in town and wondered if I would like to interview him.

Would I? I was there in record time.

The player was an American, Jim Fitzpatrick, who played semi-pro ball in Massachusetts before serving with the U.S. Navy in the Second World War. Later, he played for Westville in those two post-war summers. Sid and I had a wonderful time chatting with him that day a decade and a half ago.

How did he land in Westville?

The Miners, to bolster their lineup, sent a taxi to Boston to get Fitzpatrick and three other players.

“The roads weren’t very good,” the then-80-year-old told me, “a tire blew out on the cab from going over the bumps and the driver had to get a new tire. Then they wouldn’t let us across the border with the bats we were bringing with us. We had to sell the bats to teams in St. Stephen and Calais. Then they let us come across. When we reached Westville, it was pretty late. They wanted to give us a good time, but all we wanted to do was go to bed.”

How did Fitzpatrick and the others discover Westville?

“Noonie Taylor, who played (in Westville) before the war, married a girl from Westville. I didn’t know much about the place, but my mother was from Tracadie. The others who came with me were Dick Kelly, Bub MacKenney and Chick Imhof. Four more came later on.”

It wasn’t the ball that lured Fitzpatrick.

“When I came up here, it was just to come up and have a good time.”

But he discovered, for small Nova Scotia towns, “the ball was pretty good and the crowds were great.”

Westville finished first in 1948 — but the team was upset by Stellarton in the semi-finals. The ‘49 club wasn’t as good.

“We got paid 35 bucks a week and 12 bucks went to room and board at Johnny Carrigan’s house. So we had 23 bucks left. But we had a rich coal miner down the street, Mr. Wadden, and he’d pass us a 10 here and there.”

A highlight for Fitzpatrick?

He played in the 1948 league all-star game in Halifax and “they claimed there were 10,000 people there. We ended up in a tie when umpire Johnny Fortunato called it because of darkness.”

His opinion of Westville?

“I love coming back. There’s just something here that I like. It’s pretty good, and the people are always so nice.”

Ah, those Westville stories about guys like the Babe and Fitzpatrick — they’re almost as enjoyable as those lobster rolls down in Pictou.

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Hugh Townsend
A New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for more than 60 years.